Meat substitutes

During a recent trip to the supermarket, I encountered a promotion for a company specialised in meat substitutes of various kinds (the name of the company translates to ‘the vegetarian butcher‘ in English.)

Normally I try to avoid such promotions and feel a a frisson of excitement if I successfully dodge out of the way. This time it was early in the morning; there was no one else around so I was rather a sitting duck.

The cheerful sales person wearing a green and white apron ( she was also wearing a skirt and blouse) asked me if I realised that 90% of the population eats more meat than was healthy for them. I replied that I certainly did realise now. Then came the inevitable question,: how much and what sort of meat did I eat. I knew that saying I was vegetarian would not let me off the hook.

Indeed, the sales person beamed with delight and said that in that case I must be familiar with vegetarian butcher products, and what did I think of them? My reply that I had never tried them delighted her even more.

Vainly I tried to explain that I was vegetarian because I did not like the taste of meat, so what was the point of buying a substitute for something I did not like?

I ended up persuaded to try a pack of vegetarian minced beef, and a pack of smoked vegetarian bacon lardons. I vaguely toyed of with the idea of dumping them elsewhere in the supermarket in cowardly fashion, but then it came to me: why not road test the meat substitutes and blog my findings! So here we go.

At home I decided to make Spaghetti Bolognese. Unpacking the mince substitute, the first thing that struck me was the colour. Instead of the bright crimson of fresh minced beef, it was unattractive pinky beige strings that  looked like a packet of earthworms. I poked gingerly with a fork and was surprised how bouncy it was.

Then I turned my attention to the bacon substitute. The lardons were perfectly regular solid rectangles of equal size and brown in colour. They were also surprisingly bouncy.

The bacon substitute was £2.99/$3.95/€3.49 for 150g, the mince £2.59/$3.39/€2.99 for 200g. The bacon especially stuck me as quite pricy.

Now to the cooking.

I hard fried 50g of bacon substitute in olive oil. Because it contained no fat it did not reduce in volume significantly, and did not go very brown. I regretted not chopping it smaller.

I repeated with 200g of mince substitute with pretty much the same result.

I browned 1/2 a finely chopped onion, and an equal weight of finely chopped carrot and celery in olive oil.

I added this to a heavy bottomed saucepan along with the meat substitutes, 75ml dry white wine, 150ml water, 20g tomato puree, chopped parsley and 1/2 bayleaf, and simmered the mixture for 40 minutes, then tasted.

The result was not to die for. Taste wise, the flavours had not really mingled, and the smoked bacon substitute was overpowering. But it was the texture that really let it down; it was still really bouncy! Like I had used marinated school rubbers. I added more water and simmered for a further 30 minutes, The result was still disappointing.

I served it with spaghettini, with plenty of fresh parmesan grated over the top, and a good crisp side salad, but none of this disguised the bland flavour and bouncy texture.

My conclusion is, meat substitutes are probably not worth the money. I far prefer my version of Spaghetti Bolognese made wth portobello mushrooms.

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