Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Trader Joe's Coconut Shrimp

So a little while ago I made a list of things that didn't make sense to me. I'd like to add two more things, and in fact, I can't believe they didn't make the original rundown ... somehow they musta slipped my mind. Anyways, two things: First, who thought it was a good idea to position the number zero and the letter O right-freakin'-on-top of each other on your keyboard. At work where I mash buttons indiscriminately all day, I find myself continually pushing the wrong one mucking things up. Stupid nonsensical QWERTY keyboards. Secondly: how are fish and shrimp, clams, lobsters, etc, not universally considered meat? I'm not talking about the Lent/Catholicism/religious tradition issue as much as there seems to be different classes of vegetarianism where, depending on what you choose to believe, seafood either is or is not meat. I've asked several vegetarian friends* of mine about this, and they either stare blankly at me and really don't explain it, or I get an explanation that fish don't feel pain, they don't have blood, so it doesn't harm them. That sounds a little, well, fishy to me. To me, it's clearcut ... all those creatures have mom and dads, they were born/hatched at some point, they lived, breathed, ate, and pooped. At some point, somebody caught them and they died en route to my dinner plate. I don't know how we can determine that one type of animal feels pain while another doesn't, and as far as I know with my very limited zoological knowledge, fish gotta have at least some sort of blood-type system to keep them ticking. It was an animal. Animals are made of meat. Ergo, when I am eating a fish, I am eating meat.

Except ... enough people consider them not to be to create a loophole I will exploit. And Sandy agrees enough to allow us seafood while abstaining from meat during Lent. It's getting towards the end, I miss meat more than just about anything (I've told Sandy I want cheeseburgers, not jelly beans in my Easter basket), so I've been trying to check out some different Trader Joe seafood stuffs. When we went shopping on Monday, I definitely felt too strong an urge to not leave the store without something that used to have a face. Shrimp has always been my far-and-away favorite ocean animal to chomp on down on, so spotting this battered tasty-looking Coconut Shrimp required little to no thought.

Well, it's not bad, but it's definitely a little weird/not quite what we expected it to be. We've had coconut-battered shrimp before, and it's always been the shaved coconut mixed in with the breadcrumbs variety. The Trader Joe's tastes like coconut milk was either used as a base for the batter, or that the shrimpy guys were heavily saturated with it prior to crumbing it up. The result of this is this interesting mix of textures ... the fleshy-ness of the shrimp, the creaminess of the milk, and the crispy greasiness of the batter. It's definitely strange, especially the first bite when it's not expected. I didn't mind it too much, but Sandy was a little put off by it. But the taste itself is fairly gratifying. I've come to really enjoy things like rice prepared with coconut milk (coincidentally our side dish last night, with the mango-from-the-picture's cousin chopped up and mixed in) as it adds this creamy, slightly sweet, kinda ethereal dimension of flavor. The coconut with the shrimp did much of the same .... decently good, though when mingled with the batter I found myself wondering if the whole combination was the best idea. I thought the shrimp itself was good, not great. Each one was about a bite-and-a-half sized, definitely fresh and clean tasting, and not too salty/mushy/gritty like I've tasted with other store brands at other places. Sandy said she had one that tasted pretty fishy to her, though. I didn't notice that for any of mine, but the fact that she let me finish her allotment up told me she wasn't the biggest fan. I was so hungry for anything resembling meat I plowed them all down (mostly because I doubted they'd be any better reheated), and I think I managed to eat a tail or two by mistake. Yuck.

I can see us giving these a try again sometime to see if we like them any better then, now that we know a little more what to expect. Still, for now, Sandy could muster up giving them only a 2 because of the oddball texture and fishy tidbit. I'll grade them a little higher, but pantheon-bound these are not. The milky/creamy thing docks them down a little, not just because of the texture but also because it made the batter not stick to the shrimp as well as it should have, causing some half-naked pieces and extra scrubbing for the baking sheet. Also, I appreciated the product overall, but just wasn't left with enough of a glowing impression to recommend them too highly. I found myself enjoying the rice side dish more than my shrimp ration, and if you had any idea how much rice we've eaten recently ... Sounds like a 3.5 from me, though I'd totally get if you think we rated these too low.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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*I think some (not all) of my vegetarian friends ascribe to the theory that it is okay to only eat animals that cannot be considered cute and/or cuddly. I've heard people describe pigs, cows, and even chickens (though they are nasty little birds) as such, but never heard of anyone wanting to cuddle up with a fish or lobster or crab. So perhaps that's an argument for being cool with eating meat that swims. Hey, whatever works.

5 comments:

  1. you guys automatically earned cool points by sharing my affinity for trader joes. this blog is fun.

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  2. Thanks Rudy! TJ's is pretty tough not to have some level of affection for ... glad you enjoy the read!

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  3. My sister...who is a "political vegetarian" loves to say that she won't "eat anything with a face".

    Then she almost slapped me when I told her that oysters don't have a face...clams don't have a face...

    She was also pissed when I was talking about our Turducken (this was at christmas) and asked her if she was going to have a Tofucken...good times.

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  4. I read labels very carefully, and I'm very sure that US labeling requirements would not allow something with seafood (other than plants) in it to carry a vegetarian or vegan label. I've lived many places in the US, and if you have friends who call themselves vegetarian but eat non-plant seafood - they are not typical. They might have been just passing along info about other people who won't eat mammals or birds but will eat fish etc. But if they eat fish etc. themselves, they are just partially vegetarian (just being selective about what animals they eat, but otherwise eating more like vegetarians than the typical American carnivore). It's ok to be selective but geez- don't make things even more confusing for the rest of us!!! I would not be happy if I ordered the vegetarian plate at a function and some dead shrimp arrived on it. Mainstream ideas about vegetarian meals are peculiar enough. Someone at a banquet looked at the purple canned pear on faltering lettuce and a hard boiled egg on such a "vegetarian plate" and said he would starve if he were vegetarian. I told him, so would I, if that were a real vegetarian meal. I've learned to bring along nuts, seeds, and fruit to such affairs. I can't even eat egg whites (allergic, although at the time I just couldn't stand them), so you can imagine my delight with that particular attempt. The dyed pear on lettuce wasn't too appetizing either.

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