Meatless Monday Taste Test: Gardein, the Substitute Chick'n
Just the facts, ma'am:
We'd made the decision to start eating healthy, which for us meant not as many T-bone dinners, pork belly sashimi, wombat fritters, and the like. So we started a tradition ("meatless Mondays") and adhered to it. We'd read about the new advances in Tofu Technology: Somewhere, scientists were working day and night trying to formulate soy products with a mouth-feel resembling meat instead of styrofoam.
The advance word we'd heard about Gardein (garden + protein -- get it?) placed it in that category, a sort of faux-meat fad created to fool fledgling vegetarians. Lo and behold, it turned up in the organic-food case at the Publix on Cordova Road just south of 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale (affectionately known as the Yacht Cap'n/Trophy Wife Publix). At under $5 for a pair of robust little "Tuscan Breasts" (doesn't that sound like something from a Woody Allen movie?), we didn't feel bad about taking a gamble.
Mama took one gander at the packaging and pronounced it "awkward" (it looked like the stuff they send to high school science classes for dissection). The texture upon opening, she continued, was "kinda like dog food, with a slimy film on it, like a jelly." But the jelly obviated putting oil in the pan, so it saved a few calories.
Because it isn't really meat, it also saved a few worries, like: Is it cooked in middle? Could we get salmonella? In the pan, the Gardein looks like chicken as imagined by the first round of Apollo astronauts (or maybe those poor souls from Alien before the bad stuff happened). What was substantially satisfying was the texture. Those scientists have the chewy, striated texture of chicken down pat.
Our verdict: The Gardein itself was kinda neutral-tasting. It would probably absorb any sort of sauce well. But therein lies the problem -- the sauce it's sold with. Though comprised of natural ingredients, it looked awful sealed in its hermetic little package, like blood you'd give an accident victim you know has no chance of living. It had all the appeal of a double-condensed can of tomato soup. It actually ruins, not enhances, the "chik'n" (their spelling).
Gardein Chick'n probably would taste good if marinated for a few hours -- or better yet, charcoal grilled, cut up, and buried in a burrito. Unfortunately, it needs a better disguise to gain access to our bellies again.
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