Are UCook's new 'chef-designed' frozen meals worth buying?

Our food editor put some of these 'heat and eat' dishes to the taste test — a couple got the thumbs up, but one left her cold

05 November 2020 - 08:30
UCook's chicken cacciatore.
UCook's chicken cacciatore.
Image: Supplied/UCook

UCook, the popular dinner-kit delivery service, has dipped into the growing ready-made frozen meal market with the launch of a range of eight “heat and eat” meals, and the promise of more to come.

The standout feature? UCook calls their frozen options “chef-designed craft meals” as they’ve collaborated with a couple of well-known chefs to create them. They’re available in various sizes to feed one, two or four, and can be ordered online on the UCook website with delivery across the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

Sounds good, but what do they taste like? We put a trio to the test:

CHICKEN CACCIATORE

The dish: “A zesty take on an Italian huntman’s stew with olives, sundried tomato and sautéed mushrooms, served with poppy seed sweet potato mash.” 

The chef: Sarah Graham, celeb chef and cookbook author.

Along with chicken cacciatore, Sarah Graham has also created a vegan cottage pie craft meal with UCook.
Along with chicken cacciatore, Sarah Graham has also created a vegan cottage pie craft meal with UCook.
Image: Supplied/UCook

The cost: R78 to R282, depending on the size ordered.

The verdict:

Looks can be deceiving. The food photography on the packaging of all the frozen meals we tried was mouth-wateringly good. Yet, as often happens with convenience foods, the dish we ate looked little like the photo.

This one came out of the oven as a red mush with a sad looking helping of sweet potato mash, which admittedly did taste pleasant.

However, as often happens with tomato-based dishes, this one had a rather high acidity, which resulted in my husband and I experiencing heartburn after eating it.

The rating: 4/10

MELANZANE ALLA PARMIGIANA

The dish: “A traditional Italian bake with layers of aubergine, tomato and fresh, authentic fior di latte mozzarella.”

The chef: Lapo Magni, the Italian-born chef patron of Lapo’s Kitchen in Cape Town.

Along with melanzane alla parmigiana, Lapo Magni has created a lasagne alla bolognese craft meal with UCook.
Along with melanzane alla parmigiana, Lapo Magni has created a lasagne alla bolognese craft meal with UCook.
Image: Supplied/UCook

The cost: R85 to R307, depending on the size ordered.

The verdict:

This dish came out the oven looking close to the picture on the packaging; the aroma was also delicious.

The portion size felt generous - we could go back for seconds and still had some left over for the next day.

I liked the contrast of textures, the crunch of the topping and then the softness of the thinly sliced aubergine. The only let-down was the taste of the tomato it contained, which had the flavour of something that had been cooked in bulk and didn't taste as fresh as the rest of the dish.

The rating: 8/10

UCook's Durban lamb curry.
UCook's Durban lamb curry.
Image: Supplied/UCook

DURBAN LAMB CURRY

The dish: “A traditional South African lamb curry, packed with bold flavours and sweet potatoes.”

The chef: Kevin Joseph, executive chef of the Oyster Box hotel in Umhlanga.

Along with Durban lamb curry, Kevin Joseph has also created a vegetable korma & saag craft meal with UCook.
Along with Durban lamb curry, Kevin Joseph has also created a vegetable korma & saag craft meal with UCook.
Image: Supplied/UCook

The cost: R100 to R361, depending on the size ordered.

The verdict:

Of the trio craft meals we tried, this dish came up trumps on flavour. Even though it was not very good looking once out of the oven, anyone who has been lucky enough to enjoy chef Joseph’s cooking at the Oyster Box knows he makes a damn fine curry.

It had lost texture and was a little mushy, but very tasty and had the slight sting of a good Durban curry. Served with the basmati rice I cooked, some sambals and a poppadom or two, it made for a complete meal.

My only niggle is that it didn't come with rice. I know cooking it is a doddle, but it’s a real hassle when you want the convenience of a ready-made meal.

The rating: 9/10