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Trader Ming’s (Trader Joe’s) Shiitake Mushroom Chicken

Trader Joe's Shitake Mushroom Chicken

Lots of beans and five mushrooms. Yes this is the contents of one whole bag.

I’m already on the record as being a huge fan of Trader Joe’s Kung Pao Chicken frozen dinner – it’s the sort of cheap, yet easy to make, yet healthy, yet delicious meal that has you wondering why every frozen dinner can’t be this good.

Ranking: 3 stars 

3 star ranking

 

What it is: A bean, mushroom and chicken stir fry (frozen) – 22 oz.
Costs: $4.99
Worth it: It’s tasty, if you don’t mind all the beans.

So when I spied Trader Joe’s (or should I say Trader Ming’s) new Shiitake Mushroom Chicken I was over the moon – surely TJ’s would be able to deliver the same top-shelf cooking with this chicken and mushroom stir fry, right? Well… maybe not. While I found the Chinese chicken dish edible, it’s not nearly as satisfying as its illustrious forebearer.

The chicken and mushroom part is good enough (although we’ll get to them in a minute), it’s the unlabeled third ingredient that throws things off for me. For some reason TJ’s leaves “beans” off the label, even though soybeans (and green beans) make up the bulk of the dish. Of course, it’s understandable that you might not expect “Trader Joe’s Loads of Soybeans with Mushroom and Chicken” to sell quite as well – nevertheless that’s what you’re getting. Big and bright green, beans, beans, beans.

I’ve got nothing against soybeans, or edamame as we usually call them in Asian cooking. I think a dish of salted edamame makes a nice little appetizer, and I even enjoyed Trader Joe’s Edamame Hummus. However, I find edamame to be much more of a support vegetable. Harder, more mealy and less savory than more common western beans like black or pinto, I don’t ask soy beans to carry a dish, and I don’t expect them to. Yet that’s what you get here, with each forkful of chicken laden down with a handful of whole soy beans.

That’s a shame, because outside of the bean bonanza, the rest of the dish is basically on point. The soy-sauce marinated dark meat chicken is plentiful – and delicious – with the thick ginger soy sauce dressing included in the bag. Even better are the whole shiitake mushroom caps, which are as good as they are unorthodox.

Trader Joe's Shiitake Mushroom Chicken

Trader Joe’s Shiitake Mushroom Chicken

Generally the mushrooms you get in Chinese food (or most prepared meals) tend to be chopped up or button-sized. Not so here – each big honking shiitake mushroom cap is larger than a pre-war silver dollar, and served whole. As cool as that is, it’s tempered by the fact that you also only get about five or six of them in the whole bag. This combined, with the bounty of soy beans, makes for a weirdly unbalanced meal – spoonfuls of edamame and chicken, punctuated by the occasional whole mouthful of mushroom. It’s a good thing, then, that the mushrooms taste so damn great. These shiitake mushrooms are absolutely bursting with an intensely earthy mushroom flavor, saturating each meaty bite with savory good times.

Overall, the feeling of the whole dish is sort of “Close, but try again.” All of the elements are just slightly out-of-whack with each other. If they took it back to the testing lab, cut down on the beans and added some more mushrooms, maybe halving or quartering them this time so you don’t have to, then they’d really have something. As it stands, there’s not just reason to get this dish instead of one of Trader Joe’s other, much better balanced, Chinese food offerings.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, with reservations. Jut make sure you’re okay with beans going in.

Would I Get It Again: I wouldn’t – I think I’ll go back to the Kungpao Chicken Instead

Final Synopsis: A bean-heavy take on a shiitake-chicken stirfry.

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 Trader Joe’s Masters the Art of… Coq au Vin

Trader Joe's Master The Art of... coq au vin

Do the French not have to follow “Q’s” with “U’s”? What is up with that?

