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This week we have another meal delivery service, but with a twist: this company doesn't send you the ingredients for you to do the cooking at home. Instead, a team of private chefs make each meal from scratch, plate it individually, and it's shipped directly to you.
When my wife told me that she'd ordered 4 meals from this company and described how it worked, I thought, "If the food's good, it could work." You see, for every ingredient delivery service we've reviewed, one of our biggest complaints has been the packaging. Boxes and bags and packages of packages, plus giant boxes full of ice packs that either take up a ton of space in our freezer or have to be discarded. It's appallingly wasteful.
CookUnity doesn't do that. The food is shipped chilled, not frozen, and each package has a lot more in common with the frozen convenience meals we so frequently review than the boxes full of ingredients and dubious recipes.
For our review, my wife chose four meals that were advertised as gluten-free, looking for those with reasonable levels of sodium and reasonable in calories. Each meal has a "Use by" date on it. In our case, our shipment was delivered on a Thursday, with the first meal's use-by date two days later: Saturday. The other three meals were labeled for the three following days: Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.
Thus on Saturday we tasted the Salmon Tandoori:
Each package comes with reheating instructions for both conventional ovens and microwave ovens. As we always do when given the option, we chose to use the microwave. The Salmon Tandoori's instructions tell us that the salad and sauce (provided in a 1-ounce plastic tub) are better cold, so we removed the salmon from the package and microwaved it separately according to the package instructions.
On the one hand, it's a little disappointing because we were hoping for spicy, savory tandoori flavors, and there just aren't any. The cucumber sauce (basically raita) has just the faintest cucumber flavor. But those are the only drawbacks to what is otherwise a pretty respectable meal. The salmon is just a little dry, but since it's shipped cooked, that's not surprising. The salad, of arugula, red and yellow bell peppers, and avocado, is as fresh as you'd want it to be. This is billed as having 802 calories, an impressive 329mg sodium, and 4 grams of fiber. Certainly this is better than almost anything we've had from the ingredient delivery services.
The following day we tasted the Lamb Moussaka:
This was a revelation at 433 calories, 144mg sodium and 6 grams of fiber. It's labeled "Greek Style Lamb Moussaka with eggplant, cauliflower bechamel sauce" and it is simply delicious. Two layers of eggplant alternate with two layers of a fantastic tomatoey, creamy meat sauce full of unctuous, umami ground lamb dotted with onions.
The eggplant is soft enough to cut with a fork and the cauliflower bechamel sauce is a great idea - one I may try to replicate. It's nitpicking, but this could use just a little more oregano. As it is, I would call it a mild moussaka. If I got this in a Greek restaurant, I'd be happy.
Sunday we tasted the Grilled Chipotle Lime BBQ Chicken:
Except I wasn't able to taste it. Despite the meal's being labeled gluten-free on the CookUnity website, the package's allergen advisory stated, "Contains Soy, Wheat." The only ingredient that could possibly contain wheat was the generically-described "Barbecue Sauce," but I know from experience that it's just not worth taking the risk.
So my wife tasted it. She said the two large chicken thighs included in the dish were nice and tender, with a softly spicy chipotle-based barbecue sauce ("not really spicy at all"). It's served with a corn, black beans, and tomato salsa: "The corn is just as fresh as can be," she said, noting that the black beans are neither over- nor under-cooked, the tomatos sweet, and just a tang of cilantro.
"With the barbecue sauce [the salsa] is really savory," she continued. "This is a lot of food and is great on its own, but it would also make a great burrito." (This has 731 calories - enough for two lunches - 279mg sodium, and a phenomenal 17 grams of fiber.)
Our last dish for review was the Mushroom Ragu (446 calories, 436mg sodium, 8g fiber):
This comes with a small tub of freshly-grated parmesan (not the stuff in the green shaker), another small tub containing the ragu, and a dollop of polenta. Pour the ragu into the paperboard bowl and heat, then sprinkle the parmesan over it and dig in.
Boy, is this meaty-tasting! I could spot at least three different types of mushrooms in this dish: oyster, crimini, and shiitake. They've been cooked down in a rich tomato sauce full of basil and oregano that's made from fresh tomatoes - and we know this because we found a whole, blanched and peeled tomato in this dish. (My wife and I didn't mind this in the least - these things happen and the flavor is just too good to care.) If nobody told you, you'd never know that there's no meat in this dish - it's fully as savory as the Lamb Moussaka.
Again, only a nitpick here: the polenta has just a little too much heavy cream in it, stepping on its corn flavor just a little bit. Another exceptional dish and another we'd be happy to get in a restaurant.
Overall, an impressive showing.
CookUnity is the only delivery service we can recommend, of those we've tested. Although the price is higher - we paid $13.49 per meal, plus tax - you're actually getting the convenience you're paying for. (Note that the more meals you order per week, the less you pay per meal.)
What you're really paying for with the ingredient delivery services is for someone to do the shopping for you and send you the recipe for you to do the work of cooking.
Here, you're paying an expert to do all of the purchasing, prep, and cooking, and all you have to do is heat it up. There's less packaging, nearly all of the packaging is recycleable fiberboard, you know it's cooked correctly, and from what we've tasted, the food is excellent. (Freshly, another meal delivery service, just wasn't worth it.)
CookUnity's delivery area is limited to the Northeast, but if you're able, make your meal choices with care and enjoy.
Posted: October 30, 2020