Five of the Best Trader Joe’s Frozen Food Items

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Five of the Best Trader Joe’s Frozen Food Items

If you’re a regular Trader Joe’s customer, then surely you’re already a fan of the frozen food aisle. Though frozen, prepared meals and side dishes have never exactly had a sterling reputation in most grocery stores, Trader Joe’s is the rare exception–a chain that has actually managed to make frozen food products into one of their areas of strength, and one of the main reasons people visit the average TJs in the first place. What does Trader Joe’s do differently? It mostly comes down to variety, as TJs offers a wider range of diverse, delicious and extremely easy to prepare frozen food items than almost all its competitors, and customers have taken notice. But what are the best Trader Joe’s frozen food items? These five are our personal favorite staples, and they range from some of the brand’s most popular items, to a few that are likely to be overlooked.

1. Hash Browns

The frozen hash browns from Trader Joe’s have been among the brand’s top sellers for a long time, so these aren’t exactly a secret. It’s easy to see why, as they’re very approachable and easy to make quickly, and there’s not really any way to screw these up. There’s really nothing unique about them, in fact–they’re your classic, crispy, salty shot of dopamine, equally ready to be consumed with your eggs on a weekend morning, or as part of a midnight snack/munchies related binge. It’s probably fair to say that they don’t quite match the brain-activating, transcendent pleasure of a perfect McDonald’s hash brown, but considering the fact that you’re probably baking rather than deep frying them, that’s to be expected.

Tips to make these hash browns even better: Use an air fryer if you’ve got one, which will turn out a crispier hash brown, and give them a sprinkle of extra salt. Then there’s nothing left to do but dip them in the condiment of your choice.

2. Chimichurri Rice

One of Trader Joe’s best and most versatile side dishes, the Peruvian Style Chimichurri Rice with Vegetables is a quick, easy and very flavorful dish that we often make to complement a salad, a piece of fish, or grilled meats. This is significantly more than just flavored rice, as diced tomatoes, peas, panca peppers and shallots join the mixture, flavored with garlic, ginger, and lots of cilantro. A touch of crème fraiche likewise adds body and a little bit of creaminess to the overall presentation, which has a more moist, saucy texture than plain rice. It can be prepared on the stove top or the microwave, but the stove top is probably the superior method.

I don’t know about the veracity of “Peruvian Style,” but the Chimichurri Rice is a delicious thing–well seasoned, bursting with garlic and cilantro flavors, and with enough differences of texture thanks to the inclusion of the vegetables. I do wish that it came in a somewhat larger bag, however, as the suggested serving size implies a portion that is decidedly on the skimpy side. As is, this rice typically makes for roughly four servings as a side dish, although they’re relatively small servings. Be aware, also, that it has a tendency to look like a larger quantity while frozen, and a smaller quantity once cooked. I can forgive that, though, given how delicious this stuff is.

3. Kung Pao Chicken

This is of course from the “Trader Ming’s” line of Chinese foods from Trader Joe’s, and there are many acolytes of products such as the Mandarin Orange Chicken. This one, however, is the true star of the show, and you should try it immediately if you haven’t already–the Kung Pao Chicken. A more-than-acceptable take on the Sichuan classic, we love that the Kung Pao Chicken is made from dark meat chicken specifically, rather than the ubiquitous chicken breast–this is a dish where you really want the more decadent texture and flavor of chicken thigh. As you’d expect, it’s coated in a delectable sauce infused with earthy, slightly fruity Sichuan peppercorn, which is only mild-to-moderate in actual “heat” on its own. You can control how genuinely hot you want this dish to be by including or picking out the pieces of fried dry chilies included in the vegetable packet–if you want to eat them, they’ll amp up the spice level nicely.

Perhaps the best thing about this dish, though, is how well it preserves the differences in texture–the tender, juicy chicken, met by tender crisp peppers and especially the crunchy, fried peanuts that make a wonderful contrast. Just heat this dish through on a hot skillet (or a wok, better yet), pair with rice, and you’re good to go. Maybe add some fresh lime juice, if you’ve got it?

4. Vegetable Masala Burger

These Indian-flavored veggie burgers have been around at TJs for a long time, and yet they’re a product I’ve rarely ever seen anyone else talk about, perhaps because they’re seen as a niche thing for vegetarians or vegans. And yet, I am neither of the above, and that doesn’t stop me from loving these patties, which are really only “burgers” in name only. They’re primarily made from potato, which you can see dotting the patty in little white cubes, but each patty also contains carrots, green beans, peppers and kernels of corn. This gives them a somewhat loose texture, and they’re texturally not going to remind anyone of meat. When properly cooked on a stovetop pan (don’t go too hot, or they’ll burn before they cook), though, these patties crisp up really nicely on the edges, which gives a great contrast between the crisp edges and creamy, soft, mashed potato-like interior.

What’s even better about the Vegetable Masala Burgers, though, is the flavor–they’ve got a lovely Indian spice backbone running through them, with just enough mild heat to let you know it’s there–even those afraid of heat should be fine with these, but they’re by no means boring. I often have these for a basic weekday lunch, just throwing them on a bun with some ketchup (I know, I’m a philistine), but I imagine they would work equally well chopped up into pieces and served as a quasi-salad with lettuce or couscous. All in all, they’re a great way to enjoy easy Indian flavors in a way that is different from the typical microwaved curry bowl.

5. Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings

Paste assistant food editor Samantha Maxwell already lumped some praise on these frozen dumplings while writing about Trader Joe’s last year, but I’m reiterating here because it was an excellent call on her part. There’s no shortage of frozen dumplings, buns and potstickers that one can find in the frozen aisle of most any grocery store these days, and most of them are at least passable. The biggest problem with frozen dumplings tends to be that they’re simply bland, lacking anything more than a basic pork flavor, maybe accented with a bit of garlic or green onion. Trader Joe’s conquers that problem by very much leaning into the “ginger” side of the title here, making these soup dumplings unusually fragrant and redolent in fresh ginger. If that’s a flavor you enjoy, then you’re definitely going to like these. Pro tip: Every dumpling needs a dipping sauce, even soup dumplings, and it’s very easy to whip one up for yourself. Play around with combinations of ingredients like soy, hoisin, chili garlic sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar until you’ve nailed a tangy sauce for dipping.

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident genre guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more drink, food and film writing.

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