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Beyond impossible: Maximizing plant-based meat

First came Beyond Burger, then — the unthinkable — Impossible Burger. How many superlatives can the food industry apply to plant-based “burgers”? And how many new iterations can the market support? Only time will tell.

I confess to being a skeptic about these meatless patties, which are nevertheless lightyears away in their sophistication from the good, old Gardenburger. I’ve blogged before about homemade burger alternatives that can’t even come close to mimicking meat, sometimes all to eaters’ enjoyment.

But for everyone who craves beef but believes that curbing consumption is a wise choice, for a range of reasons, the new plant-based burgers come very close to sating their appetites. Not least among their attributes is the way they “bleed” when cooked.

There are a few tricks to preparing plant-based burgers to their highest potential, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. The key, writes Genevieve Ko, is to minimize the still-strange texture and maximize flavor, including with a spicy “special” sauce.

Here’s her take on making the best plant-based burger:

Use a skillet, not a grill to deeply brown the patties. Grill grates leave gaps on the patty, plus the “meat” is sticky and may fall apart when flipped.

Form thin patties, in contrast to the many restaurants serving Impossible burgers with patties too thick (the non-beef texture doesn’t feel quite right). Instead, pat a 3-ounce ball into a patty the same diameter as your bun. It’ll end up 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick.

Sear them in oil, although some package directions will tell you not to. Deeply browning this burger is best, and scorching-hot oil is the ticket.

Season after cooking because salt releases the faux blood on raw Impossible “meat,” causing it to steam in the pan and prevent a crust from forming. After you flip the patty, give the browned side a generous rain of salt and pepper while the other side cooks and the patty’s still hot in the pan. You don’t need to season the other side.

Feel free to use Beyond Meat in the following recipe. If buying pre-formed patties, slice them each in half through their equators so you end up with two thin patties.

Plant-Based Burger With Spicy Special Sauce

3 tablespoons mayonnaise, vegan if you’d like

2 tablespoons sweet relish

2 tablespoons ketchup

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

12 ounces Impossible burger “meat”

Vegetable oil, for frying

4 burger buns

Kosher salt and black pepper

Mustard, dill pickle slices, sliced red onion and tomato and iceberg lettuce leaves, for serving

To make spicy special sauce, stir together the mayonnaise, relish, ketchup and cayenne in a small bowl. Sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Divide the burger “meat” into 4 even pieces (3 ounces each) and shape into thin patties the same diameter as your buns. Press firmly so patties won’t fall apart.

Heat a large, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, griddle or nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Coat lightly with a thin sheen of oil and put the burger buns, cut sides down, on hot surface. Cook until dark golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to plates, cut sides up.

Add more oil to hot skillet so bottom is completely coated with 1/8 inch or more and heat until it looks wavy. Carefully slide patties into shimmering oil and cook until bottoms are evenly dark brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Slide a thin spatula under a patty, wiggling if needed to help release it from pan, and carefully flip. Repeat with remaining patties. Sprinkle browned tops generously with salt and pepper. Fry until other sides are deeply browned, 2 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, divide special sauce among bun bottoms. You should have a thick coating. Spread mustard all over bun tops. Place hot patties onto bun bottoms. Shingle a layer of pickles over each patty, then top with the onion, tomato, lettuce and bun tops. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Tribune News Service photo