Back when I reviewed Trader Joe’s South African Smoke Seasoning I was delighted to discover it was one of Trader Joe’s hidden gems. Easy to overlook on shelves full of peppercorn grinders and rock salt, this South African style seasoning is imbued with a whole different dimension of flavor – the savory, rich taste of smoked meat.
When used on hamburger, steak, chicken, or anything you might like to barbecue, it’s a killer seasoning that brings to the fore the richer, meatier flavors hidden in any meat – a little magic touch of South African umami.
Of course Trader Joe’s would be Trader Joe’s if they could just leave it there. Which has lead, apparenlty, to Trader Joe’s throwing this seasoning designed for meat onto potato chips with the new Trader Joe’s Potato Chips with South African Style Seasoning.
It’s an innovation that could go either way. On the one hand, we live in an age of out-of-control potato chip creativity. Bold, daring and, some might say, insane flavors of potato chips are not just possible to find, but aggressively marketed from supermarket shelves. 10 years ago about the most “out there” chip you could find was jalapeno. Nowadays you can dabble in the sorts of epicurean excess that would have made Nero take note. Chicken & waffle flavored potato chips, mac & cheese, wasabi ginger, balsamic vinegar & rosemary, – even cappuccino, by god, cappuccino! It’s an age of snack madness, and one that Trader Joe’s is clearly unafraid to get in on. Already they’ve weighed in on with their non-standarad Beurre Meuniere Popcorn. Throwing a meat seasoning onto potato chips is almost tame by comparison.
So we can’t doubt the boldness of Trader Joe’s resolve or vision – the question is, does this seasoning actually go well on potato chips. The answer, sadly, is no.
The same qualities that make the South African Smoke Seasoning so savory on meat work against it here – it’s simply too salty and strong tasting for the simple potato chips. Divorced of a meat base, the seasoning has nothing to work off of. The result is sort of like throwing a handful of the seasoning directly into your mouth. It’s not that the taste of the seasoning is bad, it’s simply overpowering. When used on a grilled steak or hamburger, the smoke seasoning simply blends in to the complex profile of the flavors at hand. Here, on its own, it has the very strong taste of bratwurst, or as one taste tester put it, “burnt hot dog”.
How much you’re going to like these chips, then, depends on how much you like that heavy, bratwurst taste, without getting the juicy bratwurst bite. This wouldn’t be as much of a dealer breaker if it wasn’t for the strength of the taste. Trader Joe’s isn’t mincing around here – each chip is blasted with a full on shot of seasoning that is close to overwhelming. These chips are best not eaten by the handful, but slowly, one by one, or not at all.
For me the intensity of the flavor simply didn’t work together very well. Between the serious saltiness, and the heavy seasoning these chips tended to overshadow whatever I was eating them with. When your potato chips taste more like hot dogs than the hot dogs themselves, it’s generally not a good thing.
The chips may not work very well as chips because of the seasoning, but what if they were the seasoning. That barely coherent thought is what lead me to cook up the recipe below – country fried steak, with crushed potato chips instead of breading.
Trader Joe’s South African Style Seasoning Potato Chip-Fried Steak
- 2 steaks, about 1/2″ thick
- 1 cup flour (any sort, I don’t care)
- 1 cup pulverized Trader Joe’s African Style Seasoning Potato Chips
- 2 or 3 eggs, beaten
- About a 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- Maybe a delicious gravy?
- Pulverize the hell out of your chips. You can do this with a food processor, or by putting them in a baggy and smashing the hell out of them. (This is the most fun part of the recipe.)
- Spread the flour around in one dish, and the potato chip dust in another dish.
- Have the eggs ready in another dish or shallow bowl.
- Dredge the meat on both sides in the flour. (This is the third most fun part of the recipe)
- Dredge the meat in the potato chips dust, followed by the egg, and finally in the potato chips again. (This is the second most fun part of the recipe.)
- Repeat these steps with all the meat.
