Life

The Best Trader Joe’s Frozen Foods (That You Won’t Find Anywhere Else)

We go to our local grocery stores to buy food to eat, plain and simple. We go to Trader Joe’s to buy the foods we gotta have but can’t find anywhere else. The sampling, the comparing, the wine selection, the quirky names — it’s almost a form of recreation.

You can search the produce section for onions and apples and bags of pre-made salads at Trader Joe’s, just like any other grocery chain. And, yup, they’ve got your various cuts of chicken, beef, and fish there, too. But any true TJ’s aficionado will tell you that there are some fire items at the store that you’ll never find at your neighborhood Kroger or Ralphs.

Like those cute little packages of frozen garlic squares. Why bother with peeling, chopping, and mincing garlic for yourself when you can just pop a perfectly portioned garlic bite out of the freezer and into your sauté pan? Sure, you can buy jars of the stuff at any grocery store, but why play yourself? You know that flavor is staler — almost pickled — and just not the same.

Since I am that aforementioned TJ’s aficionado (on both the food and wine side of things), I ventured to my nearest location(s) last week to explore the freezer section once again. This time, I looked specifically for the frozen foods that can only be found at Trader Joe’s and nowhere else — from entrees to desserts to that garlic I love so much — re-tasted them and ranked them for your reading pleasure.

What made this whole experience even better? Not a single thing on this list costs more than $8. Let’s get to it!

10. Linguine with Clam Sauce

Via Janice Williams

Average Price: $3

Tasting Notes:

Now here is a pasta that manages to maintain a light and bright profile while remaining hearty and filling. Be sure to follow the cooking instructions to the T, as it’s easy to overcook the pasta. But after about six to eight minutes with the fire on high, the noodles maintain their desired al-dente texture.

The clam sauce is the real star of this dish. It has a briny, lemony note hovering in the background that’s smattered with parsley and a little red pepper, but overall it’s the taste of clams fresh out the sea that dominates the flavor. That’s a good thing.

Bottom Line:

What’s great about this dish — beyond the fact that it has all the exuberant salinity of the sea — is that it’s incredibly light, which is a lot to say considering how heavy pasta (particularly sauced frozen pasta) tends to be. It’ll fill you right up without weighing you down after a few bites.

9. Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Butter and Sage

Uproxx

Average Price: $3

Tasting Notes:

Don’t go eating this stuff when you’re on a diet. Its caloric content is HIGH — 250 calories per serving with about three servings-worth in the bag. But all the calories are worth it if you aren’t counting.

This dish is indulgent in every sense of the word. Warm and pillowy, clouds of sugary sweet potatoes (they almost taste candied) get soaked in a butter sauce that is ethereally rich and creamy. All that lustrous flavor gets a velvety, herbal lift from the sage.

Bottom Line:

This puts the comfort in comfort food. You’re definitely going to feel the weight of the gnocchi after consumption, but all that richness and flavor will help ease the food guilt.

8. Spicy Thai Shrimp Fried Rice

Via Janice Williams

Average Price: $5

Tasting Notes:

I have to lead with the spice factor of this frozen dish. A single forkful of this may only zing your mouth a little. If anything, you’ll notice the taste of Thai basil on the first bite. But take a few forkfuls more and feel the well of heat rising in your chest. This fried rice isn’t necessarily the type of spicy you can taste, but rather the type of spicy you can feel.

That’s a good thing — by the time you’re done, your body heat index will have gone from zero to 100, real quick!

Now I can’t lie. TJ’s is slacking on the shrimp quantity in this dish. There are only about 10 pieces of little baby shrimp included. But the mounds of veggies —baby corn, onion, green peas, carrot, green onion, flat basil leaves, garlic, and ginger— make up for it. And man, the red Thai chili peppers mixed throughout really just amplify the flavor.

Bonus: The rice in this dish is a smash. Idk how TJ’s does it, but they have their frozen rice game on lock.

Bottom Line:

People are always asking for something they can feel, and my response to that is for them to hit the nearest Trader Joe’s, buy this fried rice, and eat this fried rice. Trust me when I say, you’re gonna feel it.

7. Mushroom Risotto

Via Janice Williams

Average Price: $4

Tasting Notes:

Somehow this bag of frozen food turns into something completely creamy and delicious once it’s heated up. The long-grain white rice doesn’t get mushy from the weight of the sauce. If anything, it supports the earthy, meaty mushroom taste and gives the dish the density it needs to hold everything together.

This isn’t as salty as say, Trader Joe’s Asparagus Risotto, but that’s a good thing. The mushrooms give the dish the savory complexity it needs. It’s a bit bland in color, but little sprinkles of parsley add more visual appeal.

Bottom Line:

This is a filling, completely palatable, dinner-worthy dish. Cook this up on the stove, pour a big glass of chianti to go with it, and thank me when you’re done and fully satisfied.

6. Mandarin Orange Chicken

Via Janice Williams

Average Price: $5

Tasting Notes:

Cook up some rice and throw TJ’s Mandarin Orange Chicken in the oven and you’ll have a complete meal that is sweet and satisfying.

