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After tasting the more exotic meals from Saffron Road last week, this week we find ourselves firmly back on familiar turf with two chicken meals from Lean Cuisine's Culinary Collection. Looking over our list of Lean Cuisine reviews, it would seem that their Culinary Collection has tended to receive more positive reviews from us than negative, and in general it would seem that their food is getting better overall. What's good to note is that in their section of the freezer case, we can pretty consistently find a new variety that meets our sodium requirements. When I can easily pick up a frozen meal that has over 1,300 milligrams of sodium per serving, that's impressive.
Out of our two options, the panel decided to first test the meal we had the lowest expectations for: the Baked Chicken. This is described as "white meat chicken," which as you can see comes in one large piece of chicken rather than several smaller pieces, as we usually see in their meals. Our low expectations seemed to be confirmed when through the plastic we could see what looked a lot more like a light brown Salisbury steak than a piece of chicken. After reminding ourselves that "We eat it, so [our readers] don't have to," we put it in the microwave and cooked it according to the directions.
I'll admit that it's nice to have our low expectations shattered. After cooking and allowing the product to stand for 2 minutes, we cut into the piece of chicken to discover that this is not, as we feared, white meat chicken that has been ground and formed into a patty. I suspect that this is actually meat that has been pounded, which would help explain why the panel declared this the most tender and juicy chicken they could remember having from Lean Cuisine. It comes atop a stuffing redolent of sage and made from chunks of what appears to be white bread as well as chunks of celery. It's the stuffing that sends the only off note here: it starts out chewy (not unlike, say, stuffing that has been reheated) and gets harder and chewier as the meal cools. The mashed red potatoes, however, are also surprisingly good: not overcooked, not over-mashed, creamy, with a good red potato flavor along with a hint of green onion. This dish has 240 calories and 2 grams of fiber, and tastes a little saltier than it should at 600 milligrams of sodium. A quick look at the ingredients explains why: potassium chloride, a common salt substitute, appears in the list on two occasions. Despite the chewy stuffing and the slightly salty flavor, the panel insisted that the chicken overcame those drawbacks, so we give it a thumbs up.
After that positive experience, we were pretty positive that our next meal would be just as good. Roasted Garlic Chicken comes with "creamy parmesan spinach." Sounds good, doesn't it? (Okay, not everyone likes spinach.) This has only 170 calories and 580 milligrams of sodium, but no fiber. None! Not surprising, really - this meal has no starch whatsoever: there's no rice, potatoes, or breadstuffs of any kind. So the first sign of bad news is that this is not a complete meal. Worse, while it smells like roasted garlic while it's cooking, the sauce the 4 chunks of chicken are in (4!) looks and tastes like nothing so much as the gravy I used to get in my Kentucky Fried Chicken mashed potatoes as a kid. Bland, salty, and glistening with cornstarch. The parmesan spinach is another miss - this is really mostly a thin parmesan-flavored cream-like sauce with some spinach in it, not spinach with some sauce on it. No wonder this has so few calories - there's really nothing to this.
A split decision, then, for Lean Cuisine this week. Don't waste your money on the Roasted Garlic Chicken, but the Baked Chicken is a surprise winner.
Reviewed: February 2, 2013