Stroll down the frozen food aisle of your local grocery store, and you'll be surprised at the varied offerings that now fill the shelves. Gone are the days of high-sodium, meat-packed, carb-heavy frozen dinner brands. Now, there's something for everyone, no matter what diet you follow, which foods you prefer to eat, or what level of adventurous eater you are. One company staking its claim on the frozen dinner shelves is Saffron Road, founded in 2009 in Stamford, Connecticut. According to its website, Saffron Road is America's fastest-growing natural protein-based frozen dinner brand. The company is distinguished for being halal-certified, antibiotic-free, gluten-free, and non-GMO project verified and for using high quality, ethically sourced ingredients to make meals inspired by global cuisines, such as India and Mexico to the Mediterranean and Korea.
As a trained chef, I think I'm pretty capable of telling whether something tastes good. But even so, when it comes to frozen meals, I'm not expecting five-star tastes. Instead, I want a dish that's easy to prepare, fast, and delicious; even chefs crave the convenience of a frozen dinner now and then. For this ranking, we taste-tested every Saffron Road frozen dinner available at our local grocery store. Our methodology included judging the dinners based on taste, visual appeal, and how satisfying the meal was. (We'll share more specifics of our methodology at the end of the rankings.) Find out which Saffron Road frozen dinners are worth trying and which should be left on the freezer shelf.
11. Korean BBQ Inspired Chicken Meatballs
As fans of Korean BBQ, we looked forward to trying this frozen entrèe. Flavors of charred, grilled meat, sweet-savory sauces, and umami swirled in our heads as the meal cooked in the microwave. Unfortunately, after a few minutes of cooking, the hodgepodge of Asian aromas wafting from the microwave gave us pause. Nevertheless, we dug in.
The prominent flavor of the dish was gochujang (red chili paste), which was used in both the meatballs and the sauce, and we felt it was overpowering. The three meatballs were large and tender but had a loose consistency that wasn't satisfying. The sauce, which resembled Chinese sweet and sour sauce, was thick and glutinous, reminiscent of American chow mein. Not surprisingly, we finished feeling unsatisfied and disappointed. It was like the chefs at Saffron Road mixed leftover Chinese food with gochujang and called it Korean BBQ. Unless you're a huge gochujang fan, we recommend passing on this one.
10. Vegetable Pad Thai
Saffron Road's Vegetable Pad Thai is a vegan version of the famous Thai street food. This frozen dinner features a well-balanced mix of rice noodles, firm tofu, carrots, scallions, and peanuts. Overall, the flavor of this dish is nice; we just don't think it tastes much like pad Thai. The culprit was the "Thai-style peanut sauce," which was tomato-heavy and lacked peanut flavor. It also lacked tamarind, which gives pad Thai its characteristic sweet-sour flavor. Tamarind seems like a must-have ingredient for a company like Saffron Road that touts its globally inspired cuisines and use of quality ingredients. We're guessing that the tomatoes listed in the ingredients are used as a substitute for tamarind, but it just doesn't work in this dish.
This frozen pad Thai dinner isn't a complete failure. The tofu pieces are moist and tender with a nice chew. The crunch of the peanuts is pleasant, and the carrots are flavorful and fresh-tasting. If you can overlook the use of tomatoes in the sauce (we can't), then you may like this pad Thai dish. As for us, we'll pass.
9. Pineapple Fried Rice
Fried rice is an excellent option for a frozen dinner because you can enjoy it alone, eat it alongside other foods like half a sandwich, or bulk it up with eggs or veggies. While Saffron Road's Pineapple Fried Rice wasn't nearly as good as what we get at our local Thai restaurant, we considered this frozen meal a winner and would buy it again.
We appreciated that the dish looked very similar to what was on the package, and the flavor of the rice had a nice balance of sweet and savory, which left us very satisfied. The rice had a pleasant "al dente" chew, and there was a nice texture from the peanuts, though don't expect a crunch like that of a fresh roasted Virginia peanut. This dish had plenty of bright red bell peppers which added to the dish's visual appeal. However, there wasn't a lot of chicken — nothing like what was pictured on the package. If we didn't know there was chicken in the dish, we would've thought this was a vegetarian meal. But the biggest disappointment was that there were barely any pieces of pineapple. Perhaps they get cooked down, but with "pineapple" in the name and ingredient list, we expected it to make more of an appearance.
