For years I’ve avoided heavily marketed meat substitutes such as No Evil’s Comrade Cluck, a stand-in for chicken. Why do I have this bias? I guess because these products are highly processed and such things carry a certain “ick” factor.
But here’s the rub—Comrade Cluck is made from vital wheat gluten, a vegetarian staple in Asian cuisine since the 6th century (Wikipedia). Hindus and Buddhists have been working on how to live nutritiously without animal meat for a long time. Vital wheat gluten is made by using water to strip the starch from wheat flour, leaving behind a concentrated, high quality plant protein.
The complete ingredients list for Comrade Cluck is as follows: water, vital wheat gluten, soy sauce, chickpea flour, nutritional yeast, garlic powder and onion powder. That’s it, only seven things. For something considered highly processed it’s remarkably simple.
Just 2.5 ounces (71g) contains 25g of protein, which is about half of most people’s daily requirement. In addition, it’s low in fat with only 2g, none of it saturated.
Comrade Cluck is also remarkably delicious with a pleasant chew similar to chicken, but not exactly like chicken. For example, I don’t think an attempt to slice it into a sandwich would be successful, though dicing it and making a replica of chicken salad with vegan mayo, avocado, red onion, mustard, salt and pepper might work out well.
However, Comrade Cluck works wonderfully in this recipe, partly because it absorbs some mushroomy flavor. It also cooks in 2-3 minutes, making this dish weeknight friendly.
Moreover, this recipe doesn’t demand that you measure much, eyeballing the ingredients is enough. Like fresh herbs? Add plenty. Can’t find a mix of wild mushrooms? No problem, use what you can find, just keep in mind that ordinary white mushrooms are not as rich in flavor so do try to find the best brown mushrooms you can get your hands on. Do not substitute full sized portobellos, they will turn everything black and unappetizing unless you remove the gills before slicing them. Baby bellas are fine as they do not extrude a black juice.
Note: I used crème fraîche in the sauce. To make vegan sauce omit crème fraîche and mix a couple of tablespoons mushroom stock with corn starch or other thickener and add it to the pan with the rest of the mushroom stock in step 8.
If you get moving, this can be on the table in 30 minutes.
- 1 pound package (500g) dried potato gnocchi.
- 10 ounce (283g) package of No Evil’s Comrade Cluck.
- A mix of mushrooms including shiitake, baby bella (a.k.a. cremini or Swiss brown), and chanterelle totalling about 20 ounces (600g). Enough to fill a 12-inch skillet. Remove the stems and slice.
- 1 small onion or large shallot, diced.
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced.
- 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked and chopped, + additional sprig left whole.
- chopped Italian parsley, about 2 tablespoons worth or more.
- 1/4 cup dry Spanish sherry.
- mushroom stock (1/4 cup if making vegan version).
- crème fraîche or sour cream (optional).
- Salt & pepper.
- Olive oil.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil to cook the gnocchi. But don’t cook it just yet, hold the hot water on the stove while you prep the mushrooms.
- Place a 12-inch skillet over medium heat and heat olive oil until shimmering. Add onion and sauté until translucent.
- Add garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook for 1 minute.
- Add the sliced mushrooms and thyme to the pan. Give them a stir and then place thyme sprigs on top.
- Cook, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms extrude their juices. Once mushrooms are cooked, remove the thyme sprigs. Push mushrooms to the sides of the pan to make room in the middle for the liquids you’re about to add.
- Put the gnocchi into the pot of boiling water and cook until they float. This will take 2-4 minutes.
- While the gnocchi cooks, add sherry to the pan with the mushrooms and cook off the alcohol, scrapping up any brown bits. The sherry will reduce by about half. This takes 1 minute.
- Add enough mushroom stock to make the pan moist but not too wet. If making without crème fraîche, use a full quarter cup of stock and add the thickening mixture. Stir and allow the liquid to thicken.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked gnocchi to the pan with the mushrooms. Add 2-3 tablespoons crème fraîche, and give everything a good stir to combine.
- Season with salt and pepper. Add the chopped parsley. Stir.
- Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Garnish with more parsley.
- Serve immediately.
Feeds 3 people generously, 4 if they aren’t ravenous.