How to Cook with Plant-Based Meats
This story is part of The Food & Wine Guide to Plant-Based Meat.
Starting to cook with plant-based meat can feel intimidating. While it's now easy enough to sample a few options at the drive-thru, making the leap from eating plant-based meat to cooking it at home can seem daunting.
First of all, how to choose between all the varieties that are available at the supermarket these days? Our extensive taste test will help point you in the right direction. Next, what recipes should you use to cook plant-based meat? Since the most common variety remains ground "meat," three main types of recipes tend to work best: Long-simmered "meaty" sauces, quickly seared patties, and high-heat stir-fries.
While almost every brand has cooking instructions on the packaging, there are a few good rules of thumb to know that apply no matter which variety you choose.
Don't overcook it
Plant-based meat, while intended to be sensorially indistinguishable from animal meat, is still a combination of ingredients that can act a little differently when cooked. Most brands can be prepared just like their meatier counterparts, but keep an eye out for overcooking it.
"Ground turkey, chicken, pork, and beef behave more or less the same way [as plant-based meat]," says Impossible Foods' Culinary Advisor (and F&W Best New Chef) Traci des Jardins. "There is a difference in terms of the grind size and amount of fat, and those will be the factors that change how each cooks. The same can be said for Impossible." When searing meat, like for burgers, she recommends cooking it just like ground meat. "Like any other meat, it could start to get a little dried out and be less interesting if cooked more than a juicy well-done." And when braising, the James Beard Award-winning chef recommends making the sauce base and then adding the browned meat towards the end of cooking. "Just braise it for less time for the most tender result."
Don't be afraid to really sear it
While you don't want to overcook plant-based meat, it's definitely a good idea to give patties a really nice sear. To ensure a nice crust forms without sticking, start with a nicely preheated pan or grill. "Oiling the grill really well helps the meat release from the grates," says F&W recipe developer John Somerall. Since plant-based meat is typically made of legumes and plant starch, it can feel a little stickier before it is cooked. Use a metal spatula to release and flip plant-based patties on the grill or in a cast-iron skillet; a plastic spatula might not have the same sharp edge.
Season as Usual
As for seasoning plant-based meat, check the packaging to see if the meat is already seasoned—in the case of some pre-shaped patties, sausages, and crumbles—or if the meat is unseasoned, like traditional ground meat. If the plant-based meat is not seasoned, use the same ratios and types of seasonings that you'd typically use to season your favorite recipes. And when making recipes like meatballs, use the same amount of eggs or breadcrumbs for the most tender (and juicy!) results.