Trader Joe’s can be obtuse, playful, or even boastful with their product names – but Trader Joe’s masters the art of coq au vin is the first time they’ve gotten downright cocky with it. You’ve got to have a pretty big opinion of yourself to unironically declare that you’ve mastered any art. Add to that the affectation of the little ellipses, and they’re making quite the statement. In fact, that ellipses is quite the little touch. You might think, if you saw a title like that, that Trader Joe’s has a whole line of “Master’s the Art of…” products. As far as I can tell, however, this is the only Trader Joe’s Master’s the Art of…. product on the shelves. That, my friends, is worth double pretention points.

Of course, the difference between pretention and genius is whether you can deliver on your promises. So the question is – has TJ really managed to master this classic French dish.

Coq au vin is that all-time classic of French cuisine that everyone should know how to cook – and no one had ever heard of 50 years ago. An enduring rustic dish of the French countryside since time out of mind, coq au vin was unknown out of France until the advent of Julia Childs. Everyone’s favorite TV chef brought the dish with her when she returned from her time at Le Cordon Bleu, taking its straightforward, honest recipe and making it her signature dish.

Coq au vin is what it sounds like, cock served in a wine sauce. Of course, no one uses rooster any more, that being left to the poor farmer’s of yesteryear. Nowadays, the dish is made exclusively with chicken, which is stewed in a robust red wine with button mushrooms, pearl onions and perhaps fatty pork belly (lardon), garlic and some other vegetables. Originally the dish was meant as a simple way to tenderize the otherwise too tough to eat meat of an old rooster for a nice meal and it’s the simplicty of the dish that made it catch on in such a big way.

Trader Joe’s variation is faithful to the original imaginng of the dish. It comes frozen in a huge chunk of roux and chicken that can either be cooked on the stove, or microwaved to make the classic easy-to-cook dish even easier. After ten minutes in the microwave, it comes out piping hot in it’s little black tray – an island of chicken in a sea of bubbling sauce. While the presentation may not quite be there, the taste is. The chicken is tender, and gives way easily to the fork – surprisingly wonderful for frozen chicken. The sauce, is good as well, thick and loaded with vegetabels, and not short on the wine either. Although it’s a thick and savory sauce the crispness of the wine cuts through the heavier cloying taste of the sauce leaving the dish tasting lighter rather an heavier. TJ’s doesn’t skimp on the veggies, loading up the sauce with pearl onions and sliced mushroom.

Trader Joe's Master The Art of... coq au vin 2

Hope you like pearl onions!

Trader Joe’s must really love this sauce, because they include a ton of it – like their Chicken Piccata, the sauce outweighs the chicken at 2:1.

So is this mastery or coq au vin? Do they beat Julia Childs at her own game? I wouldn’t go that far. It’s a good, quick meal, the chicken is tasty and the sauce is rich, but it also costs $7.00. For less than that price, Trader Joe’ s has a variety of other dishes that are just as good, or better. If you’re looking for a good chicken dish, you could try the Kung Pao or Cacciatore as easily as this and save a few bucks.

If you’re looking for an excellent coq au vin, my suggestion is pick up a copy of the Art of Cooking and go for it yourself.


 

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: I guess so. It’s a little pricey for an average dish.

Would I Buy It Again: Probably not.

Final Synopsis: A good coq au vin, but probably not better than you could do yourself.


Trader Joe’s True Thai Vegetable Pad Thai

Trader Joe's Vegetable Pad Thai

Yeah – vegan pad thai!

I certainly do love Thai food – or, more accurately, I love pad thai, and the rest of Thai cuisine is pretty good as well. Odds are that you love pad thai as well – this is double true if you happen to be a Thai national, as pad thai is the national dish in your country. However, even for the 99.98% of my audience that isn’t Thai, it’s still pretty likely that you love pad thai. In fact, pad thai is so highly regarded world wide that it was voted 5th most delicious food in the world by CNN in 2011. And while that may just the result of a fluff-piece poll in a desperate bid to get clicks, it also seems like it’s about right.

