Today, I’m diving into the realm of freezer-aisle food. Why? Because it would be naïve of me to pretend that I and every other college student have the willpower to perpetually steer clear of it. Sometimes, it’s necessary — a go-to when we need a super-quick bite — and perfectly convenient when, adorned in sweatpants and slippers, we just don’t have the energy to leave our apartments.

Nathan Wood

Challenged by the prospect of finding a frozen food that’s actually worth eating for the flavor, not just the convenience, I was motivated to revisit one of my childhood favorites: Marie Callender’s chicken pot pies, the ultimate in comfort food. I distinctly remember the staple frozen pie in my household being Banquet brand, a red box of cheap quality ingredients stuffed in a floury, underseasoned crust purchased for 88 cents. It served its purpose — warm and filling, ready in two minutes — but was utterly devoid of the refined savoriness offered by Marie’s famous recipe.

Every once in a while, I was lucky enough to discover a Marie Callender’s pot pie in the door of our basement freezer, though my mother could not bring herself to routinely subject me to the astoundingly poor nutrition of the pot pies. The smaller, 10-ounce chicken pot pie boasts 70-percent of a daily allowance of saturated fat and 42-percent of a daily allowance of sodium (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). The larger, 16.5-ounce pie contains over 1,000 calories and contains 100-percent of a daily allowance of fat.

Fully knowledgeable of the abuse to which my arteries would soon be subjected, I ventured to the grocery store in search of my favorite microwavable meal of yesteryear. I was anxious to see whether the pies were really as tasty as I remembered them to be, or if the scarcity with which my mom would buy them had tainted my perception of their deliciousness.

I was impressed from the minute I opened the box. The packaging features a susceptor, the savior of all things microwavable. More colloquially known as a crisping disc, this silver material absorbs the waves, heats to a very high temperature and emits infrared rays to brown and crisp the crust of the pot pie. And, after five-and-a-half-minutes in my microwave, brown and crispy the crust was. Its color was a deep golden hue, even and uniform. The edges were particularly flaky but still held their moisture. Even the bottom crust, often the victim of post-cooking sogginess in pot pies, held its delicate texture. It can’t hold a candle to the homemade puff pastry I like topping my pies with, but it’s definitely the best crust that Krogers freezers can offer.

The white-meat chicken was present in large, tender chunks. It wasn’t tough or dry like pre-cooked frozen proteins can be; it was actually well-seasoned as a stand-alone ingredient. The peas were sweet, verdant and fresh tasting, but I would like to have seen a dozen or so more in the pie. The carrots, unfortunately, were hard. I’m all for texture contrasts, but as a general rule, orange vegetables should be smooth and supple when cooked.

I must admit that the sodium stats mentioned earlier had me worried about the saltiness of the gravy, but I was pleasantly surprised by its flavor. I was not inclined to add any salt, believably enough, and my taste buds were not repulsed by overpowering amounts of sodium chloride. Hints of onion powder and garlic powder, thyme, marjoram and sage added warmth to the gravy. The viscosity was on point, as well. It was thicker than normal mashed-potatoes-and-gravy gravy, appropriately, so when I forked a bite of the pie, it held its dignity by not gushing out and emptying the pie to leave a naked shell of crust. My only complaint is that, because my pie was thickened by cornstarch instead of the more traditional flour roux, the gravy had a slightly fluorescent hue. Remember, though, this is frozen food.

The truth is, Marie Callender’s pot pies are not as wonderful as I remember, but still a delicious bite by any standard. If you’ve never enjoyed one before, definitely check them out. At $3 a pop for the 10-ounce package, the pies aren’t incredibly cheap, especially compared to their Banquet counterpart, but they’re still affordable. They make a great late-night snack, quick dinner before study group or after-exam indulgence. Other variations include creamy mushroom, parmesan, honey roasted and cheesy chicken pot pies. And if chicken’s not your thing, there’s also beef pot pie and another classic — turkey pot pie. Try them, as I plan to. But please, don’t tell my mom.

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