Whenever I see a ‘15-minute recipe’ I want to run for the hills. And add a little screaming and flailing of the arms in your mental visual…for good effect.
What prompts such dramaticism? I’ll explain by sharing a great saying I recently read on the wall of a local burger joint, BurgerFi (If you live near one and haven’t tried their ‘Conflicted Burger,’ I heartily recommend it.) It reads: ‘You are what you eat. Don’t be fast, cheap, easy or fake.’
I couldn’t agree more, which explains why I have become a bit of a skeptic any time a recipe is associated solely with a timer. It reminds me of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.” In a similar vein, how good can a recipe be if its sole value proposition is based on the number 15?
I have tried more 15-minute recipes than my resentful taste buds care to recall, particularly when my girls were toddlers. And while I now disregard them completely, I have learned that, give or take, they generally can be categorized into four main groups:
- They require what might as well be a pound of butter, cheese or bacon to boost their flavor,
- They call for several highly-processed ingredients, which defeats the whole idea behind wholesome home cooking,
- They are bland and uninspired, or
- They are selling you the Brooklyn Bridge, my friend, so count on adding at least 20-30additional minutes to your preparation time.
Recipes that fall under #4, by the way, abound. But don’t just listen to me. British lifestyle writer Oliver Pritchett once quipped in a Telegraph column that he planned on penning a book titled “How to Get Fit to Prepare a Jamie Oliver 15-Minute Meal.” (This humorous column was titled ‘Jamie Oliver’s 15-Minute Meals are bad for your health.’) This was in response to an ill-starred attempt at creating a Jamie Oliver 30-Minute Meal within the prescribed time frame. In addition to sharing he needed better-quality running shoes for the job, he summed up his experience beautifully: “I think this cooking against the clock is great spectator sport, but not something to try at home.” I believe this to be just a nicer, more creative way of saying ‘yes indeed, perhaps the idea is possibly too good to be true.’
As for me, I have yet to find a good, satisfying recipe that takes less than 45 minutes to prepare. And I’m not talking about a complex and convoluted one, mind you, but just a simple, straight-forward recipe that requires a minimal amount of prepping and a reasonable amount of cooking time.
At best, when I have a particularly hectic week, I double a standard 45-minute recipe and split the difference. Doing so allows me to feed my troop twice for about 22.5 minutes per meal. It’s as good as it gets for me.
I recently Googled 15-minute dinner recipes and found page after page of sites offering quick-fix answers to the universal ‘What’s for dinner’ question. What this tells me is that people are hungry (pun intended) for functional solutions to the very real-life challenge of fast-paced lives and growling tummies.
I get it. I’ve been known to open up a box of Annie’s Homegrown Macaroni & Cheese once or thrice. The need for functionality and convenience can be an alluring vixen. It can make us OK with a substantially less stellar eating experience than we might have otherwise desired. It can justify, for instance, that 15-minute dinner consisting of a reheated can of chili mixed with a 1/2 cup of jarred Queso sauce, a few pickled jalapenos – all deliciously topped with a dollop of sour cream.
But…I think I’ll just double a batch of pork medallions with a capered sun-dried tomato butter and avoid all the sweating from charging up those hills. Lol.
Despite it’s rather fancy-sounding name, this is a fairly straight-forward recipe and a snap to put together, especially if you buy the finishing sun-dried tomato butter instead of making it. (BTW, I am planning on sharing said butter in the next week or two.)
So let’s get on to the business at hand.
making capered pork medallions
Place 1/4 heaping cup of softened sun-dried tomato finishing butter in a small bowl.
Finely chop 1 ½ tablespoons of capers and add them to the butter.
Prep 1 1/2 lbs. of pork medallions by first trimming them of all their fat. Yuck. I have never liked fat on my meat. I suppose it does not make me a carnivore but that’s ok, I really just identify with being an omnivore…sans the fat, of course.
Trimmed, they will now look like this.
Wipe each medallion with paper towels to remove as much surface moisture as possible.
Preheat a large stainless steel or cast iron pan on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. You will know it is sufficiently heated when a tablespoon of water dropped in the middle of the pan creates one or two pellets of water that bounce around like spheres in a pinball machine. I learned this, by the way, by watching an incredibly helpful and instructional video on The Reluctant Gourmet food blog. Had I watched it earlier, I would have avoided a nasty grease fire that damaged my wood floors. Dag nabbit!
Remove the pan from the heat, quickly dry it with a kitchen towel (water and oil don’t mix!), and return it to heat. Turn heat to medium-high.
Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the now hot pan and wait until the oil begins to swirl but not yet smoke. Now season the medallions with salt and pepper right before adding them to the pan. You will hear a nice sizzle when they hit the pan.
Cook for 5 minutes, turning them over every 30 seconds.
Yes…turning them over so often sounds strange, I know. But hear me out.
I used to think that the best way to sear meat was to put it in the pan and then – with more patience than I actually possess – leave it alone to let the heat do its magic. I have since reconsidered this approach because of two posts I read on Serious Eats‘ The Food Lab blog about the best way to flip burgers and sear steaks, and thought I’d try the same approach in cooking my medallions. This method allows them to cook on both sides practically simultaneously. It also minimizes overcooking the outer layer of the medallions. It worked like a charm!
The blog’s author, J. Kenji López-Alt, may have one of the strangest names I’ve ever heard, but he is an absolute genius when it comes to demystifying the science behind home cooking. Rock on, Kenji.
At first you may question yourself. I did. The medallions looked so uninspired at first.
But I had confidence in Kenji, so I just kept flipping. Every 30 seconds.
Mercifully, they began to color at around 3 minutes or so.
Once browned, transfer the medallions to a plate and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm.
Lower the heat back to medium. Add any juices pooling at the bottom of the plate on which you’ve rested the cooked medallions, along with the prepped finishing butter
and a handful of chopped, fresh Italian parsley, and heat through.
Place the cooked medallions on a bed of couscous (2 cups cooked couscous will do) and top with the butter sauce. Garnish with more chopped parsley and a 1/4 cup of toasted almond slivers, if desired. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.