What Is Tofurky?

Tofurky

Tofurky

Thanksgiving can be a stressful time, especially if you happen to be vegetarian or vegan. After all, it's really the only holiday that centers upon the ritual carving and serving of a large animal carcass.

Obviously, for the non-meat eaters, there's side dishes galore, not to mention pumpkin pie. But what if you're craving something, well, meaty? Enter Tofurky.

What Is Tofurky?

Tofurky is the brand name of a wheat- and soy-based turkey substitute that is sold in the form of a roast. The company that makes it launched its first Tofurky roast product during the 1995 holiday season, and has since expanded its offerings to include a range of all-vegan products, including deli slices, sausages, burgers and ground meat substitutes.

They also offer a plant-based ham roast.

The Tofurky roast is its most popular product, however, especially for the Thanksgiving holiday. The roast itself resembles a large sausage, less like a whole turkey than, perhaps, a turkey breast. But it comes wrapped in plastic which is fastened at both ends, so it has a uniformly rounded, oblong shape and a smooth surface. 

It thus occupies a kind of liminal position, a 100-percent plant-based offering for vegans and vegetarians who still want something that looks like meat, tastes like meat, and has the same mouth feel as meat.

Note that despite what its name might seem to indicate, Tofurky is not primarily a tofu product. Rather, it's almost entirely made of wheat gluten, combined with a smaller amount of tofu. So, obviously, it's not something that anyone on a gluten-free diet would want to eat.

Tofurky roasts are filled with a stuffing made of rice and bread, both to simulate the experience of serving a roasted Thanksgiving turkey, and also because a solid lump of wheat gluten would likely prove too heavy and unappetizing when sliced and served. Even with gravy.

Indeed, the company also sells a stuffed Tofurky roast accompanied by a bag of gravy that can be heated on the stovetop, as well as a "feast" pack consisting of the stuffed Tofurky roast, the gravy and a dessert.

How to Use Tofurky

The instructions for cooking a Tofurky roast advise that it should be roasted at 350 F in a baking dish, nestled in a bed of cut-up vegetables (it suggests cubed butternut squash and onions), along with 1/4 cup of liquid (broth, wine or water).

This should be your first clue that Tofurky, if roasted on its own, is going to have a tendency to dry out. Nestling it with vegetables along with 1/4 cup of liquid, and then cooking it at what is a relatively low roasting temperature, is going to produce a cooking environment more akin to steaming than roasting.

And that's fine if that's what it takes for the Tofurky to come out to its optimal best. After all, wheat gluten will turn extremely tough and rubbery if it's cooked too long or at too high a temperature. But just be aware that the best cooking method for a Tofurky roast might not necessarily be the best for the roasted vegetables

You could certainly roast the vegetables on a separate sheet pan, without the liquid. But it's possible that the nestling effect of the veggies mounded around the Tofurky, along with the added liquid, are essential to cooking the Tofurky. 

In other words, if you just bake the Tofurky in a bit of liquid, it won't turn out the same. Presumably the liquid from the vegetables is aiding and enhancing the steaming effect.

Toward the end of 90 minutes' the cooking time, the instructions advise brushing a glaze made of marmalade on the surface of the roast and then finishing the cooking. Unlike a real turkey, a Tofurky roast doesn't need to rest. So once it's cool enough, you can slice and serve it.

What Does It Taste Like?

If you've ever tasted a wheat-based meat substitute, like many plant-based hot dogs and sausages, for instance, then you'll have an approximate idea of what to expect, at least as far as the texture goes. Makers of plant-based meat substitutes have gotten pretty good at preparing wheat gluten so that it has the mouth feel of meat.

With that said, Tofurky roasts can be a bit rubbery. That might be a function of their size, or the fact that they need to be cooked for such a long time (which is related to their size). 

As for the actual flavor, Tofurky roasts can be overly salty, so be prepared to keep a glass of water handy.

Where to Buy Tofurky

You can buy Tofurky products, including the roasts, at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and other larger grocery chains and regional grocers. 

Storage

If you purchase a frozen Tofurky roast, you can keep it in the freezer until you're ready to use it. Then, 24 to 48 hours before, move it to the refrigerator for thawing. After it's cooked, you'll need to store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge and use them within 3 to 4 days.