Blue Apron, the meal delivery service start-up that has taken over my demographic’s kitchens, does this nifty thing where they give subscribers a coupon to pass on to a friend, good for one week’s worth of food. A free week’s worth of food? Heck yeah!
The business model is as follows: Blue Apron packages and ships food (meat, dairy, produce, and dry goods alike) for a complete dinner in portioned packages to your doorstep, along with written and visual instructions on how to create a home-cooked meal. There are subscription plans portioned for two or for four, and you can receive between two and four meals per week. Many of these meals often yield some leftovers, but the service is really meant for people on-the-go who may eat out a few times a week in addition to the Blue Apron subscription. Clearly, very attractive to us millennials.
My opinion of Blue Apron prior to being handed one of those coupons for a free week’s worth of food was, erm, mixed. One of the small joys I find in cooking is constructing a grocery list and browsing for what looks good at the supermarket.* I use coupons, too, and can often feed my household well with relatively inexpensive grocery bills. This sort of service restricts my grocery visits and is not exactly cheap. Additionally, it does not allow for much creativity in making the meal if you use it to avoid the supermarket altogether. However, Blue Apron does get more people into the kitchen and may even expose you to some unfamiliar cooking techniques and types of produce. So, there is that.
After subscribing and registering my coupon online**, I was given the choice of selecting three meals for my delivery from a list of six. Half were vegetarian, and all included a decent balance of grains, veggies, and protein. My delivery was scheduled to arrive by 9pm on Monday, and I planned on making my first Blue Apron meal for dinner that night (mistake). So when the plastic-lined box with cooling packs arrived 1 hour before the delivery deadline, my boyfriend and I were v. v. hungry.
The packaging of each ingredient was almost whimsical, and the instructional recipe cards included were bright and visually appealing, with pictures demonstrating many of the procedural steps in creating each dish. As I unpacked the box, I decided I liked seeing everything for three meals laid out in front of me. And so, I snapped a picture.
The three meals we selected for delivery were: huevos rancheros quesadillas (vegetarian), miso-glazed chicken wings with purple rice, and pork chops with fig compote and a farro salad with kale. The recipes from Blue Apron are available at each of the links below.
The instructions for making this first dish were straightforward enough, but I admit that I do not make Mexican food terribly often. So I was coming at this how Blue Apron intended: with little experience. I questioned some steps, such as mashing the beans with a fork. An effort in futility, more easily accomplished with a masher. I questioned the instruction to simply “cook a sunny-side-up egg” at the end, which might be too little information for inexperienced cooks.
Some of the ingredients for this dish were troubling, too. The tortillas included for constructing the quesadillas were, in a word, cardboard. I wondered aloud at their loose concept of “salsa” made with tomatillos. That salsa was straight-up not good, though the rest of their dish was quite healthy and filling, featuring zucchini, radishes, and avocado.
It had better be filling too, at 800 calories a serving. So night one was sufficient, but I didn’t love the meal. It was disappointing because ahead of time, this is the one my boyfriend and I had looked forward to the most. I do not feel like I learned any useful techniques for incorporating into future cookery, either.
The very next evening, we decided to make the miso-glazed chicken wings. This recipe included a side dish of purple rice mixed with cubes of cucumber and zucchini. Now, I know how to cook rice, to say the least.*** This purple rice must have been either overstock or a gimmick to get people into weirdly colored rice… because it did not taste good. It did not cook well. And it made me think my tongue was going to turn purple from the weird dyes that leaked out while simmering on the stovetop. The real kicker is that there was no dressing whatsoever to the salad; just add the zucchini and cucumber, some scallions and salt and pepper. The result tasted dry and looked unappetizing (thus, no pictures). The chicken wings, however, were delicious.
The marinade was a mix of sweet chili sauce and white miso. I thought their method of cooking the chicken wings in the oven was simple and successful. The calorie count per serving was around 750 for this meal, but there was extra of the purple rice salad. I would normally say “Great! Leftovers for lunch tomorrow”, and while I tried to choke some down, it went into the trash can pretty quickly after that.
I began making the final meal a bit grumpily, as I was not pleased with the meals we had made so far that week. I do love pork chops though, and admired how good they looked in their vacuum-sealed packaging as soon as I opened the box. The procedures for cooking the chops left them nice and crispy on the outside and very tender once sliced. It is a procedure I will certainly use to make pork chops again. I had also never made a compote, and soon decided I need to do it more often, as the fig version that topped the pork chops was a breeze. Garnished with the tarragon, it was a perfect balance of flavors and something I will attempt to recreate in the autumn, when the flavors will be more in season.
The side for this meal was a farro salad with wilted kale, two ingredients I very much enjoy. The instructions went off without a hitch, and this salad got a dressing of lemon juice, crème fraîche, and olive oil. While I don’t normally like to use crème fraîche in dressing salads, and I may have preferred something more like a vinaigrette, it turned out well and my boyfriend and I devoured the whole salad in one sitting. The calorie count for the dish is 790 a serving, and it turned out to be my favorite by far.
After receiving our shipment, I “canceled” the Blue Apron subscription we were required to set up to use the coupon. It was a good effort, even if my experience with a meal delivery subscription turned out less successful than I thought it would be. If I were to continue with Blue Apron, it would cost me around $60 a week for three meals. Which, minus alcohol and fresh fruit, is about how much I spend on groceries anyway. However, I can usually get more than three meals out of a trip to the grocery store. For a family of four, there are options for 2 or 4 meals in a weekly shipment. The former is $70, the latter is $140.
In summary, I do not think Blue Apron is a good option for learning how to cook nor as a consistent meal plan unless you really are too busy to make it to the store even every other week. Not all the ingredients were good, especially the tortillas and the purple rice. But the meat and produce quality was stellar. The instructions sometimes left me confused, but I did learn about making compote, and appreciated a new spin on farro salad. While the endorsement here may not sound ringing, if you find someone with a coupon for a free week’s worth of meals, nab it, and try it out for yourself!
*I understand my love of grocery shopping makes me weird, but it’s basically genetic. My mother and I bond at the seafood counter.
**Thank you, Lauren!
***It is basically my job.