If you’ve been searching for crispy oil free plant-based bacon that doesn’t require the hassle of marinating tofu for hours only to have the taste dissipate after the first bite, this recipe is for you. I’ve learned the secret for getting bacon flavor with every bite and it’s simple and it let’s you take your tofu from pressing to baking with just one quick step in between.
Bacon – it’s all about the flavor
Although I gave up ‘traditional’ bacon a long time ago, I’ve never given up the flavor. There’s something about that savory, smokey and sometimes peppery flavor that makes my mouth start to water as soon as the aroma hits my nose.
The flavor of umami
Bacon fits squarely into the flavor bucket known as umami which is a fancy name for savory. Literally, the Japanese word umami (where the word originated) means ‘pleasant savory flavor’.
Clearly, we’ve been craving and eating umami-flavored foods for longer than the century the term umami was added to the other 4 flavors – sweet, sour, bitter and salty. It’s probably that last taste, salty that held up the umami evolution a bit. It’s easy to get confused between the two.
The difference between salty and umami
Although elements of saltiness might be included in the flavor profile of umami or savory is a bit more complicated. When I prepare hemp seed parmesan for example, the flavor of umami is not salt (there isn’t any added), it’s miso which has a fermented, heartier flavor. Think of soy sauce or tamari for example or dare I suggest, liquid smoke?
Is umami real?
You might think umami is a more of a fad. Something to get us buying more marmite, but the taste was confirmed as ‘real’ by scientists not so long ago. They attribute a person’s sensitivity toward essential amino acids with the perceived intensity for the umami taste. Like I needed any excuse for why I have to actively resist savory snacks.
Cheese also falls under the umami umbrella and if some of us are more drawn to this flavor profile, perhaps it’s one reason why giving up cheese is often problematic for folks who are transitioning to plant-based lifestyles. I’m not making any excuses here, just observing that there may be more than just convenience and habit at work when we find ourselves struggling to maintain forward motion when it comes to making healthier changes.
How I solved my tofu bacon problem
Was it a problem? Actually, yes. I’ve been making tofu bacon for a long time and followed a rather tried and true process that started with pressing tofu, then slicing it and marinating it for several hours before baking it. It was that marinating that always seemed to let me down. I always thought that the only way to get super flavorful tofu (and that’s a must when it comes to bacon) you needed to marinate it for a long as possible. If you’re good at planning ahead and you can hold back your bacon cravings to the next day, you’ll get a great bacon flavor if you marinate tofu overnight. At least, that’s my experience.
When I asked myself how to get a bacon flavor throughout the tofu without marinating it for hours, it came to me that I might be onto a winner if I put everything in the food processor. Ok, that mixed it up, but I learned that once you process tofu, you considerably change the texture. It’s like taking chickpeas from bean to hummus, the later it creamy and spreadable.
Spread and bake
Once you’ve processed your tofu and you get a whiff of that savory (oops, umami) aroma, the only way to bring it back to an edible form is to spread it and bake it. Though a bit of trial and error, I’ve landed on a way to accomplish this with a minimum of mess that allows you to flip the tofu without having it denigrate completely into crumbs. And all it takes is two pieces of parchment paper.
Once you bake the tofu on the first side until it’s brown (about 20 minutes), you’ll be able to slice it into strips. You want to do that before you bake it on the other side. If you wait to slice it after baking, it can get quite crumbly.
So, take your tofu out of the oven once you get the first side browned and just gently transfer it, parchment paper and all, to a cutting board and slice it right on the board. If you mistakenly cut through the paper, no biggie. We’ll be using that second piece of parchment paper to transfer it.
Flip for it
If your bacon is pretty thick, you might get away with flipping the slices over and reusing your parchment paper. I never have such luck, so I always just lay a fresh piece over the top, put the baking tray over that and flip it all over. Peel off that first layer of paper, which might be a bit moist at this point and bake the second side for another 5 minutes.
Besides reducing crumbling, the other reason to slice the tofu before you finish baking it is that you can gently separate the slices once you’ve flipped them. That way, all the sides get brown. That might not be so important if you’re going to add them to something like scalloped potatoes, but it makes the tofu a crispier which makes the perfect TLC sandwich.
I’m among those folks who found giving up cheese the most difficult dietary change I’d ever made. My