This Impossible jalapeno burger is from a recipe by the owner of Slutty Vegan restaurant in Atlanta. (Kate Krader / Bloomberg)

This Impossible jalapeno burger is from a recipe by the owner of Slutty Vegan restaurant in Atlanta. (Kate Krader / Bloomberg)

How Impossible’s plant-based burger meat compares to beef

Thanks to the pandemic, the plant-based meat alternative is no longer impossible to find in stores.

  • Tuesday, July 14, 2020 9:24am
  • Life

By Kate Krader/ Bloomberg News

The plant-based meat from Impossible Foods Inc. used to be impossible for home cooks to get their hands on. The product was marketed to chefs such as David Chang and available at restaurants and fast-food spots like Burger King. Consumers could buy their faux burgers — if they could find them — but they couldn’t easily cook them themselves.

The pandemic changed that. With more people cooking at home and restaurant accounts gutted, in mid-April Impossible rolled out its product to almost 800 more U.S. supermarkets, including Albertsons and Safeway, before signing on more than 1,700 additional stores, including Fred Meyer and QFC, in May. That’s up from only 150 stores in March.

Impossible is in more than 4,700 stores nationwide, according to the company, and plans to expand its retail footprint to 7,500 by the end of the year; last month it introduced an e-commerce site. (Its major competitor, Beyond Meat Inc., is way ahead; its product has been available in supermarkets since 2016 and is making its first foray into Chinese grocery stores.)

Sales of the faux meat have been rising during the pandemic as safety concerns hit meat suppliers and interrupted the supply chain. In the early weeks of the lockdown, alternative-meat product sales rose 264%. Consumers bought three times the amount of plant-based foods in March and April than they had the previous year.

If you’re one of those converts, the company has released a cookbook to help you figure out what to do with the plant-based product in your refrigerator. “Impossible: The Cookbook” (Chronicle Books, July 14, $30) doesn’t have a recipe for Impossible Whoppers, though it devotes a chapter to the subject along with sliders and patty melts. Traci Des Jardins, a James Beard Award-winning chef and consultant for Impossible, says they considered making an all-burger cookbook, but the “meat” is more versatile than that.

The book devotes a few introductory pages to the product. If you don’t know what heme is, this cookbook won’t answer your question. But tips for handling the meat substitute are helpful. The product, which feels oddly sticky when you work with it, has less moisture than real ground beef. That means that here, more than ever, the burgers should be cooked to medium-rare or medium, never well done. Use cold meat and put it over a very hot surface or the result will be mushy. And plan on adding fat to the pan if you’re substituting it in a recipe that calls for ground beef or pork.

The book’s recipes-there are almost 50-were created by chefs and Impossible staff. It’s a crowd-pleasing array that could help cure plenty of hangovers: cheesesteak with caramelized onions, Peruvian lomo saltado (steak and french fry stir-fry), biscuits with spiced sausage gravy, mapo tofu. Des Jardins calls out a recipe for hummus with Ethiopian spiced meat from chef Kwame Onwuachi as a favorite. (“I’m personally a huge fan of Tal Ronnen’s Moroccan cigars,” said Impossible Chief Executive Officer Pat Brown, by email.)

I tested two recipes from the book. First was the brunch favorite chilaquiles from chef Sarah Schafer. It’s anchored by “chorizo” made by mixing the plant-based meat with a mix of pantry spices and cider vinegar. It’s a compelling version of the pork-based classic. It’s not in the same league as the best ones I’ve tasted, but I’ll make it again, in part for the mad scientist appeal of crafting something that seems untouchable from a handful of ingredients.

And because you have to test an Impossible burger, I chose the jalapeno one from Pinky Cole of Slutty Vegan in Atlanta. (The restaurant owner has been in the news after high-profile locals including actress Gabrielle Union and rapper Ludacris bought out the restaurant to feed locals for free following the Rayshard Brooks shooting.) Cole’s recipe features a patty spiked with onions, garlic and cumin, topped with faux pepper jack cheese and pickled chiles. Her jalapeno burger packs a lot of punches — if you like a tricked-out burger the way I do, you’ll be delighted by it.

“My affinity for spicy food comes from my Jamaican background,” said Cole, who notes that 97% of the customers who line up at her restaurant aren’t vegan. “This burger has a lot of personality. I’m not here for boring food.”

The following recipes are adapted from Impossible: The Cookbook. They’re vegetarian, not vegan, but can be made using plant-based cheeses, etc.

Chilaquiles with red beans and charred tomatillo salsa

For the chorizo:

12 ounces Impossible burger meat

1½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons ground ancho chile

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano

½ teaspoon ground coriander

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

⅛ teaspoon ground ginger

Small pinch of ground allspice

2 teaspoon vegetable oil

For the chilaquiles:

1 can (15 ounces) pinto beans, drained and rinsed

Juice of ½ lime

1 jar (16 ounces) tomatillo salsa

8 ounces good-quality yellow or white tortilla chips

½ cup crumbled queso fresco

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

6 large eggs

1 small white onion, diced

Sour cream, for serving

Make the chorizo: In a medium bowl, crumble Impossible meat. Add vinegar and spices; mix well with your hands to combine. In a large cast-iron skillet, warm oil over medium heat. Add chorizo mixture and cook, stirring, until browned, about 6 minutes.

Make the chilaquiles: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Add beans and lime juice to chorizo; stir to combine. Season to taste with salt. Cook, stirring, until warmed through and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Pour 1¼ cups salsa into a shallow bowl. Working in batches, add chips, and stir to coat. Arrange chips on top of chorizo mixture. Bake until chips start to soften and are heated through, about 4 minutes. Remove skillet from oven and sprinkle with queso fresco. Bake until cheese is warm, about 3 more minutes.

While the chilaquiles warm in the oven, fry the eggs. In a skillet, warm oil over medium heat. Add eggs and fry for 1 minute, then turn and fry on the other side for 15 to 30 seconds for over easy and 1 minute for over medium. Scatter onion on top of chilaquiles and dollop with sour cream. Top each serving with a fried egg and serve remaining salsa on the side.

Makes 6 servings.

Jalapeno burgers

3 potato buns, split

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for buns

12 ounces Impossible burger meat

¼ cup loosely packed, finely chopped yellow onion

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons chipotle mayonnaise

3 ounces sliced pepper jack cheese

3 tomato slices

3 tablespoons sliced pickled jalapenos

1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce

Toast cut sides of burger buns over low heat on a lightly oiled griddle or large, heavy skillet, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine Impossible burger, onion, parsley, garlic, cumin, coriander and salt. Shape burger mixture into 3 equal patties, about ½ inch thick. Heat griddle or skillet over medium heat, then add 1 tablespoon oil. Cook patties, turning once, until browned on the outside and medium-rare inside, about 6 minutes.

Spread toasted sides of each bun with chipotle mayonnaise. For each burger, top bottom bun with a patty, a cheese slice, a tomato slice, pickled jalapeno, and some lettuce on top. Cap burger with top bun and serve at once.

Makes 3 servings.

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