If you haven’t heard of Blue Apron, it is one of a number of subscription meal services that have popped up in recent years. In fact, if you are wondering why so many “food” photos seem to be finding their way into your Facebook feed, Blue Apron may be the culprit. I’m not sure why Blue Apron makes people suddenly want to document their cooking, but it’s probably because it vastly improves the way your dinner plate looks. (Well, mine anyway, as I seldom make any effort at actually “plating” anything I cook).
In any case, this tendency dovetails nicely with the fact that Blue Apron is also remarkably generous about giving out free meals, so, if you see someone’s Blue Apron pictures and want to try it yourself, ask them if they have any invitations to give out.* I myself took advantage of one such invitation and have been experimenting with Blue Apron for almost two months. While I have stopped getting regular deliveries (for reasons given below), I will likely keep my account for occasional dips back into the service.
How Does Blue Apron Work?
If you are signed up for the two-person plan, you get one refrigerated box delivered every week with all the ingredients necessary (except salt, pepper, and oil) for three meals. Each meal has its own full-page recipe card with easy-to-follow instructions and photos. There are also tips and videos online. Each meal takes about 30–40 minutes to prepare and cook. There is a decent amount of chopping but almost no measuring (since things like mustard or flour are portioned out for you already).
You can review the menu in advance and decide whether to opt in or out of each week’s delivery. Sometimes you can mix and match among the meat, fish, and vegetarian options but I usually found that when I tried to substitute one of my meat/fish dishes I could only replace it with the most boring vegetarian dish available, usually one that was pasta-based. This is one of the biggest issues I have with Blue Apron since very seldom do ingredients seem to overlap between my recipes so I have no idea why all combinations aren’t available each week. I really wanted to try some of the more adventurous vegetarian dishes but that basically meant getting only vegetarian dishes for that week. Sorry, Blue Apron, but I don’t need you to cook pasta.
What Are the Pros?
1) New Techniques and Ingredients
By far, the best thing about Blue Apron was reminding myself of techniques long forgotten and learning a few new basics that make all the difference. Favorite tips include soaking shallots and onions in vinegar to reduce bite, cooking raw kernels of corn in a sauté pan instead of boiling corn on the cob, and making a sort-of lemon salsa for fish (called rather inaccurately “preserved lemon”) by dicing a whole lemon, skin and all, and soaking it in a sugar/salt combo. Also, how just the simple act of breading can work wonders with chicken—although I think that Blue Apron recipes rely a bit too heavily on this technique. I also learned the value of ponzu sauce and miso paste, which I’m sure I’ve never bought in my life.
2) Restaurant-Quality Meals
While I definitely didn’t love everything, there were more good meals than bad and the selections made for a nice variety. (I believe that Blue Apron claims that recipes never repeat in a year but I obviously haven’t put that to the test.) Favorite dishes include Stir-Fried Ginger-Basil Chicken with Coconut Rice, Seared Salmon with Preserved Lemon, Sirloin Steak with Mashed Purple Potatoes, Miso-Roasted Chicken with Spring Peas, and the Creamy Potatoes. For the most part, these are dishes that I would never have bothered to make at home before and the recipe cards allowed me to prepare them with confidence. I will probably be keeping about half the recipes to make again on my own (a far better ratio than I achieve with most cookbooks). As stated above, there were vegetarian dishes I would have loved to have tried but Blue Apron never seemed to allow for the weekly combination I would have liked.
In addition to the time saved by not having to shop for specific ingredients, which is huge, the real value lies in the aforementioned quality. While Blue Apron meant I was spending more than usual on food cooked at home, the quality of the ingredients and the meals meant I had less of a desire to order take-out food, which I guess means that Blue Apron pays for itself in a way. Also, for me, there was value in being reminded about portion size and what two servings of meat really looks like. I have a feeling that when shopping going forward, I will tend not to overbuy as much as I used to. So, while I do think Blue Apron is pricey, I found it to be worth the cost under certain circumstances.
What Are the Cons?
While I’m glad I decided to subscribe to Blue Apron, it was not as ideal for a single person living in the city as I had hoped. Here’s why.
The biggest argument against Blue Apron for me (and this would likely not be the case for most people) is that I have to be home for delivery. While boxes are packaged to be able to be left on your doorstep all day and still remain cold, in my case, if I am not able to let the delivery person into my apartment building, the box will literally be left on my doorstep. Outside my building. On the sidewalk. On a busy street in downtown San Francisco. So, yeah, that doesn’t work for me. Luckily, I work as a freelancer so I can usually be around, but packages can come at any time from late morning to early evening so I’m essentially stuck at home until they arrive. I’ve had a few other issues with deliveries but I won’t list them here as Blue Apron dealt with them in the best possible manner.
2) Restaurant-Quality Meals
Wait, what? Wasn’t this a “pro”? Yes, but every rose has its thorns. What I hoped would be the solution to the “cooking for one” problem really wasn’t. The downside to restaurant-style meals is that they usually don’t make good leftovers. So, if you are not a couple, you basically get one good meal, and then one that is fair-to-middling at best. I would say maybe a third of the meals held their own after a day. My slow cooker may provide the same meal for days, but at least it is usually just as good (if not better) each time. Since they do provide a “family-meal” subscription, I would love to see them provide one for singles as well. Most of these recipes and the ingredient packaging could easily be adapted for one and I would seriously consider paying the same amount of money for 4 single meals a week versus 3 two-person meals.
3) Packaging and the Environment
I feel very guilty about all the packaging. Everything is recyclable in theory, but in practice, not so much. First, all plastic needs to be rinsed. Aside from being annoying, California is currently undergoing a severe drought so I try to use as little water as possible. (Note: This is also the reason I don’t use the ridiculous numbers of prep bowls they suggest.) But it’s not just a washing issue—I’m well aware that just producing that packaging uses water and energy. If you normally buy your food at the grocery store, this might not be a big deal, but I buy almost all fruits and vegetables at the farmers market so I’m not used to much in the way of plastic and packaging for produce. Finally, the gel cold packs aren’t really recyclable at all. Unless you happen to know an organization that needs ice packs and have a way of hauling them there, those are going in the trash.
As god is my witness, I will never eat catfish again. I’m not a big fish eater, but out of twenty meals, two were catfish. Just, no. And the only shrimp dish was a New England-Style Shrimp Roll which wasn’t even good the first night. More cod, or other fish or seafood options I might actually buy in a store, would have been nice.
In sum, I think that I would recommend this service for many people, even if it didn’t work for me in the long term. With a few tweaks, they could make the service far more appealing for me, but currently it’s not ideal, despite the value I think it provides.
*The invitation garnered me a “week” of free meals for two, which, in Blue Apron parlance, meant three two-person meals, a $60 value.