Growing up, my father used to tease me that I ate so much chicken, one day I was going to sprout feathers. It’s true, chicken was my favorite food, the one I thought I couldn’t live without. But once I learned the truth about how my favorite food got on my plate, it never touched my lips again. The true test came just a few days after I swore off meat. I had all this chicken in my freezer so I cooked it up and brought it to a party. My husband now tells me he didn’t think I’d be able to resist it but I did. That’s how I knew I was serious about my new vegan life. Instead of giving in to temptation, I learned to make vegan versions of every single one of my favorite chicken dishes. If there are chicken dishes you loved and miss, there’s no reason to not enjoy those same flavors in a healthier and more compassionate way.
Here’s how to veganize all your favorite chicken dishes.
1. Basic Tips
Before you set out to veganize your favorite chicken dishes, let me give you a few tips. When we eat chicken, it’s not the actual animal muscle and flesh we love but the flavor and texture that gets developed through marinades, seasoning and cooking. We can replicate those qualities to make vegan ingredients taste like poultry. Texture is all a matter of choosing the right substitute for the chicken itself, whether that is tofu, seitan, vegetables or jackfruit and prepping and shaping it appropriately for the dish. For instance, these baked Chick’n Style Seitan Cutlets are made with vital wheat gluten and chicken-y seasonings and you can use them in your favorite chicken recipe. If you’re gluten-free, try this Gluten-Free, Vegan Chicken recipe that is just like seitan but without the gluten.
We can get chicken flavor from seasoning blends, vegan chicken-flavored broths and other ingredients that give us that savory, umami taste. Poultry seasoning may be marketed for use on chicken and turkey, but guess what? It’s vegan. There is no actual poultry in poultry seasoning just as there is no steak in steak seasoning. These mixes are just blends of herbs and spices we have come to associate with meat. To make ¼ cup of your own Poultry Seasoning: combine 1 Tbs. ground sage, 1 Tbs. dried thyme, 2 tsp. marjoram, 1 tsp. dried rosemary, 1 tsp. celery seed, 1 tsp. allspice and 1 tsp. black pepper. Add salt to your liking.
We can also use ingredients, sauces, gravies and condiments that are classically associated with chicken to further make a dish that is reminiscent of the original version. For all you need to know about making meatless meaty dishes, see Missing Meat? Here’s How to Satisfy Your Cravings in a Meat-Free Way, The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Meats and Meat Substitutes, and 10 Vegetables that can Substitute for Meat.
2. Fried “Chicken”
I’m probably not alone when I say that the first chicken dish I ever loved was fried chicken. My family would go out for ice cream sundaes and I would order fried chicken. Later, my mother only made oven-fried chicken which we called “secret recipe chicken” and it was my most favorite dish ever. Well, that and chicken cutlets. Face it, pretty much any food tastes good when it’s breaded and fried or even oven-fried. Whether it was a gourmet recipe you loved or the familiar one that came in a bucket, you can make vegan fried “chicken” that tastes just as good, if not better.
When I want to make fried “chicken,” I usually turn to tofu. When a block of tofu is pressed and drained well, it can be cut into slices, cubes or whatever shape you want. I like to make slices for cutlets or smaller pieces for nuggets. By using the same method of dredging and breading, you can make these incredible “Chicken-Fried” Steaks with White Gravy.
3. Chinese Food
Whenever I would order Chinese food, I knew it would be chicken. It was just a matter of which type of Chinese chicken dish I wanted. Now I make vegan Chinese food at home. The question I get asked most is how I get the “chicken” as crispy as they seem to get it in restaurants. First, if you are using tofu, make sure you press it really well – the less moisture, the better. You can even freeze your tofu overnight and then thaw it out and press it for an even firmer texture. Second, after your tofu, tempeh, seitan or vegan chicken has been in the marinade, make sure to pat it completely dry before you get ready to cook it. Third, a thin coating of cornstarch or arrowroot powder will give it a crispy coating when you cook it. Finally, cook it a bit crispier than you would think because once you pour the steaming hot sauce over it, it will lose some of the crunch.
Read the Secrets to Sautéing and Stir-Frying Chinese-Style and then try making these favorite Chinese chicken dishes veganized: General Tso’s Tofu, Sesame Tofu, Kung Pao Tofu, Sweet and Sour “Chicken,” Vegan Orange “Chicken” with Zucchini Noodles, Stir-Fried Tofu with Veggies and Shitake, and Pomegranate Sweet and Sour Tempeh.
