Before I became vegan, my dream job was to be a Buffalo and BBQ wing reviewer. My plan was to travel the world and taste every single wing that existed and review them all in a Zagat-type guide. If I was ever in a restaurant that had appetizers, I would have to order the wings. Many people talk about how they could never “live without cheese” but for me, it was chicken I thought I couldn’t live without, especially Buffalo and BBQ wings. Then I learned the truth about where my food came from and changed the way I ate and lived. It turns out I can not only live without chicken but I don’t have to live without Buffalo and BBQ wings. It’s easy to make your own vegan wings at home using tofu, and even Buffalo Tofu Fries. There are several ways to make the wings and then the ways to coat them is endless.
Here is a quick primer on how to make epic vegan BBQ tofu wings at home.
1. Use Whole Tofu
One way to make wings out of tofu is to cut a block of extra-firm tofu into shapes that resemble “wings” or fries. In order to get the best texture, I freeze the block of tofu, then thaw, press and drain it. I like to cut the tofu into shapes that are fries but shorter would make them even more stable. In a large resealable storage bag or shallow bowl, combine ½ cup flour (use chickpea flour or cornstarch to keep them gluten-free), 1 Tbs. onion powder, 1 Tbs. garlic powder, 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. kosher salt, ½ tsp. black pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Add the tofu pieces to the bag or bowl and toss them around gently until the tofu is covered in the seasoned flour. Heat 3 Tbs. vegetable oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Shake off the excess flour from the tofu and cook them in batches in the pan until they are browned and crispy. This might take about 4-5 minutes per side. The 2nd batch will cook faster since the pan and the oil will be hotter. You could also bake the tofu in a 375 degree oven for 20 -25 minutes. When the tofu wings are cooked, transfer them to the sauce mixture and toss to coat.
2. Use Crumbled Tofu
Another way to make wings with tofu is to crumble the tofu and add other ingredients to the mix. Again, you want to press a block of extra-firm tofu and if you have time to freeze it the day before, do that. Crumble the block of tofu in a large bowl and then add 1 cup of any of either cooked rice or steamed and crumbled cauliflower. If you are ok with eating gluten, you could add ¾ cup vital wheat gluten to the mix to add more “chew” to the texture. Season the mix with 1 Tbs. garlic powder, 1 Tbs. onion powder, 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. kosher salt, ½ tsp. black pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
In a shallow bowl, add ½ cup non-dairy milk. In a second bowl, add ½ cup flour, ¼ cup cornmeal, ½ tsp. kosher salt and ¼ tsp. black pepper. Form the tofu mixture into wing shapes (or whatever shapes you want) and set them aside. Dip each piece into the milk and coat it well. Shake off any excess milk and then toss it in the flour mixture. Coat it completely. Place the tofu on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and continue until you use up all the tofu mixture. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, turning them halfway through. You could also choose to fry the wings if you wanted. Once they are golden brown, coat the wings in the sauce until completely coated.
3. Buffalo Sauce
Buffalo sauce is the classic sauce for wings. I love buffalo sauce so much, I am always looking for new ways to use it. Making Buffalo sauce is simple and quick. Combine 1/3 cup of your favorite hot sauce (I use Frank’s Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce), 4 Tbs. vegan butter and 1 Tbs. agave nectar (optional) in a small saucepan and cook over low heat while whisking until the butter melts and the sauce is hot. That’s it. If you love Buffalo sauce as much as I do, you will love these Buffalo Roasted Chickpeas and this Grilled Buffalo Tofu Po’ Boy with Apple Slaw.
4. BBQ Sauce
Maybe you don’t like Buffalo sauce and would prefer to coat your wings in BBQ sauce. No problem. My basic BBQ Sauce recipe is a bit more sweet than spicy, and I add some orange juice for a bright fruity note. This will make more than you need but believe me, you will want extra! In a saucepan, combine 2 cups ketchup, 1 ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ¾ cup maple syrup, the zest and juice of ½ orange, 3 minced garlic cloves and 1 tsp. black pepper. Stir and heat over medium heat until it comes to a bubble. Lower the heat and let simmer for 30 minutes until it thickens. For another recipe, try The World’s Healthiest Barbecue Sauce.
5. Spicy Balsamic BBQ Sauce
When I want a BBQ sauce that has a lot more kick and richer, deeper flavors, I go for this one that gets extra heat from red onions and chiles. Using balsamic vinegar in addition to apple cider vinegar adds a rich, syrupy flavor that is just incredible. In a small saucepan, combine 1 ½ cups ketchup, 1 cup apple cider vinegar, ¾ cup balsamic vinegar, ¾ cup maple syrup, 2 Tbs. brown sugar, 1 minced red onion, 2 minced garlic cloves and 1 Serrano chile that has been seeded (if you want less heat) and minced. Stir and let simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes until the sauce thickens. This is the sauce I use on my Balsamic BBQ Seitan and Tempeh Ribs.
6. Chinese BBQ Sauce
For Asian barbecue dishes, you can quickly whip up this sauce, which is sweet, salty, thick, and tangy. Combine ½ cup hoisin sauce, ½ cup mirin or sherry, ½ cup ketchup, 2 Tbs. minced ginger, 2 Tbs. brown rice vinegar, 1 Tbs. agave nectar, 2 tsp. Sriracha (or more to your liking), 1 minced garlic clove and ¼ tsp. of five-spice powder. Bring the sauce to a boil over medium heat, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened. It should take about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir the sauce occasionally.
7. Dipping Sauce
Half the fun of BBQ wings is the dipping sauce. You can buy vegan ranch and blue cheese dressings for dipping or you can make your own. I make a quick Vegan Ranch Dressing: in a bowl, combine ½ cup vegan mayo, ½ cup vegan sour cream, ½ tsp. garlic powder, ½ tsp. dried dill, 1 tsp. fresh chopped chives and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and keep refrigerated until ready to use. For another recipe, try this Low-Fat Tofu Ranch Dip. You can also make your own Vegan Blue Cheese Dressing: in a bowl, combine 1 cup vegan mayo, 1 Tbs. tahini, 2 tsp. white miso, the zest and juice of one lemon, 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar, ½ tsp. garlic powder, 1 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley, 2 tsp. minced chives, and salt and pepper to taste. Crumble in ¼ block of extra-firm tofu that has been pressed and drained. Mix well and refrigerate until ready to use.
If BBQ wings are something you’ve been missing, you are about to be reunited in a healthier and compassionate way. Maybe I’ll start a vegan wings review career.
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Image Photo: Buffalo Tofu Fries