Fantastic Frozen Dinners

Bon Appétit Steam-Baked Meals

Bon Appétit Steam-Baked Meals

I Paid: $5.99 for a two-meal bag (each serving was 11 to 12 ounces; prices may vary by region)

Taste: 5 stars

Marketing: 5 stars

The pretense of Schwan's Bon Appétit brand of frozen meals (no association with the magazine of the same name) hits you in the face like a challenge. There are the upscale themes of the meals themselves (Smoked Apple & Uncured Bacon Chicken, Lemon Butter Chicken with Israeli-style couscous, etc.), there's the parchment bag that encloses each meal, and—most notably—there are the wine recommendations and suggestions for homemade-side-salad pairings on the back of each meal.

The meals do not live up to expectations. They shatter expectations. Preparation is absurdly easy: Put the parchment bags on a pan and bake at 350 for 30 or so minutes, remove the pan from the oven, cut the end of each bag, dump the steam-baked meal onto your plate. Each meal includes pleasant and substantial sides that marry well with the main protein and the accompanying sauce. The three meals I tried ranged from 360 to 470 calories and included things like green beans, carrots, and roasted potatoes; and the ingredients, while not entirely corn-syrup- and multisyllabic-chemical-free, were largely recognizable and wholesome.

And the flavor is terrific; all three meals I sampled were uniformly well balanced and thoughtfully made. (They also come two servings to a bag, an incredible deal at $6 per bag.) Lemon Butter Chicken was moist and flavorful, with grill marks lending a bit of texture and additional depth, and the zingy butter sauce that covered the meat was equally pleasant on the accompanying couscous, baby carrots, and slender green and yellow beans. Pork in Chipotle BBQ Sauce was easily the best "BBQ"-style prepackaged meal I've eaten: The sauce had depth of flavor and was encouraging to the appetite without being syrupy or sweet. Each bite of the masa tamale stuffing, covered in sauce and taken with pork and potato, was a legitimate delight.

Perhaps best of all was the Smoked Apple & Uncured Bacon Chicken, which was infused with a pervasive but not artificial or overdone taste of smoke. Tender potatoes and still-snappy spherical carrots were obvious and totally appropriate wingmen for the chicken itself, which emerged from the parchment pouch as tender and tasteful as its Lemon Butter comrade.

The Bon Appétit line is in the midst of an initial regional launch, but the company has global reach; my own prediction would be a national launch at a higher price in the near future. When these Steam-Baked Meals arrive in your town—or if you're fortunate enough to be living in the Midwest—fill your freezer till it strains at the hinges.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.