It is intriguing, then to come across Trader Joe’s vegetable “true Thai” pad thai in the frozen food aisle. With a promise of being 100% vegan, and a five minute microwaveable meal, Trader Joe’s was setting itself some pretty considerable hurdles TJ’s already proved that they could deliver on Thai street food with their green curry and GABA rice, but could they pull it off again? Fortunately, the answer is a firm yes.

If you enjoy this pad thai, don’t forget to give a quick thanks to Mr. Plaek Phibunsongkhram, one of the most important figures in Thai history, owner of an amazing name, and the person solely responsible for the modern day popularity of the dish. Prime minister of Thailand and de factor dictator during the the WWII years, Phibunsongkhram is a complex character, but the most important thing he did (within the context of this post) is give pad thai the name “pad thai”. Why focus his rather weighty attention on this one dish? The answer, of course, is geo-politics! With World War II raging around them, Phibun wanted to promote Thai nationalism and centralization while reducing domestic demand for rice. He managed to do all this by raising pad thai, and it’s noodles, to a prominent place in Thai culture. The result was an explosion in popularity across Thailand, and from there across the rest of the world.

Trader Joe’s Vegetable Pad Thai delivers not just as a delicious vegan meal, and as a delicious microwaveable meal, but as a delicious meal period. There’s a lot going on in a pad thai – from the bean sprouts, to the rice noodles, to the tofu and veggies, to the sauces. On each front TJ keeps things simple and natural. There isn’t an artificial ingredient to be found in the whole pot – just a vareity of vegetables mixed with water.

That natural simplicity plays out in the dish as a refreshing, wholesome taste – even when its just been been defrosted frosted from frozen. The bean sprouts, which make up the bulk of the dish, still retain some of their juicy crispness, even after being steamed in the microwave, and the rice noodles are suitably chewy and rich with the flavor of the creamy, mildly piquant pad thai sauce (a mix of chili sauce, tamarind sauce, and tomato paste).

The sauce isn’t quite as strong here as it is on other pad thai that you’ve probably had. Part of the reason for that is the absence of fish sauce in the dish. Although not a mandatory ingredient for authentic pad thai, the pungent, musky body of fish sauce gives pad thai a savory second kick underneath the noodles and chili paste. Although it’s missing here in order to keep the dish vegan, it doesn’t degrade the quality of the dish below satisfaction. There’s still enough harmony between the spicy, sweet and salty elements that it carries the rest of the dish along. This is particularly important when it comes to the tofu, which usually needs as much help as it can get. The tofu does manage to make it through alright, again thanks to the sauce, but it isn’t the best processed soybean mash you’ve ever had. The cubes are small, which is to its advantage, because they freezing process was not kind to them – rendering each tofu cube into a tough, chewy customers. While not exactly toothsome, without any meat or fish in the dish, they firmness of the tofu does lend the dish some much needed body.

Over all it works. It’s not going to be the most delicious pad thai you’ve ever had in your life, but for frozen, all-vegan pad thai it’s suitably impressive. The only strange touch is the crushed cashew nuts used in place of crushed peanuts. Whatever the rationale was behind that decision is hidden from my faculties, but it’s a moot point anyway since the nuts are undetectable except as points of crunchy texture,

This dish can be enjoyed as a tasty, vegan option, or just in its own right as a quick and easy dinner. Once caveat, however – bring your own limes. Evidently not even Trader Joe’s could figure out a good way to fit freeze-dried lime juice into the dish, and its the one flavor that the dish is noticeably missing. Get yourself a wedge to squeeze over the dish, and you won’t have any complaints.


 The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes – the vegans and non-vegans alike.

Would I Buy It Again: I would, this is perfect for filling in last minute dinner ideas.

Final Synopsis: Delicious, microwaveable pad thai – as long as you have a lime wedge on hand.

Trader Joe's Vegetable Pad Thai - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Vegetable Pad Thai – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Organic Whole Green Figs

 

Trader Joe's Organic Whole Green Figs

Everything you want from a fig – except the texture.

Do you sometimes crave a whole green fig, but all the ones you find are either not organic, or not frozen rock solid? Well I have good news! Trader Joe’s is solving both of your problems at once with their frozen Organic Whole Green Figs!

