Last year, I ordered a box from Hello Fresh so I could test out the recipe-kit home delivery service. These types of meal kits are now delivered by a growing number of companies, suggesting that the model appeals to a substantial number of people. Or perhaps it is a fad. It would be great if these were an answer to the question I often hear from my single, on-the-go friends: if I buy ingredients to cook at home for myself one night, what am I supposed to do with all the excess? I’m only one person! I’m not so sure these boxes are the perfect solution. My conclusion about Hello Fresh was that its meal options were good and the prices fair, but the ingredient ratios were off, the instructions incomplete, and the serving count questionable. I also wished that Hello Fresh could somehow consider the fact I have a more well-stocked pantry than most.
A friend of mine had high praised for Plated, another service aimed at simplifying home cooking. Taking advantage of a promotion, I decided to give this one a try as well. I selected a seafood choice for one of my meals, once again, since fish is expensive. I’m also trying to incorporate the recommended two servings of healthy fish per week. My second meal choice was a pulled barbecue chicken with a pico de gallo salsa.
To assess Plated, let’s start with the packaging. The box is lined with an insulated bag.
The meat and fish are stored in the bottom of the box, covered with frozen packs that are reusable.
Then there’s the produce, some of which is in its own packaging, and some of which I find in the larger bags labeled by recipes.
The fresh tomatoes didn’t fare too well with this; they were packaged near a heavy can of beans and ended up bruised.
I saw that these bags were labeled “Greenbags,” which sounded familiar to me but I couldn’t recall the features.
I got excited when I thought they might be biodegradable, but when I looked them up I didn’t see that in the description–they are meant to absorb the ethylene gas that can make produce ripen and rot too quickly. At least I can reuse them for other fruits and vegetables.
I wasn’t ready to cook the day the box arrived, but it was easy to transfer the individual packages to the refrigerator. The next day, I pulled out my ingredients and recipe card for Seared Salmon Salad with Tomato Sherry Vinaigrette.
Seared Salmon Salad with Tomato Sherry Vinaigrette
1 medium tomato, seeded and minced
1 shallot, minced
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 bunch of chives, minced
1 Tablespoon honey
1/4 Cup sherry vinegar
3 Tablespoons of olive oil, divided
1 Cup arugula
3 ounces frisée
3 ounces radicchio
1 small head butter lettuce
2 fillets wild Alaskan salmon
salt and black pepper
The first step on Plated’s card is “Prepare ingredients.” This is where it provides instructions such as “Rinse X. Rise and Mince X. Slice X.” I included some of those directions in my list of ingredients, like I usually do. Basically, the salad dressing is made first, and then most of that is tossed with the greens.
Right away, I made some disappointing observations. The shallot was fairly large, and the tomato was not. They were basically the same size. I made the executive decision to use 2/3 of the shallot, which was probably still more than necessary.
To make the dressing, combine tomato, shallot, chive, juice of one lemon, honey, and sherry vinegar.
Gradually add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, whisking to emulsify. Taste and add salt and pepper to season.
The next set of challenges involved the salad greens, which are to be combined in a large bowl. After everything is washed, the frisée is to be trimmed first to discard root (I didn’t seem much of a root), the radicchio needs its core removed and a thin slice, and the arugula can go in as is.
The instructions for the butter lettuce were “rinse and tear into bite-size pieces.” The problem: the head of butter lettuce was very, very sandy and gritty. That is not going to dissipate with a “rinse”–the only way to get rid of the grit is to slosh the separated leaves in a bowl of cold water, lift them out (leaving the dirt behind), and then rinse again in a colander/salad spinner. Unless you’re sure that people ordering this plate know about the persistent grit, I think it’s important to include cleaning tips like this.
In addition, this was a massive amount of salad. I started with one bowl, but had to switch to a larger bowl to accommodate it all. I still had trouble keeping everything contained during the next step, which is to pour in half of the dressing and toss to coat.
Time to prepare the salmon. The instructions say to rinse and pat dry with paper towels. I’ve never been a rinse-r of meats and fish, but since the salmon was sealed in some kind of liquid, I followed directions. The fillets were very soggy, so the drying step was key.
Season with salt and pepper.
Heat about 1 Tablespoon of olive or other vegetable oil in a pan over medium heat–something nonstick but heavy would be best. When hot, add salmon, flesh-side down, and cook until golden on the outside, 3-5 minutes. Repeat on the other side, careful not to overcook beyond medium-rare.
Arrange salad on two plates and place salmon on top. Spoon over some of the reserved dressing.
My husband joined me for dinner and suffered through some of the bitter elements of the salad. Perhaps this recipe wasn’t the best choice for us because of the salad; I could have done without the frisée myself, since I find its frizzy texture only appropriate in very select dishes, and I already knew the radicchio would be strong. Of course, I could have easily left those parts out. The salad dressing was tasty and paired well with the salmon, but it needed more tomato and could have had more honey or sugar to balance all the bitterness.
As you may have guessed, I reached a similar conclusion for Plated as I had for Hello Fresh: it may not produce the best results for newbie cooks, or those who tend to follow recipes word-for-word. It certainly doesn’t guarantee proper portions for the selected number of “plates,” which means that people aren’t cutting back as much on food waste as they might think. As long as you keep that in mind, you might enjoy the healthy, high-quality ingredients and the convenience of avoiding a trip to the grocery store.
Plated Rating (sample size of 1, on a scale of 1-5):
Ingredients (freshness): 3
Recipe accuracy (quantities, ratios): 2
Recipe uniqueness: 4
Accuracy of portion sizing: 1