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It seems that Lean Cuisine is really trying to improve their offerings. They've introduced a new line they call their "Culinary Collection" that is supposed to be inspired by a group of professional chefs that Lean Cuisine calls their "Culinary Roundtable." These meals can be recognized by the "Chef's Pick" label on the packaging. Two of them seemed promising: a Glazed Chicken, which is described as having "a savory lemon tarragon sauce," and a Thai-Style Chicken, with "creamy rice with toasted coconut."
The first we tested has an unusually low amount of sodium for a Lean Cuisine product, and that really makes me hopeful that Lean Cuisine is working to improve the healthfulness of their products. The Glazed Chicken is 240 calories and 2 grams of fiber, with only 450 milligrams of sodium. That's pretty low for a frozen meal, but here's some perspective: that's 1.8 milligrams of sodium per calorie in a tiny little plate of food. Compare that to having a dinner meal of my Spiced Chicken with Honey Glaze over Jasmine Rice with Green Beans with Red Onion. That meal would be a total of 651 milligrams of sodium and 433 calories - 1.5 milligrams of sodium per calorie. (1.8 milligrams of sodium per calorie for my meal would require just about 780 milligrams of sodium.)
Might seem to be pretty comparable, right? Until you try Lean Cuisine's Glazed Chicken. After 5 minutes in the microwave, you end up with several chunks of chicken tenderloins covered with a thick, gooey sauce that has the sheen of cornstarch. It's a little sweet, but there's no flavor of lemon or tarragon. The Frenched green beans become dried out in the overcooked, mushy white rice, and the cashews, which I would think had been added to provide texture as well as flavor, become chewy. Even mixing the sauce into the rice does nothing for the flavor of either. If I got this in a restaurant I'd ask for my money back. To make matters worse, out of curiosity I looked at the ingredients on the packaging to discover that High Fructose Corn Syrup is the second ingredient in the chicken tenderloins. Bad Lean Cuisine! No biscuit!
The Dr. Gourmet tasting panel was a little more optimistic about the Thai-Style Chicken. As I've remarked before, spicier cuisines like Mexican or Thai food seem to translate better to the frozen meal market. This proved to be the case here, with a well-executed red curry sauce redolent with ginger and creamy with coconut milk. The rice is described as "creamy," and that it certainly is - extremely so. There's bits of spinach and red bell pepper in the rice and more strong coconut-cream flavor, but don't try spotting the toasted coconut pictured on the package - it's not visible, but you can taste it. This meal is also a little gooey, but the Thai flavors make up for the overall texture. This has 300 calories and 2 grams of fiber, but far more sodium at 600 milligrams (2 milligrams of sodium per calorie, for those counting). Of the two meals we tested today, the Thai-Style Chicken definitely came out ahead - but I'd still rather have the Spiced Chicken with Honey Glaze.
Reviewed: March 2, 2012