We’ve all been there. At the end of a long day, digging deep in our fridge only to find a bunch of rotting produce. When you find yourself in a pickle like this and feel the temptation to call your standby takeout place or take your family out to a subpar restaurant, look to your pantry instead. I know the wonderful moms I work with really want to feed their kids the freshest ingredients every night. Though that should always be the goal, it’s important to have a few fallback options like this easy cooking formula, which I call “Skillet Baked Protein in Tomato Sauce.”
I wish I had something catchier to call it, but sometimes it’s better to just get to the point. I love it because it’s super quick and easy, tasty, hard to screw up, and full of variations. I teach it to busy moms for a quick weeknight kid-friendly meal but also to newlyweds too as an easy dinner party dish that seems a lot fancier than it is. Dress it up right, with the right sides, and it’ll be sure to impress your guests. To start, all you need is a protein and a can of diced tomatoes (just 2 ingredients!). The protein is seared or sautéed in an oven-proof pan (for more on the pans you need in your kitchen, check out our video on the “3 Pans You Need in Your Kitchen“). The tomatoes are simmered into a sauce in a saucepan. Then they are combined and placed into the oven to bake.
However even in a pinch, I bet most of you can do better than just 2 ingredients. Dig around in your fridge and pantry, and I’m sure you’ll come up with many other goodies (“supplemental flavors” I call them) to include. If you need some creative inspiration, how about capers, olives, dried dates, leftover herbs, cheeses, half-finished jars of pestos, or canned chilies for a start? In the recipe below we’re using chicken as our protein and adding sundried tomatoes, canned artichoke hearts, caramelized onions, and crushed garlic. Can you smell it already? It’s just a few pantry items away . . .
Skillet Baked Protein (Chicken, in this case) Tomato Sauce
- 1.5 lb of protein
- 1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
- 1 tbs of canola oil
- 1 tbs of olive oil
- Salt, pepper, and sugar
- Supplemental flavors: 1 onion (+2 tbs of canola oil & ½ tsp of salt for caramelizing), 1 can of artichoke hearts, 3 sundried tomatoes, and some dried basil <- what I’ve used but remember, your pantry is your oyster!
- Meat Protein: Season & tenderize with a fork. I’ve used about 1 tsp of kosher salt, ¼ tsp of freshly ground pepper, and ¼ tsp of dried basil on the chicken (but search your spice drawer for other possibilities such as paprika, oregano, Italian seasonings, etc.)
- Non-Meat Protein: You can also do this with beans, lentils or tofu, in which case you’d just drain and rinse
- Tomatoes: Open can and drain juice
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees for poultry; 400 degrees for non-poultry
- Other: 1) Slice onions for caramelizing; 2) Drain, rinse, and quarter artichoke hearts
- Heat an oven-proof pan over medium-high heat.
- If you were caramelizing onions (as I did), you’d do that first in the pan by adding 2 tbs of canola oil to the pan, waiting for it to get hot, and then adding sliced onions with a dash of salt. Toss to coat, and cook for about 10 minutes (doesn’t need full time to caramelize because it’s getting more oven time). Then push to the side and do next step
- (If you weren’t caramelizing onions, you’d do this after step #1) Add 1 tbs of canola oil, and wait for the oil to get hot before you add protein. Give the pan a shake and then sear on both sides for 2 to 3 minutes. If you have more than will fit comfortably in the pan, don’t crowd it and sear the protein in batches instead
- While onions are caramelizing / protein is searing, heat another saucepan on the stove. Add 1 tbs of olive oil. I’m using crushed garlic as one of my supplemental flavors, so I’m adding about ½ tbs of it into the oil, plus my drained diced tomatoes with 3 sundried tomatoes (another supplemental flavor). Now I’m going to just let this pot of sauce simmer for about 5 minutes before I take it off the heat
- After the protein has seared on both sides, you can add supplemental ingredients like artichoke hearts, olives, dried fruits, chilies, to the pan
- Puree the tomato sauce with an immersion blender, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and your desired sweetener, which helps cut the acidity of the tomatoes
- Pour the sauce over the skillet. If you want to add cheese, now’s the time to sprinkle some on. Bake for specified times below:
- Non-animal protein: 10 minutes
- Thin fish fillets: 5 to 7 minutes
- Thick fish fillets: 10 to 12 minutes
- Chicken without bone: 12 to 20 minutes
- Chicken with bone: 35 to 45 minutes
- Pork chops: 15 to 20 minutes