This one was finally rejected by the McSweeney's new food editor today. After the rest of my awesome week I couldn't ask for a better way to usher in a miserable weekend. Thanks! Since there's really nowhere else to send this one, up it goes.
NEW FOOD: Michelina's Lean Gourmet Sesame Chicken
I am not completely ashamed to admit that I am a major consumer of frozen lunches. They are easy to grab when I am running late for work--which is to say, every day. Additionally, they allow me to keep an eye on my caloric intake. While my need for this is the subject of an entirely different essay, one likely starting out with "Clinical Journal: 1," the fact remains that they are a useful tool for managing my neuroses. While frozen lunches of the "calorie conscious" type are fairly reliable in their entree selections, the quality of said offerings vary widely. Normally, I prefer Amy's black bean enchiladas or Healthy Gourmet's beef pot roast, but being both broke and generally indolent, I decided to try Michelina's Lean Gourmet Sesame Chicken. Let me tell you, it's true: you get what you pay for.
First off, I don't remember any sesame seeds. Perhaps they used sesame oil, or the seeds had soaked in the sauce so long they lost their crunchiness. Whatever the reason, I would never have guessed sesame without looking at the box.
Second, let's talk chicken. Remember the pressed chicken product that was used to fabricate school lunch "chicken nuggets"? This chicken is that same sort of spongy beige-gray chewiness that gives way under teeth
more like the homogeneous texture of hot dog flesh than the fibrous nature of naturally occurring meat. The fine chefs at Michelina's have cut this chicken product into long rectangles which the website calls "strips" that only serve to underscore the processed nature of the protein. It could be seitan or bologna for all the distinguishing characteristics it has.
Yes, I found momentary comfort in the salty and nuggety familiarity of these chicken legos, but the moment passed when I bit into the first red bell pepper.
Manufacturers: bell peppers do not hold up to processing in any recognizable form save their color. Please stop ruining my frozen lunches and canned soups with them. I beseech you! These peppers had the consistency of olive paste stuck to little slips of soggy writing paper. Thankfully there were few of them.
You know what does hold up to processing? Carrots. And Water Chestnuts. Those are sort of hard to fuck up, so I will grant that they were a welcome gustatory respite. The slivered green beans could likely be saved from their limp fate by using the more hardy snow pea, but that's neither here nor there.
I will mention the sauce briefly. While it is safe to assume that no frozen entree on the market will distinguish itself with subtly nuanced sauces, does every Asian-inspired dish have to taste sweet and sour? Michelina's, I challenge you to be just the slightest bit more creative with your rice wine-y plum sauce. The very back of my tongue detected some ginger. Faintly. What potential there is there!
And finally, the noodles. Michelina's, like many purveyors of fine frozen foods, has chosen to use some sort of spaghetti-like pasta for their "oriental" dish. Through some magical food engineering the noodles remain al dente, despite marinating in plum sauce for God knows how long, which can be said to be their only redeeming quality. They are not long enough to twirl around one's fork, and are too short to eat with a spoon. This leaves the poor sap who wanted Chinese for lunch but was too poor or lazy to go get it--or, one who like myself is tethered to the most evil of inventions: the thirty minute unpaid lunch--stuck trying to shovel slick over-sweet noodles into his or her mouth while making a minimum of mess. Trust me, it is not a sight that one wants to either present or be presented with in the company break-room. And really, spaghetti for lunch (at work) in any sauce is just a bad idea. Like first date meals, lunchtime selections should be relatively easy to eat gracefully and tidily. Who wants to go back to their desk or out on the sales floor with plum sauce on their cashmere sweater? Or a slippery bell pepper stuck to a lap crease in one's slacks? In the future, when the recession forces me to go just budget enough to buy cheap pre-processed food but not so budget as to make my own lunch, I for one will be opting for the more easily tamed bow tie or penne--better yet, rice.