Turn Your Kitchen into a PF Chang’s China Bistro [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe] Apr01

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Turn Your Kitchen into a PF Chang’s China Bistro [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]

Easy Asian food prepared right on your stove that’s just as tasty as the high-quality food you would find in a PF Chang’s China Bistro?  That’s what the bag claims.  I’ve noticed some of the restaurant’s signature dishes popping up in my grocer’s freezer; so my stomach and I gave it a try.

The recent downturn in the American economy has very much affected restaurant’s business models.  While some are slashing prices, others are offering cheap promotional items or sales, and some are selling their products in your local grocery store.  While Americans tighten our wallets, instead of heading out to dine, they can now enjoy some of the same succulent restaurant dishes at home.  PF Chang’s has joined TGI Friday’s, Burger King, Uno Chicago Grill, and others to sell their products in stores.

The first PF Chang’s China Bistro opened in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1993.  The chain and menu were planned by chef Paul Fleming and Philip Chaing.  The name PF Chang’s comes from a combination of the founders names, with the I being dropped from Chaing.

Their restaurant concept is simple.  Serve upscale asian food dishes at family friendly prices.  While a bit more expensive than your local TGI Friday’s, their costs are more on par with a night out at the Olive Garden or a pricier meal at Red Lobster.  Oh, and if this is making you hungry, P.F. Chang’s is advertising a four-course special meal for two in the restaurant for $39.95 on their website.

P.F. Chang’s now operates more than 200 restaurants in the United States, Mexico, Kuwait City, and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.  They can normally be found in upscale shopping centers, but some standalone restaurants are open in city downtowns and casinos.

The chain is often mentioned in South Park episodes as creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are known fans.

While serving mostly Asian food from spring rolls to seafood, the chain is also known for their specialty bar selection and novelty adult drinks to enhance the meal.  They also have a specialty menu for those on a gluten-free diet and have many vegetarian options.

In 2010, the chain struck a deal with Unilever to begin selling a frozen version of their menu fare in grocery stores for the consumer to prepare at home.  Unilever, as you probably know, started out in the soap and shampoo business, but has now moved on to selling food.  Their company now includes such common household products as Ragu, Vaseline, Aqua-Net, Calvin Klein cosmetics, Lipton Tea, Ben & Jerry’s, Slim Fast, Cutex Nail Polish, Mrs. Dash, VO5, Nexxus, and more.

Unilever now distributes the following PF Chang’s menu items to grocery store freezers:

Beef with Broccoli
Orange Chicken
General Chang’s Chicken
Sweet & Sour Chicken
Shanghai Style Beef
Ginger Chicken & Broccoli
Shrimp in Garlic Sauce
Shrimp Lo Mein

Many of these items are sold in their restaurants, although some are listed on the menu under a different name.

I first spotted these for sale last fall in my local Target’s grocery section and then again at my North Jersey Shop-Rite.  It has been years since I’ve eaten in one of their restaurants and I remember how much I loved their General Chang’s Chicken.  I picked up a bag and thought I’d give it a try.

The preparation is very simple.  Open the bag and pour the entire contents into a skillet over medium-high heat for 11 minutes, stirring occasionally.

The chicken and vegetables definitely have a frozen look upon opening the package.  The chicken pieces are like frozen little square chicken ice cubes and everything seems very dry.  I was wondering, where was the sauce?

After a few minutes of cooking, the sauce magically appears.  It must be frozen to the vegetables or coated on the chicken or something.  There really wasn’t much when it was frozen, but once it cooked down, the sauce was plentiful.  I think that’s great.  I’m a huge fan of sauce.

After the 11 minutes are up, the food is done and ready for plating.  The bag suggests that the serving size is for two, but if you are very hungry or a larger eater you can eat it all in one serving like I did.  Two servings might be pushing it a bit, especially if you are not preparing any sides.

I took my first bite and was pleasantly surprised.  This is really good.  The chicken is all white meat and is coated with both a fine breading and sauce perfectly.  The sauce has just a bit of spice and is not too overpowering.  If you want to kick up the heat, a few blasts of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce or a little pepper would be perfect.

The quality of the chicken is extremely top notch.  It’s 100% white meat.  I had lunch at a Chinese restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side recently and tried their General Tso’s Chicken.  I ended up with a bunch of dark meat, slimy pieces that didn’t taste good.  Don’t you hate that when you bite into that mystery asteroid of nasty, dark chicken?  Well, that doesn’t happen with the PF Chang’s home meals.

The nutrition information for the meal is not so bad either.  410 calories and 13g of fat per serving with 2 servings in the bag.  If you eat the whole thing like I did, that’s 820 calories and 26g of fat.

The cost at my local Shop Rite supermarket was $8.99.  Not bad and definitely cheaper than the cost of the meal at their restaurant.  Plus, when you’re out for dinner, you’re more inclined to order an appetizer and drink.

I was recently talking to fellow FaN blogumnist, Ryan Dixon about this.  He and I had dined at a PF Chang’s years ago and he did make one interesting comment…

“If it’s easy for you to heat it up from the grocery store, what do you think they do at the restaurant?”

Hmmm…, now that’s food for thought!

THE 411

Product: PF Chang’s Home Menu

What: Restaurant quality food from the chain in your grocer’s freezer

Cost: $8.99

Nutrition: 410 calories and 13g per serving with 2 servings per bag

Website: www.pfchangshomemenu.com

JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: Give this one a try, especially if you love Asian cuisine.  It’s an easier and cheaper alternative if you are cutting back or don’t have a restaurant nearby.  It’s also an easy fix meal that requires only one skillet and is on your plate in 11 minutes.  There are times after coming home from a long day’s work that I really don’t want to fuss with cooking — this helps.

I’m definitely going to try their other flavors.  I hope they keep this line around for a while, because people will definitely want to take this home.

Also, to the Unilever and PF Chang’s companies… How about some coupons on your website or on the store shelves?