By: General Mills
I Paid: $4.59 for a 21.5-ounce box, not including chicken (prices may vary by region)
Wanchai Ferry has been a popular food brand in Hong Kong and China for about 20 years. Now, backed by a marketing campaign promising easy-to-prepare Chinese food, it’s pushing into the U.S. market.
In order to get a feel for the brand, it’s useful to examine two of the line’s new flavors, Spicy Garlic Chicken (a kit including canned bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, jasmine rice, spicy garlic sauce, and seasoned cornstarch) and Kung Pao Chicken (a kit including jasmine rice, roasted peanuts, red chiles, and kung pao sauce). For both kits, one must buy the chicken separately.
Preparation is similar in either case. After you get your relatively no-fail rice rolling, you pan-fry pieces of chicken (covered in seasoned cornstarch, in the case of Spicy Garlic Chicken), add the sauce and other mix-ins, fry for a couple more minutes, then serve over rice.
That’s a little more work than the marketing would suggest. You have to buy and prep chicken, making a decent mess in the kitchen. That said, the result is some surprisingly good Chinese food. Both dishes were on a par with high-end takeout: They offer a fresh overall taste and appropriate levels of warm garlic flavor and peanut-y chile heat, respectively.
For the amount of hassle and expense involved in preparing these meals, it may make more sense to just cowboy up and buy an honest-to-goodness Chinese cookbook or cop out and dial for delivery. That said, they’re relatively delicious, and if you don’t have a reliable takeout joint within range, Wanchai Ferry is a completely respectable alternative.
By: Jimmy Dean
I paid: $2.99 for a 7.6-ounce meal (prices may vary by region)
What is it about Jimmy Dean that keeps a jaded food reviewer coming back for more? After a recent and disastrous Pancakes & Sausage Minis experience, the only answer that makes any sense may be: “God only knows.” It might be the colorful packaging. It might be the appeal of getting a whole “meal” for under $3. And it might be a perverse desire to see that great European masterwork of baking, the croissant, in its most degraded form. Like a once-famous ballerina forced by dire circumstances to prostitute herself in the muddy backwoods of Romania, the Jimmy Dean croissant is a tragic echo of nearly forgotten greatness. The thing is vaguely croissant-shaped, yes. But beyond that, it’s just a soft dinner roll. A soft, flavorless, characterless low-end dinner roll that would be right at home in an institutional mess hall.
This, it should be stated, isn’t entirely a strike against it. One of the big challenges of breakfast sandwiches—and the one most often blown by fancy breakfast eateries—is that the bread should not be so full of vim and crunch and character that it overwhelms the sandwich’s contents. The bread should not be the star of the show; it should be a supporting player. In that regard, the Jimmy Dean croissant succeeds, letting the underwhelming (but reasonably seasoned) sausage patty and melted cheese be tasted in all their not-fantastic glory. And though the sandwich is the main show, the meal also features diced apples and hash browns. The latter are a little rubbery but actually not too bad, since they are adequately seasoned with salt and pepper and can be covered in ketchup. The former taste like low-grade apple pie filling: They emerge from the microwave steaming hot and overly sweet.
There are worse breakfasts to be had out there (Pancakes & Sausage Minis come immediately to mind). But there are also many, many better ones.