Food Hacks

Can a Meal Delivery Service Make You a Better Cook?

You don't need a pricy package to follow a great recipe.

By Beth Levine July 4, 2017

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Don't cook for a man, teach him how to fish.

Image: Beth Levine

Forget the fact that Blue Apron's initial public offering on Wall Street was more of a stumble than a leap. It went public to begin with because in recent years, the meal delivery service industry has become a massive business. Companies like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Plated have been busting out all over.

While many of us love and use these services, most of them do require some type of sign-up commitment, whether it's monthly or per-person or per-meal costs. After a few months of using both Plated and Blue Apron, I decided to see just how hard it would be to recreate one of our favorite Blue Apron meals at home without their prepackaged kit. Is it worth the extra cash for the convenience, or could we do better ourselves?

For our challenge we chose one of our favorite Blue Apron recipes, a pork ramen dish. When I prepared the dish with Blue Apron, the ingredients came not only prepackaged but also in the exact proportions we needed. This time, I had to go to the store to find pork, bacon, fresh ramen noodles and garlic chives, but also a few knick-knacks: pork demi-glace, soy sauce, mirin, garlic, ginger and mazemen spice (comprising black and white sesame seeds, kibbled nori and smoked paprika). 

Luckily for us, Houston has a lot of Asian ingredients in most regular supermarkets and we do not live that far from quite a few specialty Asian grocers, so getting almost everything on the list was relatively easy. The downside? The ingredients I labeled as "knick-knacks." I used only a pinch here or a teaspoon there, but I had to buy whole bottles of those ingredients. But who knows when I'll need mirin, kibbled nori and pork demi-glace again?

Although previously I used the handy menu chart Blue Apron sent, I tried to not use it this time and go from memory, since I was supposed to be learning as well. Thankfully this meal was one I had made not too long ago and fresh in my mind. 

How did I do? Well, the dish was very good. My gang of four ate all of it, so it went a little bit further than the prepackaged version. Did it taste the same? Honestly, no, but it was pretty damn close. Was it more economical? In the long run, yes, as I plan to keep using the "knick knacks." But in the short run, I spent $15-20 more. The timing for prepping and cooking was the same, but I did have to go out and actually get the items, which took time. Fun level? This is where the experiment excelled. It was surprisingly fun to recreate the challenge at home. And you know what? It turned out I really am learning to be a better cook.

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