When Ryan Bauhaus first experimented with faux meats, he fixated on recreating that taste of blood, settling on a tomato paste blend to mimic the acidic, iron flavor. For the fat, Bauhaus boiled down mushrooms until he got the desired texture similar to the fat cap on a roast.
Calorie counting, gluten banning and tofu bean patties aren’t happening at Bauhaus’ Atlas Meat-Free Delicatessen in Miami. On the contrary, there’s six ounces of peppery pastrami and two kinds of kraut on top of the Rachel on Rye sandwich. The Krispy Fried Chk'n sandwich is served with a creamy garlic aioli on a doughy pretzel bun. It’s breaded and dipped in cashew buttermilk that turns into a golden crunch when it’s deep fried, melting the house-made soy milk cheddar on top.
The world of meatless cooking has a new player: plant butchers. They’re gaining loyal followings across the country, applying techniques used with traditional meats like brining, brazing, aging and mesquite smoking. The butchers also sell handmade cheese, made with nut, soy and coconut bases rather than cow, goat or sheep milk.
Labor is intensive – a single meatball can take nearly 20 hours to make.
“Most of my overhead is labor,” said Bauhaus, who could use a meat grinder, but prefers to do it by hand.
There’s this riffing on the idea of the butcher shop and what it means to communities in the past.”
-- Chris Kim, executive chef of Monks Food Co in Brooklyn
The fare is popular among vegans and vegetarians who long for greasy comfort food, but abstain for ethical reasons. Much of the plant-based movement has catered to the health-conscious crowd that eschews gluten, fried foods and highly processed fake meats. The butchers are not to be confused with vegan restaurants that create dishes using meat substitutes. Plant butchers are out to make products similar in texture and flavor to real meat. They sell their meats and cheeses by the pounds, along with deli sandwiches. Their main ingredient, wheat gluten, also known as seitan, has an extremely high protein content and flavor profile similar to animal meat.
“There’s this riffing on the idea of the butcher shop and what it means to communities in the past,” said Chris Kim, executive chef of Monks Food Co in Brooklyn.
He disagrees with the ethics of animal slaughter but admires the skill and knowledge of butchers: “When someone comes in we say, ‘What are you looking for? What are you trying to make?’ ”
Kim mixes two different types of wheat gluten in his spicy Italian meatballs – a red/dark meat style and one infused with an asparagus puree. A seitan-based salami, cured for 12 hours in a dehydrator, is added for texture before the meatballs are hand formed, fried and steamed.
“We hear people saying this is the best meatball they’ve ever had. That’s really the goal. We’re not out to be the best vegan food producers, we’re out to be a great food producer,” said Kim.
His popular seitan steak includes pureed asparagus and rosemary. The seitan ham is brined and smoked, and they do a Kansas City-style BBQ seitan slab during the summer.
They sell wholesale to restaurants, caterers and individual customers and are opening their first brick and mortar shop this spring.
Everything at the Herbivorous Butcher, a brother-and-sister business out of Minneapolis, is made in small batches and hand-formed. The storefront, which boasts 100 flavors of sausage, including coconut and pineapple, has given Aubry and Kale Walch a chance to get to know the community. The siblings said they originally opened the butcher shop as a platform for animal activism and to help people know where their food is coming from.
“A lot of our customers will come to us with ridiculous things that they’re craving and we’re able to make that for them. That’s the fun,” said Kale Walch.
Betsy Born and her husband love their shredded chicken for tacos and use the ground beef for lasagna. Often, they'll use them on a simple meat and cheese tray. Once they asked the siblings to create a beer bratwurst for a July 4th cookout.
“It was delicious,” said Born, whose husband and three children are also vegan. “My (extended) family is not vegan and they always grill out and I thought it would be nice to have something to grill out that was similar to what they were eating.”
The sibling butchers have fielded tons of requests for more gluten-free products. They currently sell a meatloaf made with mushrooms, oats and carrots and several products using a jackfruit base, but are experimenting with a substitute to make all their products gluten free.
“We’re definitely trying,” said Aubry Walch.