Cooking with plant-based meats – Asian chefs use it differently

While Asia has long had a tradition of Buddhist vegetarian restaurants, the global trend for plant-based eating has seen a growing number of chefs incorporating substitute meat into their menus. Impossible Foods, one of the world’s biggest names in plant-based meats, for example, made its Asia debut in Hong Kong in 2018. Since then the product has been put on the menus of more than 150 restaurants around the city.

While most of these restaurants offer Western-style dishes, and use Impossible products in burgers, Asian restaurants have also started cooking with plant-based alternatives.

 

Que Vinh Dang, who runs Nhau in Central, Hong Kong, has used Impossible meat since he opened his modern Vietnamese restaurant early last year.

“Using Impossible meat in burger format is not doing the product justice, and is a lazy approach,” he says. “You should always have your own take on things. I take no joy in making Impossible meat look and taste like a burger. An Impossible burger is not bad, but it’s not that interesting. It takes a bit more energy and thought to create something different with it.”

Chef Que uses Impossible in his banh mi tacos, spring rolls, and roasted cauliflower.

“It’s best suited for these dishes cause it’s packaged like ground meat so I thought it best to substitute it with items that calls for ground meat,” he says. “The surprise for me was that it acts a lot like ground meat and it also takes on flavours quite well.”

Chef Que says that the chose Impossible above other brands because it was the most readily available at the time and it seems to handle Vietnamese flavours quite well.

While there wasn’t a lot of trial and error involved in getting his dishes with Impossible meat right, he expects that the more creative he gets with it the more challenging it will be: “but that just means I get to understand the product more.”

What makes Impossible meat taste good is “contact with a high heat source, whether that’s during grilling or a hot pan, so it gets crispiness, and meat-like texture”, he says. “You can apply this application to other dishes, but for dumplings there is no direct contact with heat, so I would say this is not the best use.”

The advice is not to use the product in soups as the results aren’t optimal, but Chef Que disagrees for certain dishes: “I think adding it to French onion soup, in which you replace beef stock with Impossible meat, would be great. You can manipulate the Impossible meat well; perhaps smoke the soup a bit first, and cook the onions really well – I think it would be good.”

Chef Que advises chefs looking to cook with substitute meats to treat the products as any other ingredient.

“Cook it in its raw format first. See how it cooks and then, from there, build on how it handles liquids, dry ingredients, and various cooking methods.”

 

Yvonne Kam, founder of Cantonese restaurant Yung’s Bistro in Hong Kong, agrees that cooking with meat substitutes is quite easy but differs in opinion according to application of heat. Yung’s Bistro cooks with OmniPork, a plant-based product that was developed specifically for use in Asian kitchens.

“It is quite easy to cook with, as the cooking steps are pretty much the same, but since it is plant based, you can’t cook it for a very long time for dishes that require hours of cooking,” she says. “You can’t braise meat substitutes as they’re plant based so they can’t be cooked under high heat or for a long time. Chefs just need to remember that they are cooking vegetables, not meat.”

The substitute meat is used in the braised OmniPork balls with pumpkin, and pan-fried lotus root cake with OmniPork dishes at Yung’s Bistro.

“We perfected the recipes for these after just a few tries as the texture is very similar to pork,” she says.

Yvonne decided to use OmniPork as the company has “done extensive R&D so that ingredients are easy to cook, the texture is like meat yet it is rich in nutrition.”

Health is a big motivation for including plant-based meats on the Yung’s Bistro menu.

“They have zero cholesterol, low calories and low fat, and customers don’t need to sacrifice the enjoyment of eating “meat”-textured food,” says Yvonne.

“Pork is one of the most commonly used ingredients in Cantonese cuisine. Before the launch of OmniPork, it was very hard to use vegetables, tofu or mushroom to make something that has a similar texture and flavour to pork.”