4. Chicken Salads
The best thing about leftover chicken was that you could make chicken salad out of it. My favorite diner sandwich was chicken salad and bacon on toast. When I became vegan, I found a place that makes vegan “chicken” salad with tempeh bacon and I was in heaven! I also make my own Tofu “Chicken” Salad: cut a block of extra-firm tofu that has been pressed and drained into small cubes. Steam the cube for 3-4 minutes. Heat 1 Tbs. oil in a large skillet and cook the tofu for just a few minutes until they just begin to brown on all sides. Transfer the tofu to a plate to cool. In a large bowl, combine 2 finely chopped celery stalks, 2 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley, 4 Tbs. vegan mayonnaise, 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. mustard powder, 1 tsp. kosher salt, and ½ tsp. black pepper. Add the tofu to the bowl and mix everything together. Taste for any seasoning adjustments and refrigerate until the tofu salad is cold.
For more recipes, try this Mock Chicken Salad that is made with tempeh, Potato Chip-Encrusted Baked “Chicken” Salad Sandwiches made with seitan, and Crunchy Cranberry Chick’n Sandwiches and Vegan “Chicken” Salad that are both made with texturized vegetable protein.
5. Fast Food Makeovers
I will be totally honest – I used to love fast food especially chicken sandwiches, nuggets and Buffalo wings. Fast food is addictive and unhealthy for humans, animals and the planet. The good news is that we can make healthier, vegan versions of our fast food favorites at home. If chicken sandwiches and burgers were your favorites, you will love this Grilled Buffalo Tofu Po’ Boys with Apple Slaw and these Chicken-Less Burgers. For a vegan take on a fun food, try these Crispy Tofu Nuggets that kids and adults will not be able to resist. If you were like me and could eat a big pile of Buffalo or BBQ wings, learn How to Make Epic Vegan BBQ Tofu Wings. Make vegan versions of tacos, burritos and bowls by swapping out the chicken for your favorite substitute like in these Mini Soy Curl Taco Bowls with Pickled Onions.
6. Comfort Foods
Some of the best comfort foods are made with chicken which of course, means we can make vegan versions of them. That’s even more comforting! When I think about comfort foods, I think chili, stews, casseroles, pot pies and soups. Indulge in this “Chicken” Green Chili and Hominy Posole, The Best Vegan “Chicken” and “Sausage” Gumbo, Tofu Pot Pie Casserole, Shepherd’s Pot Pie with Tofu, Chicken-Less Pot Pie Soup, and Curry Chick’n and Gnocchi Soup.
7. Indian Food
Indian food is fragrant, spicy and delicious. Tempeh fills in for chicken in this Tempeh in Spicy Onion Curry and this Spiced Indian Tempeh with Vegetables and Quinoa. Tofu in a roasted red pepper and coconut sauce is the star in this Tofu Tikka Masala while tofu that has been broiled to perfection makes up this Tandoori Tofu dish. Vindaloo is a dish usually made with chicken or lamb but this Seitan Vindaloo from the Goa region is so much better. Use which ever substitute you like best to make this Vegan Butter “Chicken” and this Spinach “Chicken” Curry. See How to Make Indian Food at Home for more recipes.
8. Global Dishes
No matter what ethnic cuisine you choose, they probably have some type of chicken dish. When you learn about ethnic flavor profiles, it’s easy to make global cuisine at home. My absolutely favorite cuisine is Jamaican (Ital) food. The two dishes I loved most were jerk chicken and curried chicken. Now I love my Jerk Tofu and Jamaican Curried Tofu with Chickpeas. When I’m craving Spanish food, I make Chili-Rubbed Tofu with Onions over Spanish Rice or a stewed “chicken” dish called Arroz con Tofu Guisado. Go Indonesian with this Chicken-Free Satay With Peanut Dipping Sauce or enjoy Thai food with this Curry with Tofu and Grilled Vegetables. If you liked the Italian dish chicken piccata, you will love this vegan Cauliflower Piccata and Tempeh Piccata even more. In these two Moroccan dishes, the chicken I used to use has been swapped out for tofu. Try this Delicious Casbah Tofu with Rice and this Moroccan Tofu in Lemon-Olive Sauce over Spaghetti.
It’s been over seven years since I last ate chicken and whenever I’m missing a specific chicken dish, I figure out how to make a vegan version of it. That way, my cravings are satisfied and so is my heart.
Lead Image Photo: Chicken-Free Satay With Peanut Dipping Sauce
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