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Dr. Gourmet's Food Reviews

Rao's

Chicken Parmesan and Meat Lasagna

Dr. Gourmet reviews the Chicken Parmesan from Rao's

I've seen the Rao's brand on the shelves in the pasta aisle, but this was the first time I've seen them in the frozen aisle. They're a little higher in sodium than we'd like, and at $5.99 each a little pricey, as well. Still, as my wife observed, "If pasta sauce is their primary business, I think it's fair to expect decent Italian food."

Maybe.

On paper the Chicken Parmesan is really promising: the ingredients list contains nothing but real food ingredients, from the first, "whole peeled tomatoes", to "spices, garlic", the last two items. No preservatives other than salt. The only unusual ingredient is "soy oil".

On the other hand, at 340 calories and 680 milligrams of sodium this is on the high side of acceptability - and it only has 2 grams of fiber. Using whole wheat breadcrumbs and whole wheat pasta would help improve this, of course.

the Chicken Parmesan from Rao's, after cooking in the microwave

But you can see the problem: we cooked this dish per the package instructions - 5 minutes in the microwave, 1 minute standing - and whatever sauce was present in this dish is either burned or nearly so. (And unlike our old microwave, the unit we're using here in Washington, DC is not ultra-powerful.)

My wife remarked, "How can it look burned when it was cooked in a microwave?"

On the plus side, the chicken required a knife to cut it: it's truly a piece of pounded chicken breast and not the ultra-processed and compressed bit of chicken protein we've seen in other chicken parmesan dishes. It's tender and has a true chicken flavor (when it doesn't taste burned).

The overcooking has left the tomato sauce dry, sticky, and sour, and while some of the pasta is indeed al dente, the rest is dried out and chewy. The cheese? My wife described it as "purely decorative." Too bad.

After that less-than-stellar introduction our expectations for the Meat Lasagna were fairly low (390 calories, 700mg sodium, 2g fiber).

Dr. Gourmet reviews the Meat Lasagna from Rao's

And those expectations were fully met.

What's a real shame about this lasagna is that the meat sauce, although salty, is actually really, really good. It has a deep, rich beef and pork flavor and tastes like it came out of my New Jersey adolescence.

the Meat Lasagna from Rao's, after cooking in the microwave

The problem is that once again they've skimped on the tomato sauce, which means the edges come out burned (and not in a good way).

What you actually get here is three extremely thick and chewy sheets of lasagna, a couple of dollops of romano cheese mixed with oregano dropped in the center of the lasagna sheets (and otherwise flavorless despite the salt), just enough tomato sauce to burn, and a couple of dabs of mozzarella on top.

Rao's pasta sauce might be good - we'll be sure to test it the next time we do a series on pasta sauce - but we can't recommend their frozen meals.

Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet

Review posted: July 24, 2020