Being honest, my long-standing view of frozen food was that it perhaps lacked the freshness and flavour of those products that you place in your fridge. Convenience aside, I was a little sceptical as to how the end product would actually taste once it had been defrosted and cooked so, when I was invited north to test out the new Iceland Christmas food range, I decided to accept the invite and challenge those perceptions. Especially given that they now have a well-established chef in the kitchen in the form of Neil Nugent. Trained as a formal chef and working in a number of top restaurants, including Bibendum in London, he is well versed in helping a number of supermarkets such as Morrisons and Waitrose develop their private label and ready meal ranges. The right man for the job, then.
Within minutes of arriving at the well-presented development centre just outside of Cheshire, it was clear that Iceland Foods had indeed reinvented itself from the image of old. The preparation and attention to detail wouldn’t look out of place in any top restaurant. Half science lab and half culinary education centre, we were soon introduced to Neil who talked us through his role within Iceland. His close relationships with suppliers and ability to cook the food to such a high level was certainly having a positive impact on the food produced at Iceland, and this had been carried into the Christmas range.
The photos below will do most of the talking when it comes to the food, but it is safe to say that a few hours completely changed my perception of frozen foods. A perfectly roasted Gilded Turkey with a Honey and Mustard Glaze and a salt-baked alternative were bursting with flavour, and the lobster taco starter at least looked like a five-star dish (my seafood allergy was the only thing stopping me from tucking in). We learned so many tips and tricks from Neil and the team; how to properly prepare and finish a number of festive dishes. I almost felt confident that I could cook up a good offering to my in-laws come December 25th. Almost.
With the savoury dishes cooked and subsequently devoured, it was time to turn our attention to desserts. Iceland is actually a market leader when it comes to selling chilled desserts; even more so over the Christmas period. In fact, while the connotations of Iceland are immediately frozen foods, they also have a huge chilled foods selection and, with the sweet tooth ready, it was time to sample the goods.
While you will find very delicate and tasty macarons and huge chocolate cheesecakes to fill the Christmas table, the highlight for me was most definitely the Luxury Melting Chocolate Snowflake. An indulgent brownie base topped with Belgian chocolate mousse, the entire creation is then wrapped in the most delicious chocolate shell. Pour on the hot chocolate sauce and each flake breaks away from the centre, creating the perfect Christmas sharing dish. In slightly Pollock fashion, Neil and the team served ours on an abstract table decorated with drizzles of mango and raspberry puree. The dream.
Although we only spent a few hours with the Iceland team, I can honestly say that it has changed my thinking about food forever. Frozen foods are far from dull and, when prepared correctly, can easily challenge most dishes out there in terms of taste and texture. With Christmas being the time for friends and family, I’ll be stocking up my freezer well in advance and avoiding any unnecessary trips to the supermarket.