The last time we looked at any of Trader Joe’s figs it was their Black Mission Figs, which I found pleasantly sweet and tasty, if you can get over the somewhat unnerving fleshiness of them. Well fleshiness isn’t a problem this time around, because they’re coming to you in the form of rock hard iceballs!

The first thing you’ll notice when you pick these figs up is that Trader Joe’s didn’t go looking for the small ones. Each fig in the bag is a hefty little monster, considerably larger than the fresh Black Mission Figs you might be able to find in the produce aisle. Apart from the size, these green figs (also called kadota figs) are somewhat less sweet than the black figs from before. That said, they’re still figs – which means they’re still quite sweet indeed, and have the same mushy-soft / crispy-seedy center that gives them such a unique bite.

We spent plenty of time reviewing the history of these meaty drupes last time, so I won’t bore you all again with a lecture on prehistoric agriculture. This time let’s take a look at the religious perspective.

As you might expect from a fruit man has had such a long history with (11,000 years+), religion has a good deal to say about figs – in particular considering that they’ve been cultivated widely through the that fertile belt of religion that begins around the Mediterranean and stretches all the way to South East Asia.  As such, all the big time religions feature figs in their holy books to a considerable degree.

Adam and Eve, for instance, sought to cover up their shame from God with the trusty old fig leaf – maybe not the best choice considering that figs are a notable skin allergens, and that the natural latex that the fig tree produces is a serious eye irritant. Nevertheless, thanks to A&E, fig leaves entered the art world for a pretty good stretch of centuries as the de facto tasteful genital cover in paintings and sculptures.

Meanwhile, in the religion of Islam, the fig is considered one of the two sacred trees, along with that other old favorite the olive. Going further we find that the historical Buddha went out and achieved enlightenment under the bodhi tree – otherwise known as the sacred fig tree –  and that the fig is even considered to be the “world tree” from which all springs in Hinduism. Even Jesus got in on the fig tree, when he chose to kill one in Mark 11:12 by cursing it to death for not bearing fruit. Harsh Jesus!

That’s a pretty good pedigree, the fig! But all that said, what reason do I really have to buy these things frozen?

Obviously, getting them fresh is always going to be your best option, but due to their high sugar content, figs ripen and spoil very quickly. A ripe fig will even split under the strain of it’s own sweet innards if left too long, so transporting the fresh produce is a considerably trickier prospect than, say, an apple.

If you’re feeling a hankering for figs, know that the frozen solution is not a perfect one. For starters, the figs seem to freeze inconsistently. In my bag, I found that three or four were somewhat mushy, even when the others were frozen solid – and that’s after a few days in the back of my freezer! These mushier figs didn’t seem to be bad necessarily, just soft. That said, you might want to feel around for a couple different bags to find one that’s perfectly hard and frozen.

If you want to enjoy your green figs right away, you can throw them in a blender and try out this tasty and quick smoothie recipe.

If you’d rather enjoy your figs thawed,  you’ll need to slowly defrost them in your fridge for a few hours. However, at this point be prepared for a shock. These defrosted figs are incredibly slimy and incredibly mushy. That’s simply an unavoidable aspect of the freezing process – and the price you’ll pay if you want figs you can defrost any time.

It’s somewhat off putting, and nowhere near as nice as handling actual fresh figs, but while the texture is somewhat compromised the taste is still the same.

If you can stand the wait to thaw these, and the softness, there are lots of great recipes that call for the refined sweetness of green figs.

Here’s one that I like, a rather laid back recipe for laid back times.

Fig, Arugula and Goat Cheese Flat Bread - straight out of the oven.

Fig, Arugula and Goat Cheese Flat Bread – straight out of the oven.

