Often, when we think of meat alternatives for vegans and vegetarians, what can come to mind are vaguely meat-like substitutes that don’t really provide the umami or texture savvy diners are looking for in animal-based proteins. So it’s understandable that many restaurants avoid meat alternatives altogether. Instead, many restaurants stick with salads and traditionally-cooked veggie dishes when filling out their meatless menu items.
However, progress is being made when it comes to meat alternatives, with plant butchery, as it’s being called, starting to get mistaken for its traditional, animal-based cousin. And believe it or not, sometimes it’s even better! In essence, plant butchery is the growing popular art of crafting and manipulating plant proteins into realistic looking (and tasting) meat dishes. The goal is to make the switch from meat to meatless nearly seamless.
There are certainly ways to make convincing meatless alternatives in-house — vegan and vegetarian sausage is a good way to start simply because it’s easier to replicate that ground texture, compared to a full piece of steak.
The same is true of burgers. For these kinds of dishes, chefs can use tofu, chickpeas, mushrooms, or other vegetables in combination with soy sauces or anchovy-free Worcestershire to achieve that rich, meaty flavor. Because it’s easier to replicate the texture of ground beef than a big slab of beef steak, restaurants wanting to incorporate meat alternatives generally will start here.
While basic tofu, veggies, and beans can be used to great effect in these dishes, there are several other options when it comes to meat alternatives:
Seitan is made by combining wheat gluten, water, and flavorings like vegetable broth, olive oil, tamari, and seasonings of your choice into a dough. Once cooked, seitan takes on the texture of meat. In particular, this product is popular when replicating the texture of beef, whether as steaks or thinly sliced.
For instance, vegan restaurant The Chicago Diner (“Meat-free since 1983,” as their slogan says) features a wide range of seitan dishes. It’s no wonder that one of their most popular dishes is their Reuben, made with thin slices of seitan that perfectly captures the experience of eating tender, tasty corned beef.
Of course, because it’s made from wheat, seitan is a no-go for those vegans and vegetarians who need to keep their diet gluten-free. To accommodate those with gluten sensitivities, why not try the following:
Made of fermented soybean, tempeh is compressed into a cake, making for easy slicing. From there it can used in a variety of ways, including fried “fish” fillets and “meat” loaf.
Also known as bean curd robes, yuba is the skin collected from the tofu making process. When layered and bound together, yuba can be made into an imitation chicken breast — it even gets crispy like chicken-like skin when you pan fry the outside!
Believe it or not, this fruit of the jack tree is another great meat imposter! Unripe jackfruit takes on a meaty consistency when cooked, and the flavor is mild and savory enough that spices can be added to replicate pulled pork and other shredded meats.
Fresh jackfruit (which weighs on average 35 lbs.) can be tough both to break down and to cook in itself, so many chefs suggest getting canned jackfruit instead. Just make sure to rinse the canned jackfruit to get rid of any added salt from the brine.
Since all of these products, while replicating the texture of meat, don’t necessarily replicate the flavor of meat on its own, it’s important to get the spice mixture right. Depending on the dish you want to create for your menu, this will take some research, as well as some trial and error in terms of testing out recipes.
However, if you want to explore vegan or vegetarian proteins, but are worried about making it all in-house, you do have options. Plant butcher shops are popping up more and more throughout America. Using state-of-the-art machinery, they’re able to shape meat alternatives into convincing slabs of meat.
Longtime practitioners have this down to an actual science, giving vegan and vegetarian diners as close to the meat-loving experience as possible. For instance, Impossible™ Foods not only uses 95% less land and 74% less water while creating 87% less greenhouse gas emissions when making their meatless burger, but their Impossible Burger actually sizzles and bleeds just like hamburger meat!
In 2017, plant butchery is essentially becoming an artisan craft, one that both consumers and restaurants are taking advantage of. If you’re looking to tempt vegetarian or vegan diners to your restaurant — or simply want to accommodate them when inevitably dragged along by their meat-eating friends and family — then adding a plant butcher to your regular vendor list is probably a good idea. It will diversify your menu and who knows? It could lead to your next big menu star!
Not sure you’re ready to make the jump to plant butchery? We have your guide to traditional beef butchery right here: