Friday, 15 January 2021

MRE Menu 9: Beef Stew

Let's have a look at another MRE. This one is Menu 9: Beef Stew. It's one of the oldest MRE menus, dating back to the very first MREs issued in 1981. The details have changed since then but the basic food payload has always consisted of beef stew, a cracker of some kind, a snack sweet, a slightly more substantial sweet, peanut butter, and some drinks. It's very generic but there's nothing wrong with that.

Beef stew in the name of the law! No, that didn't work. I just don't have a gift for comedy. I'm sorry.

Clockwise from top-left there's a flameless ration heater, strawberry jam, a muffin, a spoon, pretzel nuggets - they're pretty good - the main meal, the accessory packet, a powdered juice drink, peanut butter, some hot sauce, and a nice thick slice of Thin Lizzy snack bread. There's a lot of plastic!

MRE pouches are frustrating. They look as if they should be useful, but there's no gusset, so you can't use them to store water, and the top doesn't reseal so you can't store things in them. And yet they feel too thick to just throw away. They're like those little glass pots you get with Italian puddings. Too good to throw away, but what can you do with them? Put socks in them? But why?

The accessory packet has the standard sub-standard toilet paper, a moist towelette, and iodised salt (not pictured), plus a decent cup of coffee, in this case Coffee, Instant, Type III. Some MREs have sugar substitute; this has actual sugar, and the coffee tastes better for it. The supplied ingredients are enough for a single cup of coffee. I assume US soldiers have ready access to coffee, otherwise the decision to include such a tiny amount of coffee is odd. As always it tastes hard rather than smooth.

While the main meal is cooking in the FRH let's try out the pretzels. They're a lot drier than Snyder's pretzels and not as tasty, but they're still pretty good:

A lot of MRE items come with a little sachet of Donot Eat, which I think is a type of seasoning. The first one I tried must have gone off so I usually throw the sachets away. Let's move on to the drink:

I've never had luck with this type of drink. No matter how hard I stir it or shake the packet it still doesn't mix properly. There are chalky bits left over. It tastes nice, but it doesn't mix. I wonder if I'm doing something wrong. Is it me? Let's wash that down with a peanut butter air quotes sandwich air quotes:

The snack bread smells bready, but it's actually a kind of cake. It's very sugary. If my kidneys had eyes they would probably have gazed at the image above with horror, but they don't have eyes. Perhaps it's best that they don't. It's hard to mess up peanut butter; it keeps forever and it's conceptually very simple. Top Youtube MRE reviewer Steve1989 has eaten MRE peanut butter from the 1980s without suffering any ill effects beyond those naturally associated with peanut butter.

By now the main meal has heated up. This time I cheated a bit. Usually when I eat an MRE I spread it over a couple of days and use the main meal as a snack, but this time I was hungry, so I heated up some rice and had the main meal as an actual main meal:

With the hot sauce drizzled on top.

One perennial problem of military meals is that they tend to have a meaty stew of some kind, but no chips / potatoes / rice to go with it, because there isn't space. It feels odd to eat meat stew by itself.

What was the beef stew like? Not bad. It's one stop above own-brand supermarket beef stew, two steps above the unknown brands that you find in the basement floor of a cornershop, e.g. Westlers, or whatever company makes Lidl's cans of bacon grill. There were no blobby bits of fat and it went well with the rice, although by itself it would have felt unsatisfying. The hot sauce was on the milder side of hot and gave the meal a decent spicy kick.

Let's wash down the stew with the chocolate and banana cookie and strawberry jam:

In general the people who make MREs have perfected cookies, cakes, muffins and so forth, and this was pretty good; moist, tastier than the typical muffins you find in a petrol station or make-your-own-breakfast buffet. There was a mild hint of banana. The jam was thoroughly anonymous. If the packet identified it as apple and blackcurrant I would not have been able to tell the difference.

Anything else? No, that's it. Beef Stew is one of the more bread-and-buttery MREs, with no quirks. It's designed so that you can combine the food in a couple of different ways - you could put the peanut butter on the muffin, or stuff the pretzels into the beef stew, use the snack bread to make a jam sandwich, heat the muffin in the FRH etc - and none of the ingredients are offensive or particularly bad. The fruit drink doesn't mix well and in my opinion standard MRE crackers are more versatile better than the snack bread but on the whole Menu 2 is pretty good.

It would however get very boring, very quickly.