Image gallery: breaded things

In the 1960s restaurants became seriously interested in portion-controlled entrees. Suddenly any restaurant that aspired to be regarded as sophisticated could have Chicken Cordon Bleu on their menu. Even in the middle of the Arizona desert a teenage employee in a Polynesian restaurant could pop a frozen Cordon Bleu into the microwave, add a slice of orange and some parsley, and – voila! – there you were, dining continentally.

Breaded products that could be dropped into a vat of cooking oil or microwaved were particularly popular with restaurant operators. They were advertised in full color in trade magazines, shown plated just as they might be served to guests. The images that follow were all from 1960s ads.

Steak seems to me an odd choice for breading since its appeal is usually based on representation in a more natural state, often with grill marks on the outside and juicily red insides. Breading turns it into mystery meat. But for the money-conscious entrepreneur it made a kind of sense. A 1968 advertisement for Durkee Food Service Group showed a 4 oz. “polarized” Chuck Wagon Steak which cost only 24c. Add a #10 scoop of mashed potatoes (1½ cents), 4 oz. of mixed vegs (6½ cents) and ½ cent worth of parsley and the meal came to 33½ cents. The advertisement suggested charging the customer $1.25.

As much as I’ve searched I’ve failed to discover what “polarized” meant, but I suspect it may have been a disinfecting method or some kind of process that made cheap reheated breaded meat more acceptable to diners.

Swift & Co.’s hotel and restaurant division also offered a breaded Chuck Wagon steak, shown here with corn sticks, baked beans with chopped onions, and banana peppers. Not only did Swift give its steak the same name as Durkee, it looked equally unappetizing. I suppose there was a degree of honesty in the name Chuck Wagon in that both were probably constructed out of inexpensive chuck steak.

Chicken a la Kiev evidently wasn’t sufficiently elegant sounding to Durkee which renamed their product Empire Chicken Kiev. Its selling point, according to the 1968 advertisement in Food Service Magazine, was that it offered “year-round banquet quality chicken without seasonal price fluctuation.” The dish, whose sadly wilted watercress garnish cost ½ cent, had a total cost of 82 and 1/4 cents. The paper frill is hilarious. I have to keep reminding myself that professionals were paid to design dishes like this.

And now to fish processed by Blue Water Seafoods. Here we see their “standard fish portion,” a severely rectangular industrial looking product. In the advertisement it is fancied up and given the name “Fish du Monde.” The serving suggestion is to “cap it with hot mushroom sauce – straight from a can of mushroom soup” (4 cents). Eleven cents for the fish, 4 cents for the boiled potatoes, and 7 cents worth of vegetables and it’s a full-scale dinner. Suggested menu price in 1961: $1.00.

Blue Water also offered “proportioned seafood,” such as the Custom Cut Fillet shown here. “Looks like a fillet, fries like a fillet,” proclaims the copy. A half-hearted try at looking natural.

But what if a restaurant operator really wanted their processed fish to look more realistic? Moore’s Seafood Products, Inc. offered a Cut Haddock Portion, assuring buyers that “even the most discerning gourmet would have a difficult time” distinguishing it from a natural haddock fillet. Called the Aberdeen Cut, it was a patented shape whose “thin, beveled portions . . . develop[ed] the crisp, flaky edge characteristic of the natural fillet.” And, assured Moore’s, an added bonus of the new 1968 shape was that “on a platter or plate, it looks larger than ordinary portions of the same weight.” Are the tiny bits of parsley also meant to make the fish look larger?

© Jan Whitaker, 2020

16 Comments

Filed under food, restaurant industry, technology

16 responses to “Image gallery: breaded things

  1. Kate

    Breaded Things: the Stuff of Nightmares. A horror movie coming to a plate near you.
    Although to be fair, the breaded items are neutral shapes and not as gag-inducing as some of those sides. Usually, your posts make me curious about dishes from the past. Now I’m just grateful I don’t have to live through that stuff again. (I was around for a lot of this horror)

  2. Anne Bonney

    The photos are nostalgic (and hilarious). I still shudder at the thought of those frozen, mixed vegetables of my youth. But I wonder if they are any worse than the “impossible” and “beyond” food offerings of today?

  3. No wonder the breaded fish sticks of my youth were considered a treat!

  4. donkensler

    I’m surprised you didn’t get to the breaded veal patty “cutlets” that allowed any Jersey diner to offer Veal Parmesan like the Italian restaurants. I’d guess the breaded steaks were served underneath packaged cream gravy to make Chicken Fried Steak at many a Midwestern or Southwestern cafe. There’s also pre-breaded shrimp and scallops to go with the fish fillets to become a Fisherman’s Platter.

  5. Hermine Levey Weston

    For my next dinner party I need to find a source for the paper frill!

  6. Great post! Growing up when and where I did, I had a summer job that included dunking IBP frozen chicken cordon bleu into Frymax. And I’ve certainly consumed many forms of Rectangle Fish. Now I see that we could have upgraded to the Trapezoid Fish, or even the really classy Parallelogram Fish!

  7. Truly a disgusting era of food fraud and choices for diner restaurant goers.

  8. Anonymous

    There is a company called Polarized Meat, Inc. maybe that’s it.

    • Durkee had, in fact, acquired that company shortly before this ad appeared. It’s possible it was just a “cute” or novel way to say frozen, but it is a scientific term also.

      • Billy

        Can’t find the book at the moment (about the history of McDonalds), but when McDonald’s started to expand and found that it was becoming too hard to use fresh meat for their burgers, they didn’t like the existing “frozen” options. It was, if I’m not mistaken, this company (Polarized) that developed a new process of cryogenic quick freezing that made a much better burger for them, and likely that was the name of that specific process (since it was a new company, founded mainly to develop such an option, which happened frequently with McDonald’s, as existing companies wouldn’t be willing to take these chances).

      • You may well be right that that is what polarize means.

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