 


Fig, Arugula and Goat Cheese Flat Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 flat bread
  • 1 or 2 tsp olive oil
  • Some arugula
  • Some awesome goat cheese
  • Trader Joe’s Organic Green Figs (quartered)

Directions

  • Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.
  •  Paint the flat bread with olive oil, until it has a nice sheen.
  • Lay down a bed of arugula. On top of this add your (thawed) quartered, green figs and as much  goat cheese as you feel comfortable with.
  • Pop you prepared flat bread in the oven and heat until toasty. About 5-10 minutes
  • Enjoy the hell out of it with a few friends while discussing philosophy, the sunset, or Game of Thrones.

 


Note to you, the reader If you like this recipe, or want to see more, let me know! And feel free to share your notes on it in the comments.


 

The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend Them: I’d look for fresh figs first – but these are a good stand in.

Would I Buy Them Again: Sure, I really like that flat bread!

Final Synopsis: Not as good as getting your figs fresh, but more convenient.

Trader Joe's Organic Whole Green Figs - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Organic Whole Green Figs – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Low Fat Chicken Chow Mein

Trader Joe's Low Fat Chicken Chow Mein

BEHOLD – mediocre, frozen Chinese food. Given to man by the lamest Prometheus.

Most of the time Trader Joe’s manages to make their frozen food look quite delectable on the bag. For some reason, they just couldn’t manage it with their chicken chow mein. From the barren, spike-filled background on which it sits, to the uninspired “here it is” presentation of the dish, the whole picture wouldn’t look out of place inelegantly thumb tacked to the wall of that Chinese food place you never go in.

That should always be your first tip off. If the small army of marketers behind the promo picture, armed with the latest in unscrupulous food trickery and photoshop, can’t make it look good, it’s probably not very good.

From the get go you know it’s not going to be pretty, so the question really is, What do you expect from a frozen chicken chow mein? There’s plenty of good, fresh cooked chow mein out there, but this chicken chow mein isn’t that, and it never will be. This is simply a bag of frozen noodles and vegetables that you can cook up in about 7 minutes.

While there’s nothing amazing or exemplary about this chow mein, there’s nothing bad about it either. It’s there, you’re not going to do any flips over it, but it’ll get the job done – which in this case is nourishing your meaty bod.

There are no special tricks here, it looks like a pound of frozen chicken, vegetables and noodles and that’s what you get. The frozen broccoli, julienned carrots, onions, and strips of red pepper taste just like reheated frozen vegetables always taste – somewhat limp, somewhat muted. The same applies to the chicken, which is entirely ordinary cubes of white chicken breast touched up with some salt. All told they are entirely edible and perfectly acceptable for a no frill Tuesday night, but not something that is going to light up your evening.

The noodles are a cut above what you’d expect to get from a cup of ramen, but not by too much. Like the rest of the meal, they are just good enough to pass mustard without excelling.

A frozen chicken chow mein is meant to be a quick and easy meal, and that’s what Trader Joe’s delivers. Unlike some of their other, higher quality dishes like Trader Joe’s Kung Pao Chicken none of the ingredients are separated out for individual cooking. This is a bag you rip open and dump in the pan. As far as that goes, it’s good, but it never aspires to anything above that station.

And that’s precisely the problem. Trader Joe’s has a lot of excellent frozen dinners to offer, even in the “lonely bachelor food” category. Along with the aforementioned Kungo Pao Chicken, there’s Thai Sai Tung Curry, Hake en papillote  or Pizza Veggie Burgers. The list goes on really. If you’re really hurting for chow mein, make your own or just order in. Otherwise, there are plenty of other options out there for your last minute dinner needs.


 

The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: Apathetically, perhaps.

 Would I Buy It Again: No, I think I’ll stay a Kung Pao man.

 Final Synopsis: It’s good for a frozen chow mein, so in other words, “meh”.

 

Trader Joe's Low Fat Chicken Chow Mein - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Low Fat Chicken Chow Mein – Nutrition Facts

 

 


Trader Joe’s Chickenless Crispy Tenders

Trader Joe's Chickenless Crispy Tenders

I wanted to include more of the tenders in this pic, but I accidentally ate a bunch of them.

