I Paid: $4.99 (for soup) to $13.99 (for cod entrée and salmon entrée) (prices may vary by region)
Somewhere between homemade food, restaurant entrées, and items from your grocer’s freezer lies the stuff sold by Schwan’s Home Service, the largest frozen food delivery service in the U.S. It works like this: Shop for over 350 frozen food products listed on the company’s website, and the food will be delivered to you at home (in an insulated cooler, if you’re not there). There’s no minimum purchase, and in most areas the delivery fee is just $1.
I tried the entire line of the company’s new Chef Jet Traditional Asian Cuisine (created by Jet Tila, executive chef at Wazuzu at the Wynn Encore Hotel in Las Vegas). It included Cantonese Steamed Cod with Ginger and Soy ($13.99), Salmon Teriyaki ($13.99), Drunken Noodles ($11.99), Chicken Lo Mein ($11.99), and Thai Chicken Coconut Soup ($4.99). The first thing that should be jumping out at you is that these things aren’t cheap. Assuming you live somewhere near Asian restaurants, for similar (or even lower) prices, you could eat out or have the food delivered to your door by a local spot. This puts the bar fairly high for Schwan’s, and it’s a bar that not all these meals cleared.
Starting with the best: I’d happily reorder the Chicken Lo Mein, which ranks among the top renditions of this dish that I’ve tasted. The noodles were toothsome and flavorful, the chicken tender, the overall flavor balanced and happily influenced by roasted onions and bell peppers. The noodles arrived in three frozen nests that slowly unwound when heated, and the portions were sufficient for two big meals or three reasonable portions. Thai-style Drunken Noodles were also good, although not quite at the same level. Advertised as offering a “flavor explosion” of “spicy-sweet soy, garlic, ginger and chili Asian sauce,” they lacked both heat and herbal kick. But the noodles, again, were a good, chewy texture. Thai Chicken Coconut Soup was a reasonable value: For what you’d pay at a Thai restaurant, you get a well-balanced, tender, flavorful soup that’s … well, equivalent to what you’d get at a Thai restaurant.
The fish entrées are $14 a pop, which puts them squarely in the realm of dining out at a real restaurant. Therefore, their flaws were less tolerable. The Steamazing bag used for cooking the entrées was a little too Steamazing for its own good: The accompanying items, including the rice and particularly the vegetables, came out soggy or overcooked, even toward the minimum end of the recommended cook times. Worse, the salmon was unpleasantly fishy even with its teriyaki sauce. The cod, by contrast, was downright delicious—flaky, buttery, and almost lobsterlike. Unfortunately, the cod’s running mates were not as fantastic: The broccoli was steamed within an inch of its life, and the rice was dull and lifeless.
Schwan’s offers an interesting alternative to conventional ways of eating, and if you’ve got the cash and don’t want to leave your apartment, it’s worth exploring. Just tread carefully.