When I was contacted by a representative of Suji's Korean Cuisine to review their new line of prepared Korean meals, I was curious but hesitant. Living in Houston has afforded me the opportunity to eat a lot of very good Korean food and I knew anything pre-made and mass-produced could never approach the quality of fresh fare made in small batches.
But it sure came admirably close, and therefore receives my blessing as a terrific option when 1) You don't have time to go to Bon Ga (my favorite Korean restaurant in Houston) 2) Your Korean chef-in-residence (husband) is away on business and 3) HEB (which vends Suji's products) is more convenient.
I received four samples gratis and in Part I, I will share my thoughts on the Chicken Over Rice and Udon Noodles With Chicken.
Preparing both meals is a cinch: rip off (I mean, delicately remove the label) and microwave for 2 minutes. The portion sizes are modest and more suited to lunch rather than dinner (unless you're all fancy/European and eat your biggest meal of the day at noon).
The Chicken Over Rice boasted large, discernible chunks of carrots and green peppers as well as tender, near translucent slivers of yellow onion. I adored the almost risotto-like consistency, though technically most Korean rice dishes should have a less soupy, more glutinous texture. This dish gets major points for its strong notes of sesame and pepper imbued in the grains as well as bits of moist chicken.
Again, strangely, I was drawn to the very component of the Udon Noodles with Chicken that made them "inauthentic," the presence of udon noodles, which find their origins Japanese cuisine. This is not to say udon noodles are not commonly used in Korean cooking as naturally (or rather, unnaturally, in the case of the Japanese occupation Korea in World War II) styles tend to blend over the years through enhanced travel, trade, and communication. Ultimately, I preferred this dish over the Chicken Over Rice, not just because of the thick, chewy hearty noodles but also the wonderfully robust garlic flavor that contrasted well with a touch of sweetness from the soy sauce.
Look for Part II next week in which I review the Kimchi Rice and Spicy Chicken with Potatoes.
Let's be very clear: I am not a gluten-free gal. I do write this with a wee bit of disdain because I resent the fact that the gluten-free movement has co-opted attention away from people with real gluten sensitivities (e.g. those with celiac disease) and often present this style of eating as "obviously" healthier. It's not.
But I'm not here to deliver a philippic but rather praise for Russo's frozen pies, including their gluten-free varieties.
New Jersey native Anthony Russo is somewhat of a culinary hero for bring a distinct variant of East Coast pizza to H-town, which is now home to several locations of Russo's New York Pizzeria. (Incidentally, if you should find yourself craving NY pies in Dubai, Russo's has a branch there.)
Recently, Russo unveiled a line of frozen pizzas in the following six gluten-free flavors (New York-Style Cheese, Margherita, Pepperoni, Greek, Mulberry, Chicken Rustica) and three regular crust flavors (Prosciutto and Fig, Spicy Chicken Fajita, and Italian-Style Meat Lovers).
Of the three varieties I tried (New York-Style Cheese, Chicken Rustica, Prosciutto & Fig) all had different merits. The gluten-free flavors are distinguishable for their crust texture, which is more uniformly dense and not as fluffy and chewy as the regular kind. But that distinction didn't at all bother me with the Chicken Rustica pizza, for its toppings really stole the show. The combination of roma tomatoes, olive oil (certified Sicilian), and spinach provided a lovely botanical backdrop to the juicy grilled cheese and rich mozzarella and tangy feta cheeses.
Simpler but also satisfying, the New-York Style Cheese was a basic red sauce pie covered in shredded mozzarella and dusted with Italian seasoning. My grade for this pizza (B+) would easily move into "A" range if about a half-cup more cheesed was added in order to ensure a thicker fromage coating.
The fact that the Prosciutto & Fig turned out to be my favorite flavor is not just a function of its use of gluten (I promise!), but rather due to delightful contrast between fruity sweetness and porcine fat in combination with the rich dairy notes from the mozzarella and enervating, crunchy arugula. In the case of this pizza, sparse cheese was in order lest the the savory component be too overwhelming given the very large strips of cured ham.
All of the aforementioned pizzas are lower in sodium and carbohydrates than the majority of others on the market, which means consuming the whole damn delicious pie won't have you feeling bloated or chugging water in the middle of the night.
Samples were provided gratis; opinions are my own.