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P.F. Chang's Frozen Meals: A Stroll down the Frozen Food Aisle
My high school social studies teacher claimed that Japanese carmakers bought an American car, took it apart to see how it was built, and figured out how to build cars from that model. If “reverse engineering” had been coined at the time, it still wasn’t widely circulated. I'd never heard it. As for the story, I’m a little skeptical, but I find it appealing. Much of my cooking comes from a similar motivation. If I’m enthusiastic about a dish I find in a restaurant or in the grocery store, I pay close attention to the ingredients and seek clues on technique. I ask myself why I liked it so much. Was it the buttery taste? The crunchiness? Yes, I try to reverse engineer frozen foods too.
Although I consider myself an able cook, I shop the frozen food section more than I care to admit. In fact, I’ve often wished for more guidance when shopping there. What was once a single aisle, the frozen food aisles of most full-sized and big box stores now offer a remarkable variety, frequently with an entire aisle devoted to pizza. The bewildering array of options makes navigation tough going. I tend to default to tried and true: well-known basic pizzas (doctored up at home with additional toppings and cheeses) and home-style foods, e.g. meatballs, chicken pot pies. My wife leans more toward whole meal deals: Lean Cuisine, Bertolli pasta meals, and most recently, P.F. Chang’s.
I’ve never eaten in a P.F. Chang’s restaurant, and had never tried the frozen food, but the watercooler talk was positive. The other night the wife and I were stuck between errands and didn’t get a dinner started, so we picked up a P.F. Chang’s frozen meal, Garlic Chicken with Dan Dan Noodles. I guess “Dan Dan” sounds better than “ramen”.
After the dinner it occurred to me that I should combine my knowledge and experience as a cook with crowd-sourcing to create interactive reviews of some of the myriad frozen dinners. HubPages has tools for polling/voting and readers could weigh in on their experiences. I would supply details and my opinion; others could express their interest or disinterest.
P.F. Chang's Frozen Food Experience
Have you ever tried any of P.F. Chang's Frozen Foods?
Garlic Chicken with Dan Dan Noodles: A Brief Review
Of the many things to be said about my P.F. Chang’s Garlic Chicken with Dan Dan noodle dinner, two stand out: 1) It was exceptionally convenient, and 2) It was incredibly salty. Obviously, convenience is a primary goal of frozen food. Mission accomplished. High sodium content is a common, true criticism of frozen foods in general, but call off the troops!! The sodium given on the package was 1020 mg per serving or 42% of the daily value. If you order three large fries at McDonalds you’ll get about the same amount of salt.
The preparation couldn’t be simpler: empty the bag into a saucepan, heat for several minutes covered, stir, heat uncovered for several more minutes, and stir. All the ingredients come in one bag, but are frozen into Lego Duplo-sized blocks. Blocks resembling frozen chicken stock melt and form the sauce. Imbedded somewhere were tiny chunks of bok choy. As far as I could tell, this was the entire vegetable content of the meal. To be fair, I later tried another meal, the Ginger Chicken & Broccoli and it was much better equipped with vegetables. Total preparation time was around 15 minutes. I was pleased that I didn’t need to prepare rice or noodles separately because of the aforementioned ramen, I mean, dan dan noodles.
I was not impressed that for $7.50 I got a “meal for two” that was little more than ramen, chunks of chicken, chicken stock and a witch’s brew of condiments that all seemed to have high concentrations of salt (MSG, Soy Sauce, Sodium Benzoate, and just plain salt). Since I picked up the meals at Walmart, I can't help but assume this is about the best price I'm likely to find.
If you've tried this or other P.F. Chang's meals, please weigh in below.