November 27, 2009

Head to Head, #2 - real turkey vs fake turkey

As promised, I prepared a second half-batch of fake turkey to bring to my family's Thanksgiving dinner. I used the recipe found here. If anyone out there is keeping track, I used a different basting broth this time - I picked up a pre-made chicken-style vegetarian broth instead of using broth powder, and just used a cup of it (instead of reconstituting the powder). Otherwise, the ingredients were all the same as the last time I made it. The biggest difference was the method.

Here's the summary of the prep info, to illustrate the difference:

Fake turkey #1: "Mix the Wet Mix ingredients in food processor until smooth. Add the Dry Mix and process briefly until it forms a ball on blade."

Fake turkey #2: "Mix the Dry Mix ingredients in the bowl of your electric mixer with dough hook attachment. Add the Wet Mix and knead for about 10 minutes. Let rest for about 1 hour, covered. Then knead it for 10 more minutes."

Mini food science lesson: all this extra kneading serves to develop the gluten, forming stronger protein bonds, and making a chewier end product. This is the same reason that, say a baguette is chewier than banana bread. More handling, more gluten development.

During the mixing phase, I ran into some trouble. The half batch was a little too small to work well in my mixer. It just sat at the bottom of the bowl while the hook passed harmlessly over top of it, slightly indenting the dough, but doing no actual kneading. This led me to a long stretch of hand-kneading. I'll tell you - twenty minutes of kneading something that smells as weird as this did is... let's call it unpleasant. I wish my mixer had been up to this task.

Skipping to the end now. I wound up, after an eternity of cooking (used method #2), a kind of yellow-gray flat loaf. I wrapped it up, and stashed it in my fridge to bring down to my parents' house in a couple days.

Thanksgiving rolled around, and I tried to get my family psyched up to try this... thing I brought. They were willing to try it. For science! I warmed it up in the oven, which took about 30 minutes at 375 degrees, then sliced it and attempted to fan it out attractively on a plate. It didn't really work. The slices were too short to fall over, thus creating a fan, so they just kind of sat there, gray-ish and a little slimy. I boldly carried it out to the table anyway, and handed it to my wife with a flourish ("ta da!"). Everyone took a deep breath, and put some on their plates.

My mom asked how I wanted this thing evaluated, because she had some immediate thoughts on its appearance. She declared the color to be "scary". My brother said it looked more like bread than turkey.

We all dug in (if something so enthusiastic-sounding can be used to describe the most tentative eating I've ever seen). Here's what my guinea-pig family had to say:

Dad: At first there's moisture, but then there's a dryness to it

Brother: Unnecessarily rubbery, with a bread-like flavor. "I would enjoy this if it were, in fact bread, but unfortunately it is not."

Mom: (she had a lot to say about it) "I'd only eat this if I had no other choice" (which I think we determined to mean no other food, not just no other meat), "just foul - with a 'u' not a 'w'" (my family has a very pun-based sense of humor), "just say no", and described the aftertaste as "hanging" with a "plasticky" flavor, and declared milk didn't get rid of it. (My dad and I managed to wash the aftertaste away with wine, and my brother determined cranberry sauce also worked. We think it was the acid in the wine/cranberries.) Also, she said if she was grading this on a scale of 0-10, she'd give it a -1.
(side note: she asked before this deluge if I really wanted actual opinions, and I insisted on full honesty, because it wouldn't (and didn't) bother me. She's not usually this harsh about stuff I make.)

Wife: "Similar to last time, but wheatier and less edible", and "by far the least tasty thing on the table."

For my part, I'd say that it was definitely chewier than the first attempt, but nothing even remotely like meat. Maybe if someone hadn't eaten meat in at least a decade, they could be tricked into thinking this was meat-like. The flavor was very different than the first one I made. I was hoping that the chicken-esque broth would give it a better flavor, but it did not. It added no flavor at all, really, which puzzles me.

Something else we noticed - the wheat-like flavor of this fake turkey overwhelmed most other items on the plate, including gravy, and even cranberries. With mashed potatoes, the flavor mellowed a little, or maybe it just diluted it. Also, Mom tried to feed a little bite of it to the cat, who, despite not having eaten since that morning, didn't even smell it - she preferred the crumbs of leftover food from the morning. My family found this hilarious.

The experience:
Texture - C (kinda chewy, but also crumbly... hard to describe)
Flavor - D (very bread-like, and no pleasant stuffing-flavor like last time)

I just realized I haven't said anything about the actual turkey, since this is a head-to-head post. My dad cooks the turkey every year on the grill (even in the snow here in Minnesota - I have a picture of that somewhere...), and it always turns out super juicy and flavorful. No change this year, and we all figured the fake meat turkey would have absolutely no shot at winning this contest. But at least we all tried it. For science!

Real turkey: A+
Fake meat turkey: D

1 comment:

  1. We had a pre-made, stuffed, vegan Tofurky roasts that we baked in a baking bag. They were moist and delicious and a big hit with everyone at our dinner yesterday, vegetarians or not. I admire your industry in making a fake turkey roast from scratch, though!