Meal kits – does convenience outweigh flaws?


Over the past few years, we’ve tried a number of home meal kits available online. Most require a subscription, many offer ephemeral discounts, and all generate abundant waste from the packaging materials needed to ship perishable foods. On a recent trip to the Fresh Market, I noticed that they also offer meal kits of two different types.

The first version, called Little Big Meal, offers a set of ingredients to assemble a specific menu. For example, several weeks ago they offered fajitas, where customers selected strips of chicken or beef, then scooped up tortilla shells, sliced ​​vegetables, sour cream, shredded cheese, and a mixture of seasonings, all arranged around the cooler containing the refrigerated items. These are designed to feed a party of four at a reasonable price.

Last week they offered a hibachi meal with a choice of chicken, pork or shrimp served over rice. Vegetables were pre-chopped and two sets of sauces were available. The final item of the meal was a choice between spring rolls and potstickers. From the instructions, it seemed pretty simple to make and had plenty of options to customize the meal.

Another version of their meal kits is called exactly that, and the kits contain pre-packaged ingredients grouped together. We chose the salmon fillets with lemony capers with couscous and asparagus. This kit made two servings for just under $20 – less than a restaurant meal would cost for one person, but more than buying the ingredients instead of the kit. And the experience was a bit uneven.

On the plus side, the salmon was perfectly fresh and trimmed in the skin. There was a generous amount of asparagus, but they had been haphazardly chopped instead of cut into even pieces. The couscous could have been cooked on the stove in about 10 minutes, but they opted to precook the grains and reheat them in the microwave.

My biggest disappointment was the lemon caper sauce. The image on the packaging shows a bright yellow glaze sprinkled with capers. In the photo of our version, the sauce looks more like a brown sauce, and we had to add more capers from the jar in our fridge. Couldn’t taste any lemon and wish I had thought of grating some zest into the sauce to liven up the flavor.

The other thing about the kit was the way it asked you to prepare each ingredient sequentially, instead of pulling out another pan to cook everything at once. Following directions allowed the asparagus, couscous and salmon to cool while the sauce heated. If I had to do it again, I would start simmering the sauce along with the steamed asparagus and pan-fried salmon.

And, there is the question – would I try again? I think if I was pressed for time or the closet was empty, I’d grab one of these quick and easy kits. But, if I was already in the store to buy the kit, why not just buy the ingredients to make the dish? This way I could control what was in the sauce, making sure to include plenty of lemon and capers. If you’d like to make this salmon dish, I’ve included the recipe for grilling it on the stovetop as well as baked in parchment, along with two sauces.

Couscous & Asparagus*

1 cup pearl couscous

1 1/2 C vegetable broth

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 bunch of asparagus

2 T of water

salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring broth to a boil over high heat. Stir in couscous and cover; cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the woody parts at the base of the asparagus stalks. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the asparagus. Cook for 2 minutes, then add water. Cover and steam until tender, about 3 minutes. In a serving bowl, combine couscous and asparagus, stirring to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. *Adapted from The Fresh Market.

Lemon sauce with capers

4 cups unsalted butter

1 minced garlic clove

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp lemon zest

2 t capers

2 t chopped chives

Melt the butter in a small skillet over low heat. Add the garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest and capers. Bring to a boil and continue cooking over low heat for about 30 seconds. Add the chopped chives and serve immediately.

Creamy Dill Sauce

3/4 C sour cream

2 cups Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic, grated

2 tsp chopped fresh dill

1 tsp lemon zest

2 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp milk

1/4 cup salt

1/4 cup white pepper

Whisk the ingredients together until smooth. Serve over grilled fish or chicken. Store leftovers tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Pan-fried salmon*

2 salmon fillets of 6 oz

salt pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

Cut the skin off the salmon, if desired. Season the fillets on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a skillet. Add the salmon and cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side, turning once. Serve with a herb sauce. *Adapted from The Fresh Market.

Salmon in parchment

2 salmon fillets of 6 oz

salt pepper

4 slices of lemon

2 cups of white wine

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place each salmon fillet on a rectangular sheet of parchment paper. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place 2 slices of lemon on each piece of fish. Sprinkle each with 1 T of wine. Fold the paper over to enclose the fillets and crimp the edges to seal. Bake until puffed and fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with a herb sauce.


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