In between customer appointments the other day I decided to call my friend to see if she wanted to go out for lunch as I was in the neighbourhood. She said she wasn't feeling too great but she did have some nice low fat things in that I could eat (she always worries about cooking for me as I need to have such a low fat diet) if I just wanted to pop round. So I did and she asked if Sweet Chilli Chicken was ok for me. This sounded quite tempting (and I was quite hungry) and so she produced two Marks & Spencer Steam Cuisine packets from the fridge.
Marks & Spencer sweet chilli chicken has come in many guises over the years as part of the Count on us range and full fat varieties but I hadn't seen in it in this form before. My friend said she found it by the Count on Us section but it is just had their Eat Well symbol (eat well on a black background with a "sun" around it).
This 400g meal consists of slices of cooked chicken breast (21%) with fresh egg noodles (20%), red pepper (13%) & sugar snap peas (8%) with red onions (there seemed to be much more in my pack!), grated carrot and spinach in a sweet chilli sauce (4%).
Each meal is in an oval shaped clear plastic dish with a smaller card sleeve around it and says that it is a microwave complete meal for one. The plastic dish had a high pressure valve system on it so that it maintained high steam pressure whilst cooking but didn't explode. It claims to steam cook in minutes and you simply place it in the microwave (one at a time and without piercing the film which is sensible but not great if you are cooking a few of them - luckily my friend has a built in microwave as well as a stand alone one) for the following:
Cat B - 650w = 4mins 30secs
Cat D - 750w = 4 mins
Cat E - 850w = 3mins 45 secs
Once cooked you should leave to stand for 2 minutes before removing the plastic film. So you are looking at 7 minutes (max) before eating. Not too bad I suppose.
Upon opening up the plastic you are immediately hit by the aroma of onions and garlic and a sweet cloying smell. There are quite a few sweet ingredients in this meal and they were certainly making their presence (and aroma) felt. I mixed everything meal together to ensure it was coated in the sauce and have to say that there was just about the right amount to coat the noodles, vegetables and chicken without swimming in sauce (always handy when eating noodles and wearing a light top!) or without being too dry. This was great because although I don't eat that many ready meals, when I have had them they always seem a little too dry. This one seemed quite nicely balanced.
My first taste was of the sliced chicken breast. Unfortunately you could tell it had been cooked previously. Nothing beats freshly cooked chicken and heated up the cooked chicken has a rubbery, yet grainy texture that isn't that satisfying. It had a bit of a synthetic taste to it even though it obviously was quite good quality chicken. There were 6 good sized pieces of chicken in the meal - some were bite sized and some needed a second bite. Next I tried the egg noodles. These were lovely and moist and were of a very good taste and quality but to be honest the sauce itself wasn't up to much - it was a little tangy but overpoweringly sweet and tasted more of garlic than chilli. It wasn't hot and spicy but then I hadn't expected it to be as it only had the one chilli symbol on the product sleeve. It had a bit of a kick after I had finished eating the whole meal which seemed a bit of a waste of time to me - I want to taste the flavours and sensations when I eat something - not afterwards. The peppers were nice and juicy as were the large red onion slices and the sugar snap peas. The spinach was annoying as there was so little of it and it had a horrible stringy consistency which was a shame because the vegetables really were good quality overall.
Compared to other Sweet Chilli Chicken preparations the Steam Cuisine wins hands down over the others which just need to be microwaved but without the high pressure steam. It just tasted fresher and less dry. It made it a much more pleasant eating experience but if it had one big downside it was that it wasn't overly filling - it really was a light lunch option as opposed to a main meal so if you were to buy it and expect to get filled up, I'd probably recommend you either buy two packets (which will be very expensive as it is £3.99 a pack - which if I'm honest really does seem expensive for what you get compared to other ready meals) or just cook some rice to have with it.. By mid afternoon I was feeling hungry again. Considering this was a 400g meal I was quite surprised by this. There is no GI information on it so I should imagine that it must have quite a high GI to make you feel hungry quite quickly afterwards.
Nutritionally this meal is quite healthy - it is less than 1% fat (1.2g per serving), it represents one portion of your 5-a-day, it is free from artificial colours, flavourings and preservatives, it is 300 calories (which is less than most ready made sandwiches you can buy) but as with many ready meals it has a high salt content at 1.6g per serving. As for allergy warnings it contains wheat, eggs and gluten.
This wasn't a bad meal all in all - there was plenty of it at the time and despite the usual shortcomings of any ready meal compared to cooking from scratch it was quite passable. My friend was quite pleased as it meant that she had found something other than salad that I can eat. I fear though I might be eating this every time I go round to her house from now on - not that I will really complain as every so often this is quite nice especially when you're with your mates!.