I’m a Food Writer & This Is My Favorite Quick, High-Protein Dinner Right Now

I'm a Food Writer & This Is My Favorite Quick, High-Protein Dinner Right Now

A simple pan sauce can elevate lean proteins into a restaurant-quality dish—all in 15 minutes.

Photographer: Jen Causey, Food Stylist: Melissa Gray, Prop Stylist: Shell Royster

Reviewed by Dietitian Emily Lachtrupp, M.S., RD

I never predicted that I would get married and gain weight. I’d been a restaurant critic for 15 years and had long since learned some tough lessons about how to eat healthfully. But my husband really likes pie. Be it coconut cream, chocolate or pizza, after we wed in 2022, pie quickly became a staple of our diet.

I had a wakeup call at my last doctor’s appointment. Despite having already experienced very real consequences of unhealthy eating habits when I lost my gallbladder in 2013, I’d backtracked and added 8 pounds to my small frame in a year. My doctor put me on a statin for my high cholesterol, and I vowed to get back on the wagon of regular exercise and balanced meals.

Related: This High-Protein Recipe Helped Me Lose 30 Pounds

When I was single, this was as easy as following some version of the Mediterranean diet, along with some East Asian recipes for good measure. But my picky husband doesn’t like fish and doesn’t believe a meal is complete without butter, cheese or (preferably) both. Marinated salmon crisped to perfection in the air fryer sounds appealing to me, but to him, its very odor is categorized as a marital war crime.

Our New Favorite Dinner

I’ve learned this time around that I have to be strategic in my cooking. That meant diving into EatingWell’s search engine for comfort foods that could satisfy both of us. Since fish wasn’t an option, I focused on chicken and leaner cuts of pork.

I had long thought of marinated proteins as the key to health. But with our busy schedules, the kind of planning necessary for the 24-hour marinades I crave can be all but impossible. My husband’s favorite alternative—Montréal steak seasoning—got boring (and excessively salty) fast. The solution for us turned out to be a quick pan sauce.

EatingWell’s Pork Chops with White Wine & Capers was the answer. The recipe takes me about 15 minutes from start to finish, which is almost exactly how long I need to prepare a head of broccoli in the air fryer, including chopping.

The dish is a close sibling to chicken piccata, but at 226 calories per serving, in some ways it’s more of a distant cousin to the rich dish served in Italian restaurants. And if I’m craving a white wine sauce with the briny zip of capers (which is more or less always), I’ve found a place in my regular rotation for thyme-crusted pork chops. That is, if I include the thyme from the original recipe. Sometimes I skip it and make the dish a bit more like a traditional piccata with the addition of a couple of cloves of garlic before I add the white wine to the pan, and a squeeze of fresh lemon before I add the butter.

A World of Pan Sauces

We eat some version of Pork Chops with White Wine & Capers roughly once a week, but it’s been instrumental in opening my mind to the fact that pan sauces can be healthy. I’ve improvised my own versions many times since I started making the EatingWell recipe.

One of my favorites is a healthified version of soul food-style smothered pork chops, something I never thought could be on my plate after a high-cholesterol diagnosis. But it is. I crust pork chops in a bit of smoked paprika, garlic powder and cumin before searing them over high heat. I use flour to thicken the sauce, which is just chicken stock and the toasted reserved spices.

I use this basic pan-sauce technique for several meals a week now, most of which take around 15 minutes from start to finish. Another favorite is throwing together fresh herbs in a pan (or dried herbes de Provence when it’s not gardening season) with chicken stock and grainy mustard. If I’m lacking inspiration, I just scroll EatingWell’s options. Chicken Cutlets with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce is one of my husband’s favorites, and I feel indulgent eating it with a salad or Brussels sprouts, while he has his over pasta with grated Asiago.

Related: Pan-Seared Chicken Breast with Rich Pan Sauce

Will my healthier diet have the desired results? I have my next doctor’s appointment in a couple of months, so my cholesterol levels remain to be seen. What I know for certain is that my pants are fitting better and, along with regular exercise, I’m not feeling as run-down.

Is it all thanks to pan sauces? Not exactly, but having the technique at the top of my mind has been instrumental in helping me to break a constant craving for heavier restaurant food. I feel like I’m finally back on a sustainable path toward a healthier lifestyle, with nary a hint of deprivation.

Read the original article on Eating Well.