“Mmm, bacon.” It seems to be every defensive meat-eater’s favorite comeback when confronted with the cruelty involved in pig farming, or with facts about pig intelligence and emotion (such as: Pigs are smarter than dogs and 3 year-old children! Pigs love to snuggle when they sleep!), or even just faced with an adorable picture of a baby pig. But of late, bacon isn’t just a staple of the traditional Western breakfast trifecta, or the favored fried fare of greasy-spoon Mom & Pops; in the last decade, it’s become the belarded darling of overweening gourmands the world over; the quintessential hipster death-flesh-fetish du jour.
“Processing” baby piglets is standard procedure on both factory farms and smaller, so-called humane farms. To learn more, see our feature, Bacon: A Day In The Life.
It’s also a symbol of the profound disconnect between consumers and their ethics. To the question — “Is it wrong to hurt or kill an animal for pleasure?” — every single person I have ever queried has responded, unequivocally, with a resounding “yes.” Yet, for most of us, choosing to eat meat, dairy or eggs is a choice for animals to be harmed for our pleasure; for our palate pleasure. Science confirms that humans have no biological need to consume animal products in order to be healthy or thrive. When we have access to plant-based foods, and understand that eating animals is not a requirement for good health, our own values dictate that rather than shrug off this knowledge, we must, rather, reject the needless exploitation and killing of animals for their flesh, mothers’ milk, and eggs. If we believe that it is wrong to hurt or kill animals for pleasure, then living our values means living vegan.
Chef Skye Michael Conroy has devoted his life to creating virtually indistinguishable plant-based versions of every meat, cheese, dairy and egg dish under the sun. His greatest goal in life is to make the process of eliminating animal cruelty from our diets as easy as possible. To this end, he has devoted years to the study of molecular gastronomy, perfecting plant-based recipes for foods like bacon, mozzarella cheese, eggless scrambles and sunny-side-ups so like the real thing in flavor and texture you truly have to taste it to believe it. And: you can. His ground-breaking cookbooks are available in paperback or for digital download at the click of a button.
Chef Conroy’s seitan-based vegan bacon (referred to as “Bacun”) is one of the most consistently raved-about-by-former-meat-lovers recipes I have ever encountered. And it’s not just beloved of seasoned vegans who’ve lost their craving for crispy pig flesh; witness the testimony of professional photographer and self-described “food snob extraordinaire” Jason Friedman, who was kind enough to provide these mouth-watering photos as well as an account of his experience with vegan bacon.
Friedman writes: “I used to be every vegan’s worst nightmare: a bacon-obsessed foodie. Now I’m still a bacon-obsessed foodie, but I’m also a vegan. I’m a vegan because I realized that it is wrong to harm animals simply because we like the taste of meat, milk or eggs. No fleeting pleasure justifies the exploitation and killing of animals. And while I would have been willing and able to forego the taste of bacon, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have missed it. Fortunately, thanks to this genius vegan bacon recipe from the indispensable Gentle Chef Cookbook, I can have my bacon and keep my values.
Here’s a batch of the Gentle Chef’s seitan “Bacun” just out of the frying pan, dusted with fresh cracked pepper and sea salt. That perfect balance between chewy and crispy, salty, savory, and drool inspiring — these are just a few of the adjectives I would use to describe this incredible recipe. Chef Skye-Michael used his considerable culinary genius to create the unmistakable, addictive flavors and texture of bacon, and his whimsical artistry to create the signature marbling that is aesthetically associated with bacon. Let me just say: I have tried every type of vegan bacon on the market: from seitan, to tempeh, to tofu, to coconut flakes. Nothing has come close to completely satisfying my serious bacon jones like what you see in these images before you. There hasn’t been a week in the past year and a half that I haven’t had a fresh batch of bacun in my fridge waiting to be incorporated into a recipe or eaten straight from the pan.”
Another former meat-lover, Sandra Hays, writes: “I have been a vegetarian for 12+ years, and vegan for the past 12 or so months. As far as animal flesh, bacon was the hardest thing for me to give up, although I did give it up straight away. It is probably the ONLY meat that I can actually say that I still miss. I bought Chef Skye’s “The Gentle Chef Cookbook” late last summer, and the Bacun was one of the first seitan recipes I tried. The taste is absolutely amazing!! It tastes very much like what I remember bacon tasting like, and truly smells like bacon when it’s sizzling in a frying pan in a little olive oil. I love to cook it crispy, and use it on club sandwiches and on the most amazing BLTs ever (also using Chef Skye’s “No Eggy Mayo,” which is another topic for conversation in and of itself!) With recipes like these, there is absolutely no reason to harm another sentient being for food. Chef Skye’s recipes are so great for people transitioning to a vegan diet, as they are very familiar in taste and texture.
Invariably, those who promote plant-based foods designed to mimic meat, dairy and egg products run into criticism from some vegans who insist on shaming vegan foods that resemble animal-derived foods. Sometimes these criticisms stem from a legitimate wish for everyone to see that a diet of whole plant foods is no sacrifice, and offers plentiful variety and pleasure. Other times, though, “fake meat” shaming stems from an entirely unproductive posturing that has nothing to do with the ethics of veganism, but rather has its origins in anything from hyper-restrictive “health food” diets heavy on ingredient-policing, or in weirdly competitive notions of theoretical purity. Either way, we should strive to acknowledge that for many people, eating is a form of addictive behavior, and that the sensations people experience from food, especially high-fat animal foods, often resemble the pleasurable sensations effected in the brain by certain drugs.
Just as we would not begrudge someone trying to quit smoking the use of nicotine gum, patches, or electronic cigarettes, and just as we would find no fault with someone who wanted to give up alcohol substituting a nightly ritual of grape juice in a wine glass, we should not be critical of anyone for whom a vegan diet is made possible, easier, or simply more pleasant with the help of vegan foods that look and taste like animal products.
I also find it instructive to remember these words from Jo Tyler, about the problems with calling plant-based meat, dairy and egg foods “fake” —
Some people claim that vegan foods are fake if they are made to mimic the shape, texture and taste of animal-based foods (things like hot dogs, shredded cheese, nuggets and deli slices, for example). But the idea that chopping up beans and grains and molding them into abstract shapes is somehow less real than chopping up animals and molding their flesh (or secretions) into the same abstract shapes just doesn’t make sense.
As for taste, people typically don’t go vegan because they dislike the taste of the animal-based foods they grew up eating; they go vegan because they dislike animal cruelty. Creating the flavor and texture of foods we enjoy without harming and killing animals isn’t fake – it’s downright fabulous.
Now, as promised, please enjoy this exclusive vegan bacon recipe from The Gentle Chef Cookbook. For more foods like this, check out The Gentle Chef website, follow The Gentle Chef facebook page, and join The Gentle Chef cooking group.
Recipe for Seitan Bacun from The Gentle Chef
Bacon has a flavor and texture that many people miss when they transition to a plant-based diet. There are several steps to this recipe; however, don’t be intimated because it’s actually very easy to prepare and the results are well worth the effort.
For this recipe, two batches of dough will be mixed to create the bacun. Dough 1 is for the darker marble layer and Dough 2 is for the lighter marble layer.
Dry ingredients for Dough 1:
1 cup vital wheat gluten
2 T nutritional yeast flakes
2 tsp onion powder
1 and ½ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp ground white pepper
Liquid ingredients for Dough 1:
½ cup water
2 T dark brown sugar or real maple syrup
2 T tamari, soy sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos™
2 T liquid smoke
1 T red miso paste*
1 T vegan Worcestershire Sauce
1 T olive oil
*If you cannot obtain red miso paste, substitute with 1 tablespoon tomato paste.
Dry ingredients for Dough 2:
⅓ cup vital wheat gluten
1 T garbanzo bean flour
1 tsp garlic powder
Liquid ingredients for Dough 2:
⅓ cup water
½ tsp fine sea salt or kosher salt
1 T olive oil
Dough 1 Technique:
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Whisk together the dry ingredients for Dough 1 in a large mixing bowl. Stir together the liquid ingredients for Dough 1 in a separate bowl or measuring cup until the brown sugar and miso dissolves.
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well to incorporate. Divide the dough into 3 pieces. Set aside.
Dough 2 Technique:
Whisk together the dry ingredients for Dough 2 in a small mixing bowl. Stir together the liquid ingredients for Dough 2 in a separate bowl or measuring cup until the salt dissolves.
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well to incorporate. Divide the dough in half.
Now you will begin the layering process which will create the marbling effect for the bacun. First, tear off a large sheet of 18-inch wide heavy-duty aluminum foil and place it on your work surface.
Take a piece of Dough 1 and flatten and spread the dough on the foil until it is about ¼-inch thick. You don’t need to worry about the shape.
Next, using your fingers spread ½ of Dough 2 over the dark layer of dough. Flatten and spread another piece of Dough 1 over the light marble layer. Spread the remaining portion of Dough 2 over the dark marble layer. Finally, flatten and spread the last piece of Dough 1 over the top. If the layers don’t stack perfectly, that’s good, because if you are too precise the bacun will look like it was made by a machine. For this recipe imperfection is actually a benefit.
Shape the dough into a rectangular “slab” about 1-inch thick. Once again, don’t worry about being too precise; the dough will expand during baking to conform to the shape of the foil package. Sprinkle the bacun with some coarse ground black pepper or smoked black pepper, if desired; or for sugared bacun, brush with real maple syrup or rub with dark brown sugar.
Wrap the slab of bacun in the foil (don’t roll), creating a flat package. Fold in the sides of the foil (like wrapping a gift), pinching to seal the foil as you fold. Place the package seam side down directly on the middle oven rack and bake for 90 minutes.
Cool the bacun in the foil until the package can be handled comfortably before opening. Slice the bacun thick for chewy bacun or thin for crispy bacun. The bacun can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Fry the bacun slices in a skillet with a generous coating of cooking oil until lightly browned and crisp around the edges. Avoid overcooking or the bacun will be dry and hard. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to blot any excess oil. Serve warm; chop, dice or crumble in recipes; or layer on your favorite sandwich.