8. Chicken Tikka Masala
Chicken tikka masala is an aromatic dish of marinated grilled chicken in a creamy onion and tomato-based sauce. It's one of the most popular Indian dishes, prized for its luscious, spice-infused sauce. We had high hopes for Saffron Road's version of this dish, but unfortunately, it fell flat.
The main culprit was the flavor and texture of the chicken. The flavor of the chicken was lackluster, seemingly unseasoned and left to rely on the masala sauce for flavor. Making things worse was its rubbery texture. The masala sauce fared much better. It was well-seasoned with coriander, cumin, and ginger, and we loved that there was a copious amount of the creamy sauce to enjoy. One complaint is that the sauce wasn't nearly as thick as we would have liked; we desperately wanted to add some cream to thicken it. That said, we would eat the sauce and rice again, sans chicken. Perhaps we're a bit spoiled because we've had the chance to try other frozen chicken tikka masala dinners, and this version just doesn't measure up.
7. Chicken Enchiladas Poblano
Saffron Road's Chicken Enchiladas Poblano is one of three frozen enchilada dinners the brand offers. It features two corn tortillas stuffed with roasted dark meat chicken, spinach, and Oaxaca cheese in a creamy poblano chili sauce alongside black beans and white rice. This frozen dinner had some issues, but in the end, it fared pretty well because we loved this dish's sweet roasted poblano flavor.
The two biggest failures of this dish were the rice, which cooked unevenly with most of the grains remaining hard, and the corn tortillas, which dried out in the microwave, making them difficult to chew. The chicken and spinach filling was plentiful and moist, with a tuna salad consistency. The poblano chili sauce was delightfully creamy and flavorful, and the black beans were an excellent way to bulk up an already hefty dish. Despite some hiccups, these chicken enchiladas ranked fairly well because we greatly enjoyed the flavor. If the company can improve this meal by getting the rice and tortillas to cook correctly, we'd be excited to give this frozen dinner another shot.
6. Coconut Curry Chicken
This dish was the least visually appealing of all the Saffron Road frozen dinners we tried. We kept saying what a big difference a handful of green peas would make to offset the light brown curry sauce and make the whole dish look more appetizing. Its appearance aside, this chicken curry scored well on our taste test.
The level of spice in this dish was just enough to still have an authentic Indian taste but not be overwhelming. The chunks of white meat chicken were nothing special, and a few pieces were borderline rubbery, but ultimately that didn't stop us from continuing to eat. The warm curry sauce was aromatic, with a basic curry flavor of onion, garlic, ginger, and turmeric. The coconut cream in the sauce isn't overpowering, which was fine for us, but we would understand if others felt it needed to have more oomph. The overall flavor of the coconut curry sauce won't blow your mind, but it's still yummy. Saffron Road's Coconut Curry Chicken is a solid-tasting frozen dinner that doesn't lack much. All it needs is a side of naan.
5. Kung Pao Chicken
Breaking into the top five is the Kung Pao Chicken, featuring white meat chicken in a Szechuan peppercorn sauce with red and green bell peppers and roasted peanuts alongside white rice. This meal was filling, satisfying, and quite delicious. The sauce had all the spicy, sweet, sour appeal that the popular Chinese dish is known for, and fans of hot and spicy will love it as it had the highest heat level of all the entrèes we tried. Homemade kung pao chicken is quick to make, but if buying the ingredients and cleaning dishes seems like too much work, this frozen meal is worth the price of admission.
Let's get straight to the point. The main reason we loved this dish was the chicken. Yes, the chicken. It was incredibly tender, moist, and perfectly cooked. Based on the ingredient list, we suspect the chicken is prepared by velveting, a Chinese cooking technique that uses a starch marinade to lock flavor and moisture in the meat. All we know is that whatever they're doing, it's working.
4. Coconut Cauliflower Curry
Saffron Road's Coconut Cauliflower Curry was a winner in our books. This vegan meal consists of cauliflower florets and cannellini beans in a thick, purèed sauce with a harmonious blend of coconut cream, parsley, tomato, red chili pepper, and turmeric. We especially loved the sweetness of the sauce, which was a pleasant surprise that kept us going back for more.
