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A vegetarian substitute for bacon…

Posted Sep 22 2013 7:57am

One of the high-lights of my previous veggie incarnation (20-odd years from 1985 – I can’t be more exact because it fizzled out over a couple of years rather than stopping abruptly), was the creation of a bacon substitute.

Not like the meat analogues you get today, which blatantly try to emulate, visually and texturally (but with wildly varying degrees of success), the food they otherwise go to great lengths not to be – what on earth is the point? – but something that gives you the intense savoury, salty, crisp, hit of bacon while quite clearly NOT pretending to be bacon!

And it’s based on that most unpromising of raw materials that – justifiably in my view – in its natural state inspires widespread revulsion in the West – tofu!

The Tofu:-

You need a very firm tofu for this, as it has** to be sliced thinly and not fall apart. I used to buy mine, fresh, in Liverpool but, these days, I have as much chance  of getting there as getting a place on the first Mars mission, so I have to get the firmest available online, firm it up more and hope for the best.

**Well, OK, it’s down to personal taste, but I like it thin, so there!

The first step is to freeze it, which makes it easier to extract surplus water.  It seems not to matter how long it’s frozen for, so just toss it in the back of the freezer (not an ice-box – it needs to be as cold as possible  -18C or -22; the colder, the better it keeps, of course), until you’re ready for it.

Defrost the tofu then set up a chopping board on a angle, so that it drains into the kitchen sink, wrap the tofu in one or two thin, clean, tea-towels (so that it keeps its shape, and also depending on how much tofu you have), put another board on top and weigh down with canned goods (not a lot – just enough to maintain a gentle pressure). Leave to drain overnight.

It should be a given that any fabric which comes into contact with food never comes into contact with fabric conditioner

The Marinade:-

A tricky one, this, as my tastes have changed substantially since I originated this recipe, and there is a much greater range of veggie-friendly flavouring ingredients available, so this is going to be a little bit by guess and by god. Don’t worry, though – I have the utmost confidence in me.

This is the marinade as originally cobbled up in 1993. It can, I think, be improved, but it’s a good jumping off point:-

45ml Soy sauce

10ml Marmite

15ml Ketchup

5ml veggie Worcestershire sauce

5ml Balsamic vinegar

¼ teaspoon chilli powder

½ teaspoon each fine sea salt and finely ground black pepper

Sufficient warm cider vinegar (it mixes more easily), to make up to 190ml.

Note: Always use measuring spoons, not cutlery spoons – 1 teaspoon is 5ml, a tablespoon, 15ml. Depending on the age of your cutlery (I find older spoons are more likely to be the standard 5ml or 15ml), your spoons might well comply with these standards – the point is, they don’t have to, and using measuring spoons eliminates a lot of buggeration.

A basic set of stainless steel spoons will cost under a fiver. Check them for accuracy – a tablespoon should hold 3 teaspoons – if it doesn’t, they go back.  And please, don’t buy plastic, they’re too easily tainted or broken.

A set of stainless steel measuring cups have their uses, too, if you stumble across any US recipes. They are getting their act together – they seem to have discovered scales at last and are moving away from the “If cups were good enough for my great-grandpappy, they’re good enough for me!” stance.

Cup measures stem from the pioneering days, when scales would have been jolted to useless scrap in the back of a wagon – they should have been consigned to history long ago, but my bookshelf bears testimony to the fact that they long outlived their usefulness.

Anyhow, I digress (again!).

One problem – currently high-lighted by the Marmite TV ad, is that many people loathe the stuff and, indeed, unless used with care it can dominate every dish it goes into – so, use it with care, it’s not rocket science!

I find a little sweetness, in the form of runny honey, takes the strident edge off it quite nicely, as does ketchup and sweet chilli sauce, and all are in the revised version. I’ve ordered some Teriyaki Marinade which will add more complexity than soy sauce alone, assuming I get it (I’ll know this afternoon – if not it’s back to soy sauce and ingenuity!).

The biggest change will be to increase the volume of the marinade, and replace most of the vinegar with stock. This will not only reduce the acidity but avoid having to turn the tofu slices, with the risk of breakage – it’s extremely fragile stuff and, once marinated the only way it can be handled is to refreeze it before frying it.

I know that goes against the rules of freezing, but as long as you accept that it will shorten the storage life, it’s perfectly safe. In fact I have a pack of commercially-produced pretend bacon that instructs me to defrost it, remove what I need, and refreeze the rest, as often as I like**. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. I’ve no idea what it’s like as I find the baby-shit colour distinctly off-putting.

**Not a good idea. I freeze mine in portions enough for a couple of rolls, so once refrozen they can simply be left alone

So anyway, getting to the revised marinade, one useful addition would be the intense hit of tamarind. The easiest way to achieve that is to add a dollop of HP sauce, and it appears that the Fruity version has a higher tamarind content than the standard, so I’ll go with that. Or you could do it the hard way, and start with tamarind paste. I know what I’m going to do.

Revised marinade:-

200ml hot stock (200ml water, plus 1 Kallo organic veg cube), to which add:-

1 medium-sized Echalion shallot, chopped (or a strongly-flavoured onion)

30ml Marmite

90ml Ketchup

90ml HP Fruity sauce

30ml runny honey

30ml Sweet chilli sauce

Stir well, bring just to simmering point, remove from the heat, set aside until cold then pour through a fine sieve to remove any bits that might burn when the tofu is fried.

As you can see, I’ve omitted salt and pepper – this is easily added at the serving stage after a taste. It might not actually be necessary.

To marinate the tofu:-

Cut the drained block of tofu – I’d recommend, if it turns out you like this, processing as much as you can. It gets eaten pretty quickly – into slices about 2 or 3mm thick.

Pour a layer of marinade into a food-grade plastic box and add a layer of tofu. Repeat until everything is used up – any surplus marinade can be added. Close with the lid, or with cling film, and refrigerate for 24 hours, shaking VERY gently every few hours so the slices are evenly coated.

Then carefully pour off the marinade (if you have more tofu it can be immediately re-used, if not, toss it). Lay the slices on a grill rack laid over a roasting tin to catch the drips, and leave to drain in the fridge if it’s big enough.

Once drained, move to the freezer on a lightly-oiled baking tray until solid. It won’t take long as the moisture content is quite low. The warmth of your hand on the back of the tray will release the tofu so you can bag it.

To fry, treat it just like bacon, but with rather more care as it’s fragile. Mind you, even if it breaks up, it’s being stuffed in a roll or a sarnie, so it doesn’t matter a hell of a lot.

Note: I haven’t actually made this version yet, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t be fine. You can either wait for me – it’ll be a few days, depending on how I feel (which right now is bloody awful – my right leg is an agonising,  suppurating mess and standing in the kitchen isn’t an option)  – or feel free to jump right in!


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