Plant-Based Swaps for Chicken
In 2020, data from the National Chicken Council shows that Americans ate nearly 97 pounds of chicken per capita. In 1960, that number was 28 pounds. That’s a lot of chicken. And chicken doesn’t grow on trees.
But there are a lot of ingredients that do grow on trees (as well as other places) that you can use in place of chicken in many of your favorite dishes. Buffalo wings? Yep. Nuggets? Mhmm. General Tso’s? For real. Fried chicken? No, sorry, can’t pull that one off — just kidding!
Meatless Monday enlisted the help of our team of culinary ambassadors to assist us in finding the best plant-based alternatives to chicken. They also included some of their favorite chicken-less chicken recipes that will seriously blow your mind. So check out the list of yummy meatless meals below and start clucking — we mean clicking…clicking.
It may not have the same nutritional profile as a piece of chicken, but cauliflower can be a useful replacement in a number of adult and kid-friendly meals. It’s easy to prepare, relatively inexpensive, and versatile. It can be baked, fried, or roasted, and is a perfect chicken substitute for classics like Buffalo wings, nuggets, or even sesame “chicken.”
While beans and legumes can be made into patties that mimic the look of meat, they can also be used in their whole, natural form. “Chickpeas are great because they have a neutral flavor that goes well with most sauces or spices. Plus, they’re full of protein and fiber,” notes Chef Sara Tercero, Meatless Monday culinary ambassador and creator of the blog BetterFoodGuru.com. Use chickpeas as an alternative to chicken in curries, gyros, General Tso’s, or Chef Tercero’s recipe for butter chickpeas with jackfruit.
When prepared properly, eggplant is a great alternative to a number of traditional chicken recipes. The thinner Japanese eggplant is perfect for spicy stir fries, while the thicker Italian eggplant is better for eggplant parmesan. For extra umami flavor, you can make a miso-glazed eggplant that is roasted in the oven until it is fluffy and fork tender.
Jackfruit is a tropical tree fruit common in Southeast Asian cooking. Its soft-yet-chewy texture works well in recipes that call for pulled chicken, like nachos, stews, or sandwiches. “The flavor of jackfruit is mild, but it does have a subtle fruity (pineapple) taste,” says Meatless Monday culinary ambassador Rob Graham, which makes it a fun ingredient to transform into pulled “chicken” tacos, crispy “chicken” nuggets or Kentucky-fried jackfruit.
Mushrooms can be used to make lighter versions of many meat-centric dishes without sacrificing taste and texture. Many supermarkets offer close to a dozen varieties of mushrooms, and they each have their own unique flavor profile. Portobello mushrooms can be used in place of a grilled chicken breast, while creminis and shiitakes are great for stir-fries and creamy pastas. “Oyster mushrooms take well to breading and frying, like in this recipe for super-crispy air-fried oyster mushrooms,” says Kevin Curry, creator of Fit Men Cook.
Seitan is a wheat-based protein that has a savory taste and chewy texture similar to processed chicken products like nuggets, tenders, or grilled chicken breast. On its own, seitan can be a little bland, but it takes to seasonings very well. Sprinkling on spices like onion powder, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, and paprika can all help mimic that seasoned-chicken flavor. Seitan can be used to make vegan versions of Buffalo wings or orange “chicken” and broccoli.
Tempeh is a fermented soybean product that’s similar to tofu but with different nutritional and textural qualities. When breaded and fried, you get a great crunch, and while not stringy like chicken, it still has that good mouth feel, says Meatless Monday culinary ambassador Chef Ayinde. Much like chicken, tempeh is a perfect blank slate protein that takes on whatever flavor you like. You can make it into a creamy “chicken” salad or Chef Ayinde’s vegan version of hot “chicken.”
Interested in more plant-based protein swaps? Click here for vegan alternatives to beef and here for our full guide on plant-based meats. When posting pictures of recipes to your social media network, tag @MeatlessMonday use #MeatlessMonday to show the plant-based community your creation.