From Discount Dinners to Delicious Dishes: Easy Tricks for Gourmet-ifying Frozen Food

As I strolled through the frozen food aisles of Costco, I eyed the endless options of budget-friendly, convenient frozen meals and ingredients. The generically branded chicken breasts, lasagnas, and shrimp begged to be tossed in my cart for easy weeknight dinners. But as a passionate home cook, I saw untapped potential in these basic foods. With the right gourmet techniques, even basic frozen food from Costco could be elevated from boring to beautiful.

My mind raced with ideas for how to transform these everyday items into chef-quality creations. With flavorful sauces, spice rubs, specialty batters and my culinary know-how, I was ready to turn discount frozen foods into restaurant-worthy masterpieces. The journey from basic to gourmet was about to begin.

Just Bare Chicken Breasts


The lightly seasoned Just Bare chicken breasts from Costco are a handy staple. But you can take them to the next level with flavorful breading and homemade marinara sauce. Start by cutting partially thawed breasts into 1-inch chunks and patting dry. In one shallow bowl, combine 1 cup panko breadcrumbs, 1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan, 2 teaspoons dried thyme and 1 tablespoon paprika. Dip chunks into the panko mixture to evenly coat.

Heat 1⁄2 inch olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Pan fry chicken in batches until golden brown and crisp, about 3-4 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. For the sauce, sauté 3 cloves minced garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil until fragrant. Add a 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, 1⁄4 cup chopped roasted red peppers and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. Simmer until thickened. Top crispy chicken chunks with sauce and torn fresh basil leaves for an elevated meal.

Tempura Shrimp


Costco’s frozen tempura shrimp provides convenience, but the mediocre batter leaves much to be desired. Create your own luxe version with a light, crispy coating and lemon caper beurre blanc, a French butter sauce. In a bowl, whisk 1 cup club soda, 1⁄2 cup flour, 1⁄4 cup cornstarch, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1⁄2 cup panko breadcrumbs into a smooth batter.

Dip frozen shrimp pieces into batter to coat. Fry in 350°F oil for 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. For the sauce, melt 6 tablespoons butter in a small pan. Add 2 minced shallots and 1⁄4 cup white wine vinegar and simmer until reduced by half. Turn off heat and whisk in 3 tablespoons drained capers and the juice of 1 lemon. Serve sauce drizzled over crispy shrimp for a restaurant-worthy appetizer.

Cheese Lasagna


While convenient, your typical frozen cheese lasagna lacks complex flavor. Elevate it with made-from-scratch touches like herb ricotta filling, béchamel sauce and a ragu bolognese base. In a bowl, mix 15 ounces ricotta cheese, 1 cup grated Parmesan, 2 tablespoons each minced parsley, basil and oregano, plus salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.

For the ragu, brown 1 pound ground beef and 1 pound Italian sausage in a pan. Add a 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, minced carrots and onions and wine. Simmer until thickened. Spread 1 cup ragu in a 9”x13” baking dish. Top with lasagna noodles, dollops of ricotta mixture and béchamel sauce (equal parts butter and flour roux with milk). Repeat layering and top with browned panko breadcrumbs. Bake at 375°F until bubbly for a homemade touch.

Chicken Strips

Transform basic chicken strips from the freezer aisle with crispy seasoned breading and homemade honey mustard dipping sauce. In one shallow bowl, mix 1 cup flour, 2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 2 tablespoons minced parsley. In another, whisk 2 large eggs. Dip frozen chicken strips into flour, then egg, then back into the seasoned flour to coat evenly.

Heat 1⁄2 inch clarified butter or ghee in a skillet over medium high heat. Pan fry chicken in batches until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. For the dipping sauce, combine 1⁄4 cup honey, 3 tablespoons yellow mustard and 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning. The combination of crispy breading, mild chicken and sweet spicy sauce will transport your taste buds.

Chicken Wings


Elevate frozen chicken wings with a custom dry rub and Korean-inspired Gochujang glaze for finger-licking results. First, coat the thawed wings evenly with a mixture of 1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons black pepper, 1 teaspoon each garlic powder, paprika, and chili powder. Arrange on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper.

Bake at 425°F for 25 minutes until browned and crispy. Meanwhile, whisk 1⁄2 cup Gochujang (Korean chili paste), 1⁄4 cup honey, 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 teaspoon sesame oil and a pinch of chili garlic sauce in a small bowl. Toss hot wings in the sauce until fully coated. The sweet heat glaze over crispy salty wings is sure to be a new favorite.

With imagination and a few extra steps, you can make restaurant-caliber meals using basic frozen ingredients from Costco, Sam’s Club, or any other grocer. Fancy coatings, homemade sauces, and unique flavor combinations take these freezer staples to new heights. Implement techniques like pan frying, baking and simmering to bring out the best in budget-friendly frozen foods.

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