As a meat eater who happily goes vegetarian a couple of days a week, I’ve never much cared for fake meats. I mean, why eat Tofurky when undisguised veggies are so delicious in their own right? And, boy, when tofu pretends to be bacon or sausage, I can almost feel my offended taste buds shutting down. But I was intrigued when I read that food writer Mark Bittman (one of my faves) had sampled what he considered to be a convincing substitute for chicken. A meat analogue that’s good for the environment, good for your body and good for dinner? I had to try it.
Beyond Meat is the not-yummy-sounding brand name for chicken-breastlike strips made from soy and pea protein and carrot fiber, among other things. The plant-based morsels are vegan and contain no gluten or saturated fats. Locally, the product is available in the prepared foods section of Whole Foods Markets. The Arden location sells it plain or in an Italian-style salad tossed with red onion, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives and a robust vinaigrette for $9.99 a pound. The store also makes a sandwich stuffed with the same salad.
First impressions? Well, when I first laid eyes on the phony chicken, I stood in front of the deli case, jaw agape. How could . . . wait a second . . . that looks . . . it looks just like chicken! But how does it taste? Well, that depends.
As far as texture goes, Beyond Meat is a darn close approximation of the real thing. It shreds just like real chicken breast and has the same fibrous (if slightly rubbery) mouthfeel. Unadorned, it has a bland flavor but finishes with a somewhat bitter aftertaste. In a side-by-side taste test pitting real poached chicken breasts against their faux counterpart, there was no mistaking the imposter. (Even my kids, with their untrained palates, called out the fake.)
Where the chicken-free strips shine is when paired with assertive flavors, as in the Italian salad. For meat-free lettuce wraps, I tossed them in a hoisinlike sauce with green onion, shredded carrots and cabbage, mushrooms and roasted peanuts, and my diners were none the wiser. I also tried them wrapped in a tortilla with brown rice, black beans, tomatoes, Cotija cheese and salsa verde. The verdict: pretty tasty.
The un-chicken strips won’t have me swearing off bona fide poultry anytime soon. But, tofu bacon aside, sometimes a little fakery in the kitchen isn’t such a bad thing.