Have a hankering for seafood, but don’t want to stray from your plant-based lifestyle? You’re in luck! “There are a range of options to mimic the texture and flavor, without harming marine ecosystems,” says Guy Vaknin, chef and owner of vegan restaurants Beyond Sushi and Willow Vegan Bistro in NYC. These are the vegan seafood alternatives recommended by Vaknin and other top chefs.
You’re probably already familiar with jackfruit, a tropical fruit popular because of its neutral flavor and a texture with an uncanny ability to masquerade as a meat substitute. It’s particularly compelling as a vegan seafood alternative. “Green jackfruit gives a moist and flaky texture that can mimic crab or tuna,” says Vaknin. “You can buy in a can or fresh, and it’s high in vitamins C and B, antioxidants and fiber.” Try a jackfruit “crab” filling for sushi, jackfruit “tuna” salad for sandwiches, or fry up some jackfruit “crab” cakes for an appetizer.
It’s hard to recreate a seafood dish without, well, the flavor of the ocean — and that’s where seaweed comes into play. You can buy seaweed in many forms, including powder, large sheets that you can use to infuse a broth, or noodles. Each variety – nori, kombu, and wakame – has a different set of nutrients, but Vaknin says generally they are all high in vitamins and antioxidants that support heart and gut health. He suggests using seaweed for sushi, broths, and soups, or as a seasoning on top of rice or vegetables.
King Oyster Mushrooms
When you’re craving a meaty texture, reach for king oyster mushrooms, which have a soft but chewy texture and umami flavor that can mimic many fish products. Plus, Vaknin says, they are high in vitamins and minerals that support immune health, and also contain protein. You can score them and sear in pan for vegan “scallops,” marinate and grill them whole, sauté them as an eel replacement in sushi or nigiri, or cut into rings and fry for vegan “calamari.”
Head straight to the refrigerated aisle and grab a package of firm tofu to emulate a meaty fish texture in your wannabe-seafood dish. “It’s a great source of protein and iron, and great for grilled ‘fish’ or a ‘fish’ and chips platter,” says Joel Gamoran, cofounder and head chef at Homemade, and former national chef for Sur La Table’s cooking school program.
“Given the amount of time — not to mention additional food waste — to properly harvest artichoke hearts, I prefer to use the canned product, which is usually in a seasoned brine,” says Dana Murrell, head of culinary at meal-kit delivery service HelloFresh. “The brininess of the artichokes replicates the briny aspect you would find from seafood-based recipes. I love to use artichoke in place of crab for crab cakes. Chopped up and mixed with other crab cake ingredients, these can get pattied-up and pan fried as you would a regular crab cake.”
Hearts of Palm and Chickpeas
“I am a super fan of using hearts of palm and chickpeas in place of crab for the most delicious vegan crab cakes,” says chef Mee McCormick of Pinewood Kitchen & Mercantile, located outside of Nashville. “The chickpeas give it the creamy thickness and the hearts of palm add the texture and look of crab. The chickpeas add magnesium, fiber and protein, while the hearts of palm are packed with minerals and amino acids.”
Of course, you can also use hearts of palm on their own, says Murrell: “Cutting widthwise into about 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch-wide rounds gives you beautiful little scallop lookalikes that can be cooked just as you would your favorite scallop entree. Try this ingredient in place of lobster for a lobster roll as well.”
Vegan Fish Sauce
Where does most of the flavor hide in dishes? In the sauces, of course. “Vegan fish sauce simply adds flavor and elevates your plant-based dishes, giving them the flavor of seafood,” says Philadelphia-based Staci Azzinaro, one of the chefs who works with HUNGRY Xperience, a virtual service that provides private cooking lessons with a chef (and all the ingredients and tools necessary to participate). “Vegan fish sauce can be used as a marinade or to accompany any Asian-inspired dishes, and is commonly made of seaweed, liquid amino acids or tamari, dried mushrooms and garlic.”
“Banana blossoms are also the perfect way to recreate your favorite fish and chips dish,” says Azzinaro. “When they are boiled and cut, the leaves and the core mimic actual fish.” Because the process for preparing them fresh can be intimidating if you are not familiar with them, Azzinaro advises buying them organic and canned. “The prep work is done, so all you have to do is season, batter and fry them to perfection,” she says. “The texture is the same as fish, crunchy on the outside, tender and flaky on the inside.”