Those who know me know I cook from scratch. All the time. I have written about how and where I shop before, so I won’t again, but I have also written about occasionally having enough of peeling, chopping and sautéing and looking for easy/quick/no-dishes ways to a nice dinner.
Those who know me also know I have a freezer big enough to fit the entire family – Hubby works in the shrimp business – but that freezer is always more than a little empty. Frozen food, although freezing is a great way to preserve foodstuffs, just doesn’t appeal to me. I have tried buying bags of frozen peas and things in the past, but except for green beans and said peas, it takes me as long to defrost and reheat a lump of vegetable soup than to make fresh soup, so I just don’t see the point.
A by-product of my way of shopping and cooking is that the entire horsemeat-scandal last year went right over our heads. When you don’t ever buy TV dinners, you couldn’t really care less what they put in them. Knowing how to cook is rather a handy skill at times :-).
In France (like everywhere, I suppose), you can buy frozen food in your local supermarket with an amazing array of products – anything from sliced zucchini and char-grilled aubergine to (hopefully) beef moussaka, ham/cheese/béchamel pancakes, snails in garlic butter and, of course, pre-fried potatoes in every shape and size. In addition to this, you have two main freezer-only supermarkets, Picard and Thiriet, as well as a number of companies that deliver frozen goods right to your doorstep. So this week I said to myself, “With so much to choose from, why not try some and take it easy for a few days?!?”
Picard just opened a new shop near my house, and since it has the reputation of being a quality establishment, I decided to go there. I actually was impressed by their selection. The packaging is neat and easy to read, their freezers are organized by product type and are easy to navigate. They had stuff I would never have thought of: chopped onions, for example. It just had never entered my mind, but I can see how this could be a time-saver of sorts.
I chose a number of items and decided to cook a few straight away for dinner with the kids.
Day 1: Frozen pizza.
OK, this is definitely quicker than making your own, but the first thing I saw was that the chorizo was not the kind of quality I would have chosen (there was a lot of fat), and the cheese and other toppings looked few and far between. It looked OK coming out of the oven – ish – but it really tasted like eating cardboard with sweet spaghetti sauce. Indigestion, here we come!
Day 2: Asian-style wok noodles with soya sauce, nems, green curry “crackers” and red curry “moneybags”, Thai-style broth with galangal and lemongrass
Anything in a wok is quick, so reheating frozen wok noodles takes just as long as making a fresh batch. As taste goes, I found them bland and the kids complained that I had cut their noodles and that they kept falling off their chopsticks. The nems were OK (I only got one – those kids are like locusts), and the red/green curry things were fine, but neither had much flavour, either. I baked them 10 minutes longer than recommended because the dough still looked pale and pasty. The soup was positively boring and did not merit a two-chili “hot and spicy”-warning. I have had better soup from a tin or concentrate in a jar. No indigestion this time, but the meal was long on preparation, short on taste, and there was lots of grease left on the baking tray in the end. Hmmm.
Day 3: Cold starter with marinated salmon, cream cheese and tomato confit
This actually was a nice surprise. The frozen thing didn’t look appetising in the least: it’s two little aluminium ramequins with something white in it, plus a see-through sachet of yellowish slurpee slush. Once you let it defrost in your refrigerator, you have to tip the alu dish upside down to turn the starter out of the mould and into a plate. In my case, two of the three layers came out fine, leaving me trying to scoop out a disc of gelatinous tomato and dropping it onto the other two layers as neatly as possible. Again – not terribly appetising. The sachet contained some kind of vinaigrette you use to drizzle over the salmon/cream cheese/tomato thing. Visually… nah. But it actually tasted lovely with a slice of walnut bread and I would buy it again. I think. Or make something like it from scratch.
Both were good. I don’t usually make my own puff pastry. It takes ages and unlike all other shop-bought pastries (shortcrust, sablé, pizza, etc.), I can’t tell the difference between one or another. I do only buy “pur beurre” puff pastry, though – butter only, no margarine or oil or, Heaven forbid!, white lard. The croissants were not pre-baked, just pre-rolled and took about 20 minutes to bake. They smelled and tasted lovely.
So… what’s the overall verdict? I have tasted a few frozen things over the years (including one memorable date with a French student who served me frozen paëlla – ugh!), but except for plain vegetables frozen for emergencies, above-mentioned ready-to-bake pastry and ice-creams, I will stick to what I know: buying fresh and cooking from scratch. Most Asian dim sum-type things are frozen and imported from abroad, even in (too) many restaurants, but if I want to go that way, I’ll buy them directly from the Asian markets in town rather than buying pseudo-Asian dishes from French stores. I’ll definitely never buy frozen pizza again – I might as well eat a newspaper with ketchup.
Would you believe that just last night my phone rang about 8p.m….? Of course, telemarketers always wait until it’s dinner time to call to make sure that you’re at home. Anyway, it was a young woman paid by one of those frozen food delivery specialists to enquire about the state of my freezer. Hubby either hangs up or tells them off, but I have a certain amount of empathy for those poor people who have no alternative way of making money than by working in a call center, and I listen. “Yes, I have a freezer.” “Yes, I have heard of your company.” “No, I am not a customer and neither have I the intention of becoming one. You see, I just did an experiment…”
I am pretty sure it’s the first time a telemarketer was trying to hang up on a prospect and couldn’t get rid of them. (Their calls never bothered me anyway.)