I’ve got to hand it to Trader Joe’s Chickenless Crispy Tenders – they’re some of the best fake meat I’ve had to date. I’ve commented before on the common pitfalls of vegetarian cuisine attempting to ape meat instead of just doing its own thing. Usually this ends in a painfully tortured product name that attempts to acknowledge that it’s totally vegetarian but tastes just like meat, wink wink. (cf. Tofurkey). Generally this is an outrageous lie, or, more generously, extremely wishful thinking by a meat-starved demographic.

            I’ve already expounded on my metaphysical sympathy for vegetarians. I can support the cause – I advocate the idea of abstaining from meat, and would do so myself if only my intensely bon vivant lifestyle would allow for it. Nevertheless, like the soy creamy ice cream substitute before it, I bought some crispy chickenless teneder because I needed a non-meat alternative for my (one) vegan friend. As fate would have it, I accidentally forgot to cook them in time for the meal, she ended up having nothing, and I was left with these chickenless tenders until tonight, when continued poor planning left me with nothing else in the house to eat.

            Fortunately, Trader Joe’s Chickenless Tenders are not just edible, but downright tasty. They actually taste more or less like chicken tenders. How close? Close enough you could probably fool an unwary guest if you served them up without fanfare. There is still that tell-tale aftertaste of “soy-ness” that hangs around, but it’s pretty mild and is more or less totally cloaked by whatever dipping sauces or dressings you’re going to be ingesting the chicken tenders with. The only strange part is that the strips have been “breaded” in a variety of oats and flours that result in a crumbly, quasi breading that’s generally inferior to ordinary breading. The reason for this substitution, I cannot quite fathom.

 TJ’s has managed to capture not just the taste, but also the texture of breaded chicken strips. The tenders are precisely that, coming out of the oven tender, moist, and just toothsome enough to give you a nice balance between chewy and yielding. They even pull apart more or less like real chicken, which is a difficult feat to accomplish when your medium is soy protein isolate.

            How did TJ’s manage such a thing? I have no idea, but apparently it involves a large number of strange sounding, if allegedly natural, ingredients.

 Water, soy protein isolate, and canola oil make up the first three ingredients, naturally enough. It might seem unusual that oil is ingredient #3, but remember that these are oven-baked “chicken” fingers we’re talking about. Like fish and or shrimp nuggets, when you take them out of the oven you’re going to be picking them up out of a little pool of their own oil.

 After these three ingredients things get a little crazy. Pea protein pops up in a prominent position. Are peas known for their protein? Is it possible to tell someone, out loud, that your food has a lot of pea protein in it and not make it sound like an unspeakable form of bio-waste recycling? Not as far as I’m concerned.

After that we get into the ancient grain flours – including quinoa (natch), millet, and everyone’s favorite, amaranth. Rounding all that out is a good helping of Kamut®. “What the hell is Kamut®, and why is it trademarked?” is the very reasonable question you might be asking yourself right now. We’ll have to save that can of worms for another day, but the short answer is it’s a proprietary form of ancient wheat known as Khorasan wheat, originally from round about Afghanistan and nowadays lorded over by two Montana farmers.  Also there’s beet root fiber in the tenders.

  Somehow, in the end, all of this comes together to make strangely delicious vegan chicken tenders, with only thrice the fat of regular chicken tenders. For me it’s less important how it all works out, then the fact that it does. They might not replace regular, flesh and blood chicken in my life, but it’s good to know there’s a good back up option should it ever come to it.


 The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: I would, if you’re a vegan/vegetarian.

Would I Buy It Again: This seems like a good fit for Meatless Monday.

Final Synopsis: Eerily good vegan chicken tenders.

Trader Joe's Chickenless Crispy Tenders - Nutrtion Facts

Trader Joe’s Chickenless Crispy Tenders – Nutrtion Facts


Trader Joe’s Hake en Papillote

Trader Joe's Hake en Papillote

Ah…yes…Hake en Papillote…Of course I know what that means.

If Trader Joe’s made love to Ikea, Hake en Papillote would be their golden child.