- Place enough of the vegetable oil to cover the bottom of a skillet and set over medium-high heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, carefully add the meat.
- Cook each piece on both sides until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.
- Serve the steaks (with some of the delicious gravy?)
Notes: This recipe delivers a crunchier steak than you might otherwise get, and the African Smoke Seasoning lends it’s helping hand, giving it a robust, BBQ sort of taste.
Turning chips into the seasoning instead of just adding the seasoning directly might be considered taking the long way around, and that’s a fair criticism, but dammit we live in the world of the Mini Waffle Stick Maker and Segway. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing in an unnecessarily, silly way.
A delicious gravy is bound to help these steaks out, but that’s beyond the purview of this post.
Would I Recommend It: Not unless you usually feel your brautwurts aren’t brautwursty enough.
Would I Buy Them Again: I don’t think so.
Final Synopsis: Trader Joe’s excellent south african style seasoning should stick with meat instead of potatoes.
There are a lot of Trader Joe’s salads to like, a a lot of different reasons to like them. Some, like the Bacon and Spinach Salad, are decadent tongue-pleasers. Some, like the Country Salad are a good hearty meal. Some, like the Quinoa and Squash Salad, are simply intriguingly different. But of all the Trader Joe’s salads I’ve had, Trader Joe’s Lemon Chicken salad has been the most purely refreshing.
I’m an avowed salad lover. It’s not unheard of, for instance, for me to eat 10 salads in a week. The issue I find facing me most often, the true concern of the salad lover, is in balancing heartiness with healthiness. It’s all too common to run into salads out there which load on the cheese and bacon and heavy cream dressings, and end up being and end up at a monstrous calorie levels. On the other hand, there’s also the issue of the super light, salad – a collection of lettuce leaves, free of any protein source, that cost $13 and contain 150 calories. Somewhere in the middle, and oh so rare, are the salads that balance a good meal with nutritious content. There are a rare handful of these kingly salads, even at Trader Joe’s, and this Lemon Chicken Salad is one of them.
Most of Trader Joe’s salads are simple and straight forward – here’s your bin of greens, here’s your dressing, go at it. Trader Joe’s Lemon Chicken Salad, on the other hand, plays it a little more subtle. It isn’t a salad so much, as it is a light entree built around a sub-salad – in this case a chicken salad.
We start out with a good portion of chicken salad, packaged in a small tub inside the salad itself. This is the cornerstone of the dish, and it successfully carries the day. Lean white chicken breast is zested up with lemon and a touch of black pepper and melded together with just enough mayonnaise. There are a lot of ways to screw up a supermarket chicken salad, but Trader Joe’s version is not just edible, but flavorful and delicious.
Added to the bed of seasonal greens (romaine, chard, argula, etc) and this would make for a fine, refreshing salad by itself – but things get taken up a notch with a welcome portion of crisp grapes and apples that provide fresh, sweet bursts of juicy flavor. This fruity sweetness is itself a perfect pairing with the citric zing of the lemon chicken and not only alternates flavors, but makes you think about how you’re eating the salad as you eat it. That’s not a big deal but it’s a nice touch.
Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and, divinely, red onion, although not referenced in the title, all make appearances as well – bulking up the body of salad as well as laying the ground for a scattering of decadently sweet, candied walnuts. All of this is topped off with a light and zingy champagne vinaigrette that buoys the salad up and brings out the flavors of each part, a refreshing touch to the end of a refreshing meal.
At 400 calories per container, 18 grams of carbs, and 22 grams of lean protein it’s a tremendously well balanced salad as well – as healthy as it is filling. The nutritional profile, along with the variety and interactions of the many flavors, makes this one of the most enjoyable salads I’ve had form TJ’s – and a prefect option to turn to when the thought of heavier salads seems oppressive.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this salad strikes just the right balance between healthy and hearty.
Would I Buy It Again: Without a doubt, this is a good ol’ salad.
Final Synopsis: A light, refreshing salad that still fills you up.