February 10, 2013

Super Bowl rice-off

Can we call the Super Bowl rice-off the Rice Bowl? Has someone trademarked that?
Hard to believe it's been a week since the Super Bowl, isn't it? In many ways, the last seven days have been nothing but an extended blackout brought on by the overabundance of good eats on party platters for the NFL's championship game.

No matter how quickly things have gone, I find it's best to clean my plate of Super Bowl write-ups within 168 hours of the event itself. Already I fear this review is pushing the boundaries of timeliness -- the Grammys are under way as I type, for chef's sake!

As I recall, I owe you all a rice-off pitting Zatarain's against Rice-A-Roni. In my Super Bowl smorgasbord, Zatarain's represented the host city of New Orleans while Rice-A-Roni came from the corner of the eventual runner-up San Francisco 49ers. They weren't the teams competing in the big game. But that didn't stop me from seeing which one was superior.

First, let's talk about my Zatarain's. I opted for the New Orleans style jambalaya mix, as it seemed the most authentic. The box told me to add a meat of my choice, which I did with some spicy sausage.

On the Rice-A-Roni side, I chose the fried rice flavor. The San Francisco treat only suggested I add meat to make it a meal, something I declined to do. Not only did I already have a meaty Zatarain's, I wanted to compare the foods at their most basic suggested preparation.

Basically, neither of these two rices goes against the grain. Both boxed products smelled scintillatingly savory on the stove top. Both took a surprisingly long time to cook. And both were saltier than a Morton barge crashing in Utah's most famous lake.

Beyond that, you'll no doubt be surprised to hear that the Zatarain's with its added meat was more of a meal, while the Rice-A-Roni played side dish. The Zatarain's also had some little flecks of red and green that may have been intended to represent peppers of some sort. Meanwhile, the Rice-A-Roni took on a road-worker-yellow color that was no more befitting of food than it is basketball jerseys.

Flavor wise ... there's not much to say. The Zatarain's may have been a little spicier. Or that difference might have just come from the accompanying sausage. We'll just move along.

Neither of these boxes is going to bankrupt you. The Zatarain's cost a reasonable $1.49, not factoring in its accompanying meat. Depending on what you decide to throw in there with it, you could add anything form another $2 to upwards of $5 or $6, although I have no idea why you'd waste something that expensive on rice in a box. The Rice-A-Roni proved to be much more reasonable, costing just 42 cents.

Low prices will always buoy otherwise mediocre fare, no matter how unnatural its color. Rice-A-Roni nets three-and-a-half sporks out of five. Incidentally, that ties it with its Zatarain's competitor, which I'd also score at three-and-a-half sporks.

I suppose I told you I'd pick a winner, though. A slight edge goes to Rice-A-Roni owing to its lower price and recipe that doesn't think outside the box. Take heart, San Francisco! At least you won something this week! As for you, New Orleans, don't hang your head. Zatarain's had enough power to keep me coming back for more in the future.

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