My friend David Yamada, a Suffolk Law School professor whose Facebook posts about weird food nostalgia are wonderful and life-affirming, recently published one about Swanson TV dinners. We ate those occasionally when I was a kid, and I enjoyed them. The fried chicken glistened in grease. The dessert — sometimes a hot apple thingie, sometimes a brownie — beckoned in its little tray. I vowed to try one if I could find it and write about the experience.
Well, they don’t make them quite the same way anymore. Swanson was absorbed into Campbell some years ago. On a recent trip to Stop & Shop, I managed to find a few Campbell Hungry-Man boneless fried chicken dinners. They don’t call them TV dinners these days, probably because people eat them while staring at their phones. Anyway, I picked up three. My wife, daughter and I tried them Friday evening.
There are 790 calories, which isn’t too bad, I suppose. But there are also 38 grams of fat and 1,400 milligrams of sodium; the latter is 61% of what is supposed to be your maximum for the entire day. If you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough salt in your diet, I would definitely recommend one of these. In addition to two boneless chicken patties you get corn, mashed potato (“savory,” which I guess is Campbell-speak for salty) and a brownie that looks very much like what I remember from my childhood.
In deference to the microwave crowd, the tin trays are gone. But I went old-school, putting them in the oven for 50 minutes. The result was not terrible, which may not sound like much of a recommendation, but it was somewhere toward the high end of my expectations. The picture on the box showed everything moved to a plate, so I did the same, the better to separate the chicken from the mashed potatoes that were beneath it.
Sadly, the chicken tasted highly processed, which it was. Those old TV dinners might not have been anything great, but they included real chicken, with bones and everything. But who wants to deal with bones when you’re scrolling through Instagram? The corn and potatoes were tasteless, but the brownie was pretty good. I was alone in that opinion, which meant that I got to eat two and half of them.
Paired with a Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes and we had — well, some very good wine. I can’t recommend what we ate, but we survived, and it easily could have been worse.