So a couple of weeks ago when I visited Coles to try their Parma Pizza I mistakenly found myself in the frozen foods aisle, not realising the pizza was in the “fresh but cold” section of the supermarket (commonly known as a refrigerator). I noticed that there were two types of parma available at Coles, then a few days later while trying to find a cast iron skillet I had seen advertised at Aldi, I saw that they too have their own brand of frozen supermarket parma.
A plan formed in my head. A silly plan, but a plan none the less … Would I be able to try all three frozen parmas back to back and pick a winner to be crowned the best frozen parma available in Australian supermarkets?
You already know that’s exactly what is happening.
First up before you type your comments yes I am already aware that there are YouFoodz or LaManna parmas that are probably better - However they tend to also err on the side of refrigerated and not frozen, and yes meal delivery places like Lite n’ Easy also do a frozen parma - But they are not readily available to grab from a supermarket easily. So we’re sticking to frozen supermarket parmas for this Round-Up.
Although there were oven directions in most of these I used the microwave instructions an all of them to keep the playing field level. Three steamed parmas. At this time of year, at this time of day, in this part of the country, localised entirely within my kitchen.
Alright. Let’s get to it.
On first bite into this parma one thought struck me - “Damn it’s going to be difficult to write full multi paragraph critiques on all of these”.
The “On The Menu” Chicken Parma (available from Coles & Woolworths, This one cost me $4.80) seemed like all the others, yet it is the only one of the three that advertises ham on top of the chicken, which probably makes it “purest” Aussie parma of the bunch (and possibly how it fell into the “Pub Favourites” category.
Now all three parmas were sided by frozen peas and carrots. I’m not going to waste any more time beyond this paragraph talking about the peas and carrots because … Well they're peas and carrots. You know what they taste like, they tasted identical across all three parmas and probably taste exactly the same anywhere you would encounter microwaved peas and carrots across the multiverse.
The On The Menu parma advertised “real chicken breast” and to be honest I was surprised at how much texture the chicken actually had. It felt like it could have, at one point, actually been attached to a chicken.
Now although there were only a few slivers of ham on the parma itself the On The Menu parma did carry a smokey ham flavour throughout. Handy, as the napoli was super watery and there was barely any of it.
In fact of all three this one was the most stingy on the toppings. The Napoli probably covered half of the chicken and I think at one point there may have been some cheese in the same room as this parma, but by the time it arrived in front of me it was all but gone.
I was a bit excited for the wedges, but it turns out steamed wedges aren’t really the same thing as properly cooked wedges. I’d complain more, but complaining that a microwaved meal is soggy is like complaining that water is wet.
On to number two!
Ahh McCain … You’ve done it again! (and we’ve done it before!).
The McCain parma has been around forever, as evidenced by this commercial from the ‘90’s..
And to be honest, the parma looks exactly the same today as it did then. Oh, and not to be a marketing shill or anything but that ad was the inspiration for our Chicken Pyjamas T-Shirt … Buy yours today! (Please someone buy one. I need to justify to my wife the cost of commissioning that artwork. Sales have been … Lets say “lower than projected”)
Also back in 2011 we spent an Australia Day party microwaving a large stack of McCain parmas for review. Now from that review I have always remembered the McCain parma as “not terrible”, however that opinion was formed after the consumption of many, many beers so I may not have been in the clearest state of mind to pass judgement.
I whacked it in the microwave and waited for parma #2 to be done.
The McCain parma, like the On the Menu parma, came from Coles, however at a hefty $6 this was the most expensive of the three, and to be honest it was the least authentic.
Gone was the semblance of chicken texture from the On The Menu parma, we’re in full giant chicken nugget territory here. The crumbs were thick and spongey and the chicken was relatively thin in comparison.
At least there was more napoli and cheese on this one, the increase in flavour for the toppings kind’ve making up for the quality drop in the chicken.
I’m no microwave scientist however I think the smaller cubed potatoes in lieu of the larger chunky wedges actually helped keep them crispier, the smaller surface area meaning they actually felt closer to the real roast spuds they were trying to mimic than the On The Menu parma did with the wedges.
The McCain time had a longer cook time than the other two by a full minute and a half, which I think worked in its favour as the dried out toppings caked to the bottom of the container actually turned into tasty little cheese chips, and the one or two potato cubes that had some cheese splashed on them were absolutely delightful (Yes, I’m aware at how silly that sentence sounds. The bar for “good” is so low right now that burnt toppings and cheesy potato cubes actually are a highlight)
Alright, let’s bring this train wreck home.
I have never felt sadder in my life than being a lone man waiting at the Aldi checkout with a single frozen off-brand chicken parmigiana slowly shuffling along the conveyer. It was like something out of a Darren Aronofsky film. I wonder what the guy at the cashier thought my life was.
The International Cuisine parma was $4.66, making this the cheapest of the bunch by a whole fourteen cents.
When I opened up the International Cuisine parma I was honestly shocked at how much it looked like the On The Menu parma, to the point where I checked the box and googled the manufacturer to see if they had any connection … I couldn’t find one, but other than the lack of ham on the International Cuisine parma they looked shockingly similar.
After 6 and a half minutes in the microwave parma #3 came out looking something like this…
As you can imagine by my third consecutive frozen parma I was getting a little bit full at this point, But I picked up the cutlery and dove in.
As suspected the “real” chicken texture from the On The Menu parma was back. I don’t know if it was parma induced stockholm syndrome setting in but I kind’ve enjoyed the International Cuisine parma. The crumbs were thinner and less spongey and the napoli sauce was more generously applied. Could have used some more cheese of course and I genuinely missed the ham wafts of the first one - But compared to the giant wet McNugget that was the McCain parma this one didn’t inspire active hostility as I ate it.
I wasn’t looking forward to the wedges, but I think these were a little better than the first lot, There were a few smaller chips that let me taste the seasoning a bit better. Other than the couple of bigger ones that were another sog-fest they were actually tastier. A bit of salt and they might have been bordering on enjoyable.
So how to wrap this up? Of the three I’d have to give the prize to Aldi’s International Cuisine parma. The chicken was the most flavoursome, it had decent topping coverage (The McCain one had better, but their schnitzel was garbage), and although I enjoyed the cube spuds from McCain’s one more I think the International Cuisine parma offers the best all-round package of the three. And it’s the cheapest! Can’t go wrong (well, I mean, you can. I wouldn’t call any of these good by any means).
Okay. It’s over. You can go now. The search continues or whatever… I need to lie down.