The soft, creamy cannellini beans in this dish were a nice touch, as was the generous serving. We're not sure how authentic cannellini beans are to Indian cuisine, but we loved the additional heft and protein they gave to the dish, making it utterly satisfying. Saffron Road uses roasted cauliflower florets in this meal, and we appreciate that extra touch because it adds wonderful flavor and allows the cauliflower to cook up with a satisfying chew. Sadly, there were only two cauliflower florets in our meal, so we didn't get to enjoy eating as much cauliflower as we would have liked.
3. Lamb Saag
We were excited to snag a sample of the Saffron Road Lamb Saag for two reasons. First, we had never seen lamb offered in a frozen dinner before and were curious as to how frozen lamb would fare in the microwave. Second, we're huge fans of saag, an Indian dish with leafy greens (e.g., spinach and mustard greens) simmered in milk. We kept our expectations tamped down, and we're happy to say this one pleasantly surprised us.
While our meal cooked in the microwave, wonderfully fragrant aromas wafted through the air, whetting our appetites. This was a good sign of what was to come. As we dug in, we relished the tenderness, flavor, and amount of lamb in the dish. The lamb meat was truly fall-off-the-bone tender. We don't crave lamb meat often, but we'd be happy to eat this meal any time. The rice was fluffy, and the spinach was delicious. The blend of savory spices — cumin, turmeric, ginger, garlic — was prominent but not overpowering. We do wish that the saag had more spinach as it was slightly watery. So just be aware, if you're expecting restaurant-style saag, which is typically packed with lots of greens, you'll be in for a bit of a letdown.
2. Chickpea Masala
Launched in June 2023, Chickpea Masala is one of Saffron Road's newest frozen entrées, and we hope it sticks around for a while. This dish was hearty and delectable. While it may not be as high-quality as at a table-service Indian restaurant, it's certainly on par with a fast-casual establishment. And meat eaters, don't be quick to shun this vegan meal; you'll find this dish filling and super satisfying. In fact, if you're trying to consume less meat this year, Saffron Road's Chickpea Masala is a healthy plant-based protein dish that you can easily incorporate into your weeknight dinner routine.
Saffron Road's Chickpea Masala consists of white basmati rice served alongside a chickpea and tomato stew simmered in a blend of garlic, ginger, coriander, and cumin. Let's start with the rice. We're not sure why, but the basmati rice in this dish was incredibly tender, tasty, and fragrant. The chickpeas were small to medium in size and plentiful. All the spices complemented each other well, and the heat level was mild and present enough to appease spicy food lovers like us. Lastly, the tomatoey masala sauce had a wonderfully rich, thick consistency that left us slurp-happy. Despite having the fewest ingredients of all the frozen entrées we tried, this chickpea masala was full of mouthwatering flavor. Our final thought? Outstanding.
1. Madras Curry & Chicken Meatballs
If you're looking for a super flavorful frozen dinner that doesn't taste like a frozen dinner, this is it. The flavor and look of this dish were on par with what you'd expect to get from a restaurant. We were truly caught off guard by how delicious this meal was. This was hands down our favorite Saffron Road meal, and we'll be stocking up on this frozen entrée on our next visit to the grocery store.
The standout component of this dish was the creamy coconut-tomato sauce. Serve this spicy sauce over just about anything, and we'll eat it. It had a great balance of spices with a nice amount of heat. The concentrated notes of tamarind, ginger, and Kashmiri chilies made it taste like it had been simmering over a hot stove for hours. The chicken meatballs were a huge hit, too. Swimming in the sauce were three generously sized, well-seasoned meatballs that were just as tender and moist as some of the best meatballs we've had.
I tried and tasted every frozen meal, so these rankings are based on my opinion. Every frozen dinner was cooked in a microwave. While the meals can be prepared in the oven, I opted for the microwave for two reasons. Firstly, Saffron Road touts that its frozen dinners can be prepared in a microwave in 6 minutes or less. And second, given that the whole point of frozen dinners is convenience, I figured most people would cook them in a microwave. Finally, since the Saffron Road frozen dinners at my local grocery store were priced the same ($5.99), cost was not a factor in the rankings.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.