Juicy chicken legs are used for this dish, which is likely why the chicken chunks remain moist on the inside after baking. The breading is crispy and light, seasoned with a little salt and pepper. Once baked in the oven as the packaging instructs, it’s time to coat the boneless chicken pieces in the glossy and citrusy sauce, comprised of real orange peels, garlic, ginger, green onion, and soy sauce.

That’s what gives this frozen food item most of its flavor — the sauce — which is light and balanced with a gingery sweetness and a faint kick of spice.

Bottom Line:

This orange chicken is nearly as good as takeout. And takeout orange chicken is great.

5. Thai Shrimp Gyoza

Money.com

Average Price: $5

Tasting Notes:

Steam ‘em. Bake ‘em. Pan fry ‘em. Throw ‘em in the microwave if you’re bout that life. Whatever way you make Trader Joe’s Thai Shrimp Gyoza, you’re bound to enjoy them because these Thai-style dumplings are really just that great.

The bag full of Gyoza is stuffed with real lumps of shrimp and veggies like white cabbage, chives, green onion, and garlic, but there is a gingery element to the potstickers that’s noticeable in the bite too. All that blends together for a completely savory snack that is totally filling.

Even the dough for these flash-frozen dumplings has a nice texture that is firm and not too chewy once cooked. Dip and dunk them in sauce as you please — these dumplings are thick enough to bear the weight of the contents inside and multiple splashings of soy sauce.

Bottom Line:

You really can’t beat frozen dumplings that maintain quality in flavor and texture once cooked. And you can’t find dumplings like those virtually anywhere else.

4. Speculoos Cookie Butter Ice Cream

Via Janice Williams

Average Price: $5

Tasting Notes:

This ain’t ya half-gallon carton of cookie dough ice cream. In fact, there are no actual globs of cookies in this ice cream at all. What you get instead—and trust me when I say you’ll appreciate this much more—is swirls of cookie butter that marble the rich and sweet ice cream. The cream to cookie ratio is so on-point, you’ll have to work to scoop out a spoonful that doesn’t include a balanced portion of both ingredients.

Overall, the ice cream smells of vanilla beans, sugar, and cookie batter. But the ice cream itself is simple — not dry and hard like some ice creams can be, but not so creamy that it melts easily. It’s luscious with a dense enough texture to hold the weight of the cookie butter whirling throughout. And while the actual vanilla-based ice cream plays the background role, allowing the buttery, cinnamon, and clove flavors to really stand out, the whole desert melds together in perfect harmony.

It’s worth noting that this ice cream isn’t overly sweet. You can enjoy quite a few spoonfuls without feeling hyped up on sugar. For me, that’s a win.

Bottom Line:

This stuff is a fan-favorite for many TJs shoppers. The reason why is clearly in its taste and price point.

3. Crushed Garlic

Via Janice Williams

Average Price: $3

Tasting Notes:

Trader Joe was obviously thinking about those of us who just don’t have the time when he started slanging frozen crushed garlic. Bless him!

This package basically consists of fresh garlic that has been crushed and frozen into little cubes in a miniature ice tray. They come in handy whenever you need to add a little bit of garlic and don’t feel like going through the hassle of peeling, chopping, crushing, or mincing.

The best part about these little babies is that every cube maintains its fresh garlic taste for days — even weeks! — in the freezer, unlike jarred minced garlic which is okay when you first open it but loses its piquancy after a few days opened in the fridge.

Bottom Line:

Save yourself some time with meal prep, and simplify your home cooking with these little frozen garlic cubes.

2. Mushroom Ravioli with Truffle

Amazon

Average Price: $4

Tasting Notes:

Ravioli noodles that maintain their freshness, texture, and taste after unthawing over medium heat in a pan? Check. A decadent blend of mushrooms and ricotta that is fully flavorful but doesn’t overwhelm the actual ravioli? Double-check. A thick and creamy, rich sauce that is swimming with morsels of porcini and champignon mushrooms and truffle oil flavor you can not only smell but taste? Triple check.

Do I really need to say more? Seriously, editor, do I?

Bottom Line:

This is definitely one of the better pasta dishes at Trader Joe’s. It delivers on rich, earthy decadence and quality. Cook this up when you’re pressed for time, and I swear you’ll fool houseguests with it.

1. Seafood Paella

What

Average Price: $5

Tasting Notes:

I am truly amazed that Trader Joe’s somehow managed to capture the freshness of seafood paella, bag it up, freeze it and maintain all its original flavors while it essentially unthaws and heats up in a pan, covered, on high heat for a few minutes. Truly, I am blown tf away.

The rice is pearly and delectable. You’d never guess it was in a freezer bag mixed with a generous portion of baby shrimp, mussels, and ribbons of squid, peas, red and yellow and green peppers, and onion. It’s all seasoned to perfection with spices like paprika and saffron, which coats and colors the bomba rice nicely.

Bottom Line:

Obviously, this doesn’t come close to what you’d get in Spain. Please understand that. But this is pretty damn good freezer-section paella. In fact, I’ve never had better.

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