Recently, a fortunate free trial of the Blue Apron ready-to-cook meal service happened into my possession. With ready-to-cook meal services climbing steadily in popularity, this seemed like a rare opportunity to provide an everyman’s take on one of the more ubiquitous names in the business.
My Week of Cooking with Blue Apron
I selected the two-person, three-meal plan for my test. The meals arrived at my front door ten days after I placed my order. I had some trepidation about receiving perishable foods through the mail, and my concerns were only slightly ameliorated when I opened the box to find two massive, mostly melted, reusable ice packs sandwiching a host of individually-packaged ingredients.
My concerns were unwarranted, as all the ingredients appeared to have been kept cool enough to remain palatable, although the weight of the uppermost ice pack didn’t do the structural integrity of the ingredients any favors.
All of the ingredients came in neat, little, labeled plastic bags or boxes. The vegetables arrived shockingly and refreshingly fresh, and the provided eggs were both still intact. The only ingredients missing from the box were salt, pepper, and olive oil, things that ought to have been in my kitchen already.
Spiced Chicken Breasts & Mashed Potatoes with Blue Cheese-Kale Salad
My family heritage is Celtic, so I hold the potato in very high regard. In particular, I’ve always been partial to the mashed potato for its ability to find space in a very full stomach. I had very high hopes for Blue Apron’s mashed potatoes, made even higher when I inspected the included Yukon Golds to find them completely devoid of eyes or blemishes. Chicken and potatoes appeal to the very center of my culinary being, and I excitedly selected this meal to be the first to plate.
The surprise standout of this meal was the blue cheese-kale salad. I grew up a meat-and-potatoes man, and I typically avoid, consciously or not, health buzzwords like “superfoods.” However, the simplicity of the salad worked very well on its own: sliced cherry tomatoes, kale briefly marinated in a milk/sour cream dressing, and large chunks of creamy (not crumbly) bleu cheese. The kale was crisp, and the bite of the cheese paired well with its herbaceous bitterness.
Unfortunately, I found the headlining players of this meal to be rather bland and disappointing. The recipe recommended boiling the garlic with the potatoes, a practice I personally refrain from because boiled garlic does not appeal to me on any level. The only other ingredients in the potatoes were a few glugs of milk from a cardboard box and a soft cheese in a foil wrapper. Neither did particular wonders to flavor the potatoes.
The seasoning for the chicken imparted little flavor to the meat, serving little more purpose than to form a textured crust when the chicken hit the pan. The recipe card used the phrase “salt and pepper to taste” liberally, and both the chicken and potatoes required salting with matching liberality to bring the dishes to life.
Although the kale salad would have made a surprisingly acceptable meal on its own, I was sorely disappointed by this meal as a whole.
Final Rating: 5/10
Korean-Style Beef with Sesame Bok Choy & Marinated Carrots
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve become less than adventurous when it comes to food as I hit my quarter-life crisis. Something like Korean-style beef appeals to my meat sensibilities, but I would never have selected Sesame Bok Choy as a side for any meal unless the choice was taken out of my hands.
This meal startled me, in more ways than one. First off, this meal took far more than the 35-40 minutes to prep, cook, and plate that the recipe card claimed. With four hands in the kitchen, this meal took close to an hour to prepare. (We started just after 7 and finished with seconds left in the opening credits of Westworld‘s season finale.)
After day one’s Blue Apron experience, expectations for flavors were rather low. However, the Korean-style beef was extremely flavorful. The some-assembly-required sauce had a delightfully low heat to it thanks to a small bottle of gochujang sauce. (Side note: it’s insanely hard to get chili paste out of the provided bottle. We had to cut the bottle open and use a knife to get it out.) The jasmine rice was incredible and cooked up to fluffy, slightly sticky perfection.
I went into the meal expecting the bok choy to be my least favorite inclusion, but the low point turned out to be the marinated carrots. The recipe called for grated carrots and white scallions, marinated in rice vinegar and “a drizzle of olive oil.” The provided bottle of rice vinegar wasn’t enough for both the carrots and the sauce for the beef, and half a bottle of rice vinegar turned out to be far too little for the carrots.
I’ve eaten my fair share of grated carrots in my life. Have you ever eaten grated carrots by the forkful? It has the same effect as eating raw hash browns. I had no intentions of repeating those experiences, so we opted for shaved carrots instead. It’s possible that grated carrots would have “marinated” better in the rice vinegar, but the scarcity of the vinegar did us no favors either.
All in all, the Korean-style beef, the rice, and the bok choy were terrific and a welcome departure from my steady diet of Whataburger and Tex-Mex.
Final Rating: 9/10
Seared Pork Chops & Carrot Agrodolce with Spinach Rice
I had the lowest set of expectations for this meal, mostly as a result of ignorance. In two-and-a-half decades of eating and just fewer than that of literacy, the word agrodolce had never made its way into my vocabulary.
Agrodolce, as it turns out, is the Italian version of sweet-and-sour sauce, and it absolutely stinks to high heaven when you dump it into a hot pan full of carrots. Ignore the stink. Agrodolce is delicious, and I would eat it with a spoon if no one were looking. The carrots wound up the meal’s saving grace; although, I’m convinced you could serve me week-old tapioca covered in agrodolce and I’d ask for seconds.
This time around, the meal took much closer to the expected 30 minutes to prepare. If it is not widely understood and accepted that pork chops are the worst cut of a pig, it should be. I’ve never eaten a particularly inspired pork chop, and I wasn’t expecting this experience to change that.
Instead, I leaned into the carrots and the spinach rice to provide the pizzazz for this meal. Whereas the rice from the last meal was deliciously light and fluffy and easily absorbed the flavors from the sauce, the rice intended to be paired with this meal turned out much starchier and refused to even take on the flavors of the wilted spinach mixed into it.
Final Rating: 7/10
Last Word on Blue Apron
Qualms with the Recipes
I think someone needs to have a talk with the folks at Blue Apron about the word “marinated.” Most standard definitions of the word refer to soaking something in liquid for several hours to a full day. Two out of the three recipes included in this box instructed us to “marinate” something in some kind of fluid at some point in the process. When the day comes that proper marination can occur in less than 40 minutes, I hope I’m not around to see it.
Is Blue Apron Worth It?
The short answer is no. I still had to hit the grocery store to get ingredients for the other 18 meals the service did not provide this week. Blue Apron only sends a maximum of four meals-ready-to-cook. No time was saved in terms of preparation or cooking unless you count the seconds spared by not having to measure anything yourself.
One of the more consistent complaints I have heard about Blue Apron is the portion size. I’m not a small individual, and I’ve been acclimating to Texas portion sizes for about the last six years. I found these meals to be less than filling, and I had to turn to the pantry to quell the rumbles soon after finishing these meals. An individual with a less voracious appetite might find these adequate, but my much smaller test kitchen partner also expressed similar feelings after eating an identical portion to mine.
Had I paid full price for these meals from Blue Apron, the math would work out to about $10 per serving. In most cases, $10 per serving can net me a much larger portion much more quickly, and I can feel entirely justified whining about it on the internet if it doesn’t taste exactly how I want it to.
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