There are some meat- or dairy-based foods it's relatively easy to transform into a vegan-friendly dish. Grilling burgers? The frozen food section is full of veggie burger options—or you can easily make your own patties using ground walnuts and beans (hey, it's good enough for Beyonce.) Want ice cream? Easy, just use alternative milk instead of cow's milk, or use bananas as your base instead.
But some meat-centric staples are a heck of a lot trickier—particularly if you like the taste and texture of meat. One such food: the spicy chicken sandwich. According to statistics from food takeout delivery service DoorDash, chicken dishes are the top meals people in New York City and Washington D.C. order in, and the most popular chicken meal of all is the chicken sandwich. (It's also the most popular lunch item DoorDash customers in the South order.)
Despite orders for plant-based foods up over 400 percent from last year, the chicken sandwich was one meal where customers were still going for meat. It got me thinking about what it would take to make the perfect plant-based spicy chicken sandwich. Is it even possible? I reached out to someone who I knew would be down to give it a shot: vegan chef, restauranteur, cookbook author, and Post Punk Kitchen creator Isa Chandra Moskowitz.
It took weeks of experimenting, but she did it. Moskowitz not only nailed the challenge, but she's sharing her vegan spicy chicken sandwich recipe so others can make it at home, too. "I really tried to emulate the Popeye’s sandwich," Moskowitz says. To get a texture similar to real chicken, she says she used portobello mushroom caps which she worked into a batter made with cornstarch, alternative milk (she used macadamia nut milk but says almond or soy would work well too), apple cider vinegar, and tamari.
The other trick was figuring out the perfect spice blend for the fried coating. For this, Moskowitz used a whole slew of spices, including sweet paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, lemon pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, and turmeric. "I also used just about every seasoning I had on the shelf until I got that satisfying fast food flavor," she says.
"The main thing is triple dipping the mushroom into the 'buttermilk' slurry and the seasoned flour. Then you get all the nice crevices you expect from fried chicken," Moskowitz says. She also says not to be afraid to really get your hands in there. "Let your fingers get battered and work that clumpy batter right back into the flour dredge and get yourself some beautiful crinkles," she says.
Moskowitz experimented making the "chicken" with both a cast iron frying pan and her air fryer and says the frying pan had the better end result, but the air fryer version was still tasty, too. (Directions for both methods are below.) Whichever method you go, the perfect finishing touch is her homemade spicy mayo which amps up the heat even more.
Leave it to Moskowitz to prove that the perfect plant-based spicy chicken sandwich can be made. Check out her recipe below.
Isa Chandra Moskowitz's vegan spicy chicken sandwich
4 large portobello mushroom caps, trimmed and cleaned
For the seasoned flour:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp lemon pepper
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dill weed
1/4 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp thyme
1. Prepare the slurry: In a medium mixing bowl, spoon in the corn starch. Add the vegan milk and vigorously mix with a fork until well combined. Mix in the apple cider and tamari and set aside.
2. Prepare the breading: In a separate large mixing bowl, sift together the seasoned flour ingredients (flour through salt). For the remaining three ingredients (thyme, dill, celery seed) rub them between your fingers to break them down a bit, then add to the mixture. Mix everything together.
3. Cook the mushrooms: Dip each portobello mushroom cap into the flour, then into the slurry. Now dip it back into the flour making sure to coat all over. Dip it back into the slurry, back into the flour, back into the slurry and now...back into the flour! You should have a pretty thick coating you can pinch to create crevices. Make sure to utilize the clumps of flour that form from getting wet with slurry.
4. If shallow frying: Preheat a large cast iron over medium high heat. Add about three-fourths an inch of canola or other neutral oil. Fry on both sides for about five minutes each. Should be golden brown and crispy. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
5. If air frying: Spray mushrooms all over with cooking oil (canola or olive oil.) Spray the air fryer basket with oil as well. Air fry for 15 minutes at 400°F.
6. Assemble: Toast the buns and spread both sides with spicy mayo. Layer on tomatoes, lettuce, the portobello, and pickles.
Get more plant-based recipe inspo in Well+Good's Cook With Us Facebook group.
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