A Chef Tests Plant-Based Meats

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Our columnist J. Kenji López-Alt making a burger at Wursthall, his restaurant in San Mateo, Calif. Peter Prato for The New York Times

Thanks to the New York Times for having a chef as a writer on these themes we care very much about:

How to Cook With Plant-Based Meats

You may have tried restaurant versions, but making them at home is another matter. J. Kenji López-Alt has tested them and offers practical advice.

SAN MATEO, Calif. — Even before opening my restaurant, Wursthall, here a couple years ago, I knew that taking vegan and vegetarian options seriously — with both traditionally vegan foods and modern meat alternatives — would be a central element of its success.

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A meatball sandwich made with Impossible meat at Wursthall. Peter Prato for The New York Times

Though sausages form the backbone of the menu, my team and I believed that people who don’t eat meat should be able to dine in mixed company without feeling that they were second-class citizens, or that their meal consisted of a series of side dishes, as they so often do at restaurants.

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

For me, a food-science writer who is a chef on the side, this meant testing, and lots of it.

Until recently, the faux-meat options — plant-based alternatives designed to replicate the flavor, texture and appearance of meat — have been abysmal. All that changed when two companies, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, introduced a new generation of vegan meat substitutes developed with tens of millions of dollars of funding and years of scientific research.

Both companies claim that their products behave just like beef — with meaty flavor, juiciness and bloody red color — and unlike other products, which come preformed as patties or meatballs, can be deployed in all kinds of recipes that call for ground beef. Some supermarkets even stock them in the meat department.

The reality, though, is that their ability to mimic meat depends on exactly how you cook them.

Over the past two-and-a-half years, my team has worked with thousands of pounds of the new products (which, for the sake of convenience, I’ll refer to as vegan meat), developing dozens of dishes that have sold remarkably well. Our Impossible-based sandwiches sell at about half the rate of traditional burgers (our most popular sandwich), and better than our average sausage. And it’s not just vegans ordering them.

Even before that, I started my own experimentation with burgers, by far the most common way vegan meat is served.

My first instinct was to use my favorite burger-making technique: smashing. By pressing balls of ground beef with a stiff spatula onto a hot steel griddle, letting them sizzle for a minute or so, then scraping them up with a razor-fitted wallpaper remover, you maximize meaty flavor through intense Maillard browning, the series of chemical reactions that give seared meats their characteristic brown color and complex flavor.

Read the whole story here.

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