Sodexo Chef Jason Casassa Shares Delicious Ideas and Tips for Cooking Plant-Based Meat Alternatives.
Meat alternatives are atop the wave of popular plant-based meals. If you’ve enjoyed a cauliflower steak at your local pub or savored jackfruit nachos at a popular Mexican spot, you’ve probably wondered if you could include these veggie- and fruit-based meat alternatives in your recipe rotation at home. That’s a yes, and Sodexo Chef Jason Casassa is here to share his culinary expertise for getting the best results from these three amazing alternatives to meat.
Cauliflower is so versatile that it can be paired with a variety of flavors or be the shining star of any recipe. “It’s the ultimate ingredient because it works in everything from comfort food to modern to healthy,” says Chef Jason. “You can bread it, rice it, roast it, steam it and stir-fry it for almost any recipe.”
Best for: Recipes featuring a hearty main ingredient.
Chef Jason’s Cooking Directions: For grilling, you can prepare cauliflower with oil and seasonings like you would for protein; cut large cauliflower steaks or planks and place them on a high-heat grill for searing, then move them to a corner or lower the temperature to finish the cooking process. To roast cauliflower whole, cut off the stalk end and coat it with oil, mustard or curry and roast at 425° for 45 minutes until it’s soft and tender, or break it into florets and roast them to use as a meat alternative in tacos, gratins or mac ‘n’ cheese. For another take, you can bread it for air-frying. “Try one of the cauliflower pizza crust recipes, cook and mash it like potatoes, or pickle it,” say Chef Jason. “It takes on any flavor or spice you add.”
Chef Tips: Use a smaller paring knife to cut apart a head of cauliflower. Turn the head upside down and cut the branches or stems to create even-sized florets or use your fingers to snap off the floret stems. If you’re preparing cauliflower steaks, use a knife to level the stalk end so it sits flat on the cutting board. Cut across the cauliflower head in ¾”- to 1″-thick slices, leaving the stem end intact on each slice.
Originating in southwest India, and now grown in many tropical regions around the world, jackfruit is easy to grow and a high-yield crop for farmers—one jackfruit tree can produce two to three tons of fruit a year and produce fruits that weigh upwards of 10 pounds! Jackfruit has a meaty texture and a neutral flavor when it’s unripe (or green), easily soaking up seasonings and spices. Jackfruit “meat” is available canned or refrigerated in packets, and it’s sold as a whole fruit in some specialty markets.
Best for: Replicating shredded chicken, pulled pork and other meats in savory recipes.
Chef Jason’s Cooking Directions: “I handle jackfruit the same way I’d prepare chicken or pork proteins,” says Chef Jason. It can be grilled, roasted, braised and simmered and will absorb any flavor you add or apply. Grill it like chicken or other proteins, using a higher temperature to achieve a nice sear and caramelize its sugars. Roast it at a high temperature with olive oil and salt and pepper, as you would for Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Jackfruit can be braised like kale or leeks with flavored stock and aromatics. Use jackfruit instead of crab for crab cakes by adding mayonnaise, Old Bay Seasoning, mustard and breadcrumbs or feature it in tacos by simmering a carnitas-style meat mixture, using orange juice, garlic, hot sauce and cumin.
Chef Tips: Working with fresh or raw jackfruit may be a little intimidating because it’s sticky, so be sure to spray or coat your knife before cutting it. “Check out online videos for helpful advice for buying and preparing fresh jackfruit,” says Chef Jason.
“I love everything about portobellos,” says Chef Jason. “They have a firm texture and they hold up like a steak, chicken breast or pork tenderloin when they’re cooked. And they’re very flavorful and juicy.” They can be baked, fried, grilled and sautéed, making them a perfect main ingredient for any recipe that calls for meat.
Best for: Recipes featuring a hearty, substantial, “meaty” ingredient.
Chef Jason’s Cooking Directions: From baking to sautéing, you can use almost any cooking method for portobellos because these steak-like mushrooms are very versatile. “My favorite recipe is the easiest: Sprinkle a portobello mushroom cap with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and roast or grill it at a high temperature (450°),” says Chef Jason. “When you bake, broil, grill, roast or sauté at a high temperature, you get a delicious caramelization on the mushrooms.” Try stuffing the caps with pizza ingredients, cooked butternut squash or sweet potatoes or your favorite vegetable stuffing, then roast at a high temperature. Portobellos are perfect ingredients for tacos and fajitas; cut them in 1-inch strips or large dices, then sauté them with Mexican seasonings.
Chef Tips: Cleaning portobellos is easy—and a must. Twist off the stem and use a small spoon to gently scrape the gills from the underside, leaving the rim. “You can clean up the rim a bit with a knife,” says Chef Jason. Then, clean the mushroom top with a damp paper towel, wiping off the dirt as if you’re polishing it.