I must have this inner masochistic streak that manifests itself whenever I go into the frozen foods aisle at the supermarket. I just can't resist the urge to buy cheap Banquet frozen meals. So what if they're not even Denny's-quality kibble? It's a hot lunch for a buck or less and they're usually under 400 calories to boot.
Today's culinary adventure is Banquet's Chicken Fried Beef Steak Meal. This particular meal was irresistible to me because I simply had to find out what that big breaded patty was actually going to be - you just know that for 88 cents on sale (seriously) you're not going to get anything that remotely resembles a real "beef steak."
The centerpiece of the meal is a somewhat irregularly-shaped breaded patty which ConAgra lists in the ingredients as a "Beef Patty Fritter" made primarily of beef, water, breading, and textured soy protein. It's hard to tell where the breading ends and the beef begins, and cutting into it offers no further clues; it's sort of like those strange "veal patties" you sometimes get when you order veal parmigiana at a low-rent Italian restaurant, except with a lot more bread. The texture is somewhat loose and wet and would be disconcerting anywhere except in a Banquet meal, but the flavor is tasty - somewhat beefy, a little salty, but well-seasoned and even a bit spicy, just like you'd expect from a decent fried chicken. The patty is accompanied by a bargain-bin "country gravy" which is flavorful enough to be tasty and bland enough to cut some of the salt in the patty. It's roughly equivalent to any powdered country gravy mix you've tried, and I have to admit some fondness for it.
Sides are typical of Banquet meals - standard-issue yellow corn, tender but still manly enough to fight back a little when you try to chew it; and a small plop of reconstituted dehydrated potatoes, which are - as always - delicious. I love it when I get a Banquet meal with mashed potatoes as the side dish because I freely admit that I love the flavor of instant mashed potatoes.
When all is said and done, I can accept this meal and the "Beef Steak Patty" it's built around on its own terms and enjoy it for the cheap, tasty, and relatively fast lunch it provides. I'd buy it again.
But you know what I'd really like? A frozen Banquet meal with nothing but a big-ass pile of those mashed potatoes and a sea of that white gravy. ConAgra, if you're reading this: How about it? 'Cos I'd buy that for a dollar!