Monday, September 9, 2013

Fusia Mandarin Orange Chicken Frozen Entree (Aldi)

Another solid "take-out" quality frozen entree from Aldi.

I probably shouldn’t have to tell you this, given the focus of my blog has “budget food” in the title, but I’m all about quick and cheap.  I do not cook, so on nights when my wife is out at the gym, or hanging out with friends, I need something that I can just toss in the oven and be done with.  Thankfully, Aldi has an entire line of frozen Asian cuisine (under the brand name "Fusia") that is generally pretty good.  These range from single serve meals (like Sweet and Sour Chicken), to egg rolls, crab Rangoon, wontons, and just about everything in between.

So on my latest trip to Aldi, I decided to try something I’ve never had before…orange chicken.  And when I say I’ve never had it before, I mean it quite literally--not only have I never tried Aldi’s version, but I’ve never even tried the dish at an actual Chinese restaurant, so just this whole idea is rather new to me.

Unlike some of Aldi’s other Asian-style offerings, all that comes in the bag is the chicken (and quite a bit of it) and two large packets of sauce--rice is not included.  While it should be relatively obvious from looking at the package, I mention it because other similar entrees in the Fusia line come complete with rice, so you’ll need to pick some up or make sure you have some on hand for this one.  Cooking it is so simple even I can do it…simply thaw out the sauce in hot water, put the chicken in the oven, microwave a little instant rice, and you’re set.

The first thing I noticed is that the chicken is surprisingly crunchy, courtesy of its tasty outer breading.  I definitely was not expecting that from a frozen dinner.  As for the chicken…well, let’s just say that it looks and tastes like chicken, something I can’t even say for some Chinese restaurants I’ve eaten at.  All joking aside, it’s actually pretty good.  Again, it’s definitely nothing premium, but it’s comparable to, and in my opinion even a little better than, mall food court Chinese, or places like Panda Express.  And considering the good amount of chicken you get in the package (I believe the packaging says that it serves four, but if you eat like I do, you’re not going to get more than two lunch-size portions out of it), it’s definitely cheaper than eating out.

But my favorite part is the sauce.  I was a little nervous to see the role that orange would play in it, expecting it to possibly be even bitter.  Instead, think sweet and sour with a light, but noticeable, undercurrent of orange, and you’re on the right track.  Making it even better is the fact it has a nice kick of spice that wakes up the taste buds, but that’s light enough that even those that aren’t tolerant to a lot of heat in their foods, shouldn’t have a problem with it. 

Overall: 7/10.  While it’s not going to be confused for anything above carryout or “express” Chinese, it will definitely satisfy your craving, and is very quick and easy to prepare.  The chicken is surprisingly crispy with good flavor, while the sauce, which tastes like a mix of sweet and sour with a dash of orange, steals the show.  You really get a good amount of food for the price (which is currently $4.99 here in Ohio)…I was able to get two satisfying, lunch-size portions out of it that were filling, but not overly so.  Just be sure to get some rice to go along with it, as it does not come with any.  But even with the added rice, it comes out to less than $3 a serving, which isn’t bad.  Recommended.

Fusia Beef with Broccoli Frozen Entree (Aldi)

The very definition of "meh".

Where I live, we have a lot of average (and below) Chinese food restaurants.  Our go-to one, which I had been going to for the last decade, recently changed owners and the good food went with it, which has really left a little void in our lives.  And it’s a void I’m trying to fill with Fusia’s Beef with Broccoli frozen meal, which is a special buy at Aldi (in fact, by the time I finally get around to posting this, it will probably be gone already).

The one thing I use to gauge a Chinese food restaurant is its beef.  At cheaper Asian restaurants it is often soft and chewy, doesn't really even look like beef, and the taste can run the gamut from “something resembling beef”, to “something that doesn’t even come close to resembling beef”, which is probably how the cliché about runaway dogs and cats ending up in Chinese food has come about.

The beef in Fusia’s frozen meal is pretty much a perfect example of the whole questionable beef thing:  The cuts of “meat” here more closely resemble meat-colored sponge, than anything approaching the actual stuff.  It’s an almost sickly-looking light brown hue that had me scrambling for the bag to see what it was called in the ingredients.  Surprisingly, “beef”.  Sound unappetizing?  It is.  Taste-wise, it’s a little bit closer to what you’re expecting, though it won’t be confused for anything short of take-out as it‘s disturbingly chewy and very unmemorable.

Mystery meat aside, the rest of the meal isn’t too bad.  One thing I love about the Fusia line is they generally include two bags of sauce with their meals, which really puts you in control of how you want to use them, and the Beef with Broccoli is no different.  This sounds a little corny, but most frozen dinners I’ve had really skimp in this department, so it’s great to have the option to put in a lot, a little, or to save the extra bag for the leftovers.  Here, the sauce isn’t anywhere near as good as it is in the Sweet and Sour or General Tso’s offerings, but it’s definitely edible.  It’s just a middle-of-the-road, generic brown sauce that thankfully at least doesn’t taste too salty.  Meanwhile (read: sadly), the broccoli becomes the star of the show, as it’s pretty well-cooked and, while it doesn’t taste fresh, at least looks and tastes like broccoli.

It’s lucky I was starved, or half of it would have probably ended up in the trash can.

Overall: 3.5/10.  Aldi’s Fusia line, which specializes in Asian cuisine, usually ends up being really good for what it is (frozen Chinese), but this is the first entrée I’ve had that has truly disappointed.  The sauce is decent, you get a lot of it, and the broccoli is good, but the sickly-looking, spongy-textured meat is definitely a huge misstep.  At $4.99, and not including rice, we can’t even talk value, as chances are you live near a take-out Chinese place serving rubbish like this for just a couple dollars more.  While it rises above being truly inedible (slightly), it’s still not a pleasant experience.  My advice to you:  Stay far away from this one.  Even within the realm of budget frozen foods, you can do a lot better than this.