This Vegan "Butcher" Makes Mock Meat As Tasty As The Real Thing

Chris Kim uses seitan to create meatballs and pastrami that even diehard meat fans would love.

February 17, 2017
Chris Kim from Monk's Meats
Sally Montana

Okra gumbo amped up with red chiles and andouille-style sausage. A sub loaded with meatballs and cheese, dressed in a stupendously tangy tomato sauce. On a chilly Saturday, Chris Kim, 41 and slight with a scruffy beard, scrambled to make these dishes for the hungry crowd gathered at his Monk’s Meats stall at Smorgasburg, a street-food market in Brooklyn. It was the perfect weekend grub.

Monk’s Meats also satisfies with jerk and bulgogi grilled in summer and house-cured pastrami come the cold months, but the “meat” in this purveyor’s name isn’t meat at all. Launched in 2010 by Kim and his partner, Rebecca Lopez-Howes, Monk’s is a vegan “butcher” and delicatessen. The star of his BLT-style sandwich? It’s shiitake mushrooms, sliced into strips and roasted to the exact moment that they become ringers for crispy bacon. The cheese is made from cashews. And seitan comprises most of the proteins.

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Made from wheat gluten, China’s millennia-old “mock meat,” flavored with broth, aromatics, and shoyu (naturally fermented Japanese soy sauce), seitan is Kim’s secret weapon. He spices it like sausage, grinds it for meatballs and hand pies, smokes it for barbecue, and cures it for  “shalami”—vegan salami. For Christmas, Kim brines and brown-sugar-glazes it like ham. At Passover, he rubs it with fat—olive oil, ethically sourced palm oil, and seasonings—that forms a crust when you roast it, like brisket. “You shouldn’t feel deprived when you’re vegan,” says Kim. “You shouldn’t look at your plate and feel like you’re missing out.”

It’s an ethos shared by the handful of other vegan “butchers” that have launched in recent years—Atlas Meat-Free Delicatessen in Hollywood, Florida; the Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis, among a few others—to mimick the range and crave-worthy gravitas of meat. “We start from traditional charcuterie or butchery techniques,” says Kim. “We look at where the flavors are coming from, and we try to be as faithful as possible.”

Related: I Tried Going Vegan For A Month And This Is What Happened

All that attention to detail earned Monk’s a 2016 Vendy Award, New York City’s Oscars for street-food vendors. And it’s why funders supported the Kickstarter campaign for the launch of Monk’s permanent shop this spring in Brooklyn.

Kim cleaned up his own smoking, meat-eating lifestyle in the 1990s to feel healthier. Monk’s Meats is his “quiet way to be an activist, showing how good you can eat and still be plant-based.” One bite of his chimichurri seitan sandwich slathered in a herbaceous dressing and we’re sold. 

BASIC SEITAN

seitan
Sally Montana

Makes 4-5 pounds

22 ounces (5 cups) vital wheat gluten
1 ounce (½ cup) nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon flax meal
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups plus 3 quarts vegetable broth, divided
¼ cup tomato paste
1¼ cups shoyu (soy sauce), divided
2 tablespoons molasses

1. In a large bowl, combine gluten, yeast, flax meal, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt.

2. In a pitcher, combine 3 cups broth, the tomato paste, and ¼ cup shoyu.

3. Pour broth mixture into gluten mixture, reserving a small amount of liquid. Knead until most of the dry ingredients are incorporated, about 1 minute. Add reserved liquid and knead until completely incorporated. Form into a ball and let rest for 10 minutes.

4. In a stockpot, combine remaining broth, remaining shoyu, and molasses. Cover and bring to boil.

5. Cut dough into 1-1½ inch cubes. Add to broth and boil until floating, 2 to 5 minutes.

6. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Strain; chill seitan overnight. Reserve cooking broth for soup or other use.

Note: Seitan can be chilled in an airtight container for up to 10 days. Freeze single (4-ounce) portions for up to 3 months. Add to stir-fries, grill or roast, or grind for "meatballs."

Related: The 20 Highest Calcium Vegan Foods

CASHEW VEGAN FARMER CHEESE

Makes 1½ cups

1 cup raw cashews
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice

1. Soak cashews overnight in 1 quart water.

2. Drain and combine with salt, oil, and juice in a food processor; process until smooth. Chill in airtight container for up to 1 week.

CHIMICHURRI SEITAN SANDWICH

Seitan Sandwich
Matt Rainey

Makes 2

1 cup fresh cilantro
1 cup fresh flatleaf parsley
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons fresh oregano (1 tablespoon dried)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
8 ounces seitan cubes
2 ciabatta rolls, toasted
Cashew farmer cheese, to taste
1 cup baby arugula
1 radish, cut into matchsticks

1. In a food processor, pulse cilantro, parsley, garlic, oregano, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, oil, and vinegar until emulsified.

2. Transfer to a bowl, add the seitan, and toss to coat. Marinate for 1 hour at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

3. Heat a nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Sear seitan until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.

4. Spread cheese on the bottom half of the rolls and top each with half of the arugula. Add the seared seitan and radish. Spread chimichurri over the top buns and place them on the sandwiches.

Tags: recipevegan