Trader Joe’s typically intriguing take on food shows up with all the hallmarks of the Swedish furniture magnate4 here – an absurdly foreign name, calming minimalist design, and clever European-style packaging. That’s nice, much more refreshing than the usual frozen fish in vacuum-packed polyvinyl approach, but design is not food. My question is, does it taste as good as it looks?

Yes it is. And more so. I’ll delve into the details shortly, but first I want to answer the question on everyone’s mind: What the hell does “Hake en Papillote” mean?

Hake (rhymes with “rake”) is a smallish, seagoing white fish – most commonly eaten in Western Europe. Spaniards in particular hanker after the hake, snapping up nearly 50% of all hake eaten on the continent. Like tilapia, hake is a text book example of a “trash” fish suddenly becoming a marketplace commodity. Previously sold on the docks as “scrod”, denoting its undesirability and small size, hake has now stepped in as a tasty, white and flaky alternative to more expensive cod or halibut. The problem with all white fish is that they tend to dry out more or less immediately when stuck in a hot oven. This problem can be worked around in a number of ways, but Trader Joe’s struck on an innovative solution with its roots in French, as well as Japanese culture.

Cooking “en papillote” literally means “in parchment” in French. Upon opening your box of hake you’ll see this is exactly what Trader Joe’s has delivered on – a tidy box of folded white paper entombing your meal. There are various reasons for cooking in this rather unconventional way, but ultimately the reason is that foods sealed in paper will steam in their own evaporated juices, creating an even more flavorful environment than with traditional steaming (where the water vapor rushes out and away).

Cooking en papillote is generally limited to fish and vegetables, so obviously a good choice here, but is historically fraught with difficulties – How is the meal best wrapped? How is it kept closed as it steams? How can it be opened without scalding tender fingers? As a result, most en papillote cooking, even at fancy restaurants striving for haute cuisine, use aluminum foil for the task.

Trader Joe’s would have none of that. As stated on the box, and self-evident upon opening the package, they have devised a brilliant, two-piece, origami box that neatly wraps up the food, holds it safe, and allows for easy opening – either in the kitchen or directly on the plate for that “ooh-la-la” feeling.

So it’s a fancy take on something old, that’s fine – but is it worth all the paper-folding? Simply put, Trader Joe’s should start packaging all of their frozen fish like this, because I can’t get enough. Hake en Papillote is, without a doubt, the tastiest frozen meal I’ve ever had from Trader Joe’s or, in fact, ever.

Now, I’m not necessarily a fish person – I’m entirely satisfied to go months on end without tasting the flesh of the cold-blooded ichthyoid – but Hake in Papillote might just change my mind. Conceive of a light, flaky fish in a tasty, savory nutty pesto with a spring vegetable melange that pleases the whole tongue and you’ve got it. Often, I find that white fish tends to taste particularly “fishy”, though whether that’s because of something inherent in the fish or my own poor cooking I don’t know. In either case, the preparation here takes care of that for me and the hake has a clean, fresh taste without a hint of fishiness. The cherry tomatoes and zucchini are augmented elegantly by the delicious, but not overwhelming, pesto, and the steam-cooking process ensures that all these flavors come out vividly.

And let’s not for get the nutritional information – Hake en Papillote offers a complete entree that’s actually healthy. 14 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbs and only 220 calories make it the perfect, tasty meal for all but the most ascetic dieters.

It is a brilliant work of food engineering – from packaging, to presentation, to taste, to price. I try and maintain a philosophical outlook on the comings-and-goings of Trader Joe’s many products – to become too attached to any one product at TJ’s is to set yourself up for heartbreak – but this is one product whose eventual absence will leave me utterly crestfallen.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: Yes, firmly and definitely.

Would I Buy it Again: I’ll be picking this up on a weekly basis.

Final Synopsis: The best frozen fish you’ve ever had, and a reason to believe in a hopeful future.

Trader Joe's Hake en Papillote - Nutritional Information

Trader Joe’s Hake en Papillote – Nutritional Information