Big brands such as Impossible burgers, Beyond sausages, MorningStar Farm chicken nuggets and Tofurky turkeys grab all the headlines, but a growing number of Maine chefs are crafting their own vegan meats, even in unexpected places.

For instance, the remote fishing village of Friendship, which plunges into Muscongus Bay at the end of a long peninsula stretching below Waldoboro and Thomaston, is home to few vegans or vegetarians at this time of year, when the population dwindles to little more than 1,000 year-round residents, many involved in the commercial fishing industry. But come summer, when the town overflows with tourists and seasonal inhabitants, vegan demand runs higher.

“We got a lot of vegan requests over the summer that we picked up on,” said chef Joan Coletti, who owns Wallace’s Market and Italian Deli in Friendship with her husband, Ernie Coletti.“The fall is a really slow time for us, so we figured we’d mess around with it.”

Joan Coletti makes seitan (pronounced say-tan) to create vegan fried chicken patties from scratch for a Meatless Monday special. After a few experiments, the market added vegan Meatless Monday specials starting last fall, and in January the market advertised a spicy, all-vegan fried chicken sandwich. Joan Coletti makes the sandwich’s breaded and fried patty.

She follows a process familiar to many artisan vegan meat makers, using the stretchy gluten in wheat flour to create seitan, or wheat meat, which was first made by Buddhist monks in ancient China.

“I season it like a piece of chicken,” Coletti said. “I mix in a can of chickpeas and other ingredients in the processor. You have to pull it out when it’s stretchy. It’s a Goldilocks moment. Then you let it rest before rolling it out like pizza dough.”

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Coletti cuts the dough into breast-sized pieces, wraps and steams them. She marinates the streamed pieces and refrigerates them overnight before battering and breading them, then frying them to order.

“It’s an involved process,” Coletti admits, “but once you get it down it’s fairly easy.”

Joan Coletti, chef and co-owner of Wallace’s Market in Friendship, makes seitan to create vegan fried chicken patties from scratch for a Meatless Monday special. Photo courtesy of Wallace’s Market

Seitan’s texture and ability to mimic the shape, color and flavor of seemingly any cut of animal-based meat is what appeals to Coletti and many other chefs.

At Midcoast Vegan in Brunswick, chef Tim Holland uses seitan to craft vegan prosciutto and vegan ham, complete with marbling. Photo courtesy of Midcoast Vegan

Chef Tim Holland, who launched Midcoast Vegan in Brunswick last year making plant-based meats and cheeses to sell at the Brunswick Farmers Market, has recently been experimenting with giving his seitan-based smoked ham, salami and prosciutto a marbled appearance. He does it by wrapping different colored seitan doughs together.

“The marbling is made with a washed flour mixed with my brie (a vegan cheese he also makes) and tapioca flour,” Holland said. “By combining those things, I’m able to make a fatty marble.”

Holland’s wheat-based deli meats also require a precise, multi-step process, which he likens to making “high-end baked goods.” “It’s become an art form in and of itself,” Holland said. “I think that’s why I like it.”

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Forage makes the slices of Canadian-style bacon on its vegan breakfast sandwiches from seitan. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

Forage has been making vegan meat since it opened its Lewiston store in 2012. The bagel shop, which has a second location in Portland, makes a bulk vegan deli meat that is sliced, Canadian bacon style, to use on the restaurant’s vegan breakfast sandwich. Bakery co-owners Allen Smith and Whitney Pelletier said the restaurant makes most of its ingredients from scratch, so it was natural to make the vegan meat in-house, too.

“Getting the texture right is something that takes experience,” Smith said. To create a vegan meat that can be sliced thin on a conventional meat slicer, Forage forms its vegan meats into the conical shape of typical bulk deli meat. The dough is wrapped in cloth, simmered in seasonings for hours and refrigerated.

“We slice it as we need it,” Smith said. “It does get a final cooking step on the griddle, which gives it a nice crispness.”

The vegan bacon recipe used by Forage was developed by previous co-owner Cody LaMontagne, who now owns Morse’s Sauerkraut in Waldoboro with her husband.

Chef Tony DiPhillipo of the Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck in Portland makes vegan bacon from chickpeas, shown here on the truck’s Baconator Burgers. Photo courtesy of Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck

Not all Maine vegan meat makers use seitan.

At the Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck in Portland, chef Tony DiPhillipo makes his own gluten-free, maple-hickory chickpea bacon, which he uses in the truck’s Brekky Entelechy breakfast sandwich and its Baconator burger.

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“I use whole chickpeas, just ground up, with smoked paprika and maple syrup as flavorings,” DiPhillipo said. “I add dry chickpea flour to bind it together and create consistency with a nice chew to it. I put it together with different layers to create marbling.”

Monte’s Fine Foods chef and co-owner Steven Quattrucci makes the pepperoni for the restaurant’s vegan pepperoni pizza from Maine-made Heiwa Tofu. Photo courtesy of Monte’s Fine Foods

Monte’s Fine Foods in Portland uses a different process to make gluten-free vegan pepperoni for its popular vegan pepperoni pizza. The store weights down Heiwa tofu to remove some of the moisture, grinds it to a paste, and adds pepperoni spices. From there, the mixture is transferred to a pastry bag, and spread out on parchment paper, “kind of like fruit leather,” Monte’s chef and co-owner Steven Quattrucci said. It’s baked in a low-temperature oven, then cut into squares.

Quattrucci said in Monte’s “busy kitchen we’re looking for things we can produce fairly easily,” and the vegan pepperoni is not particularly labor intensive. He said the fact that it’s vegan, gluten-free and made from local ingredients increases its appeal for both his staff and customers.

“It’s something home cooks could probably do, too,” Quattrucci said.

All of these menu items reflect innovative, and sometimes ancient, techniques being embraced by modern chefs as well as a desire by customers to eat fewer animals.

“We’re living in the future now,” Holland said “We don’t have to rely solely on slaughter for our meats. We can get creative.”

Many Maine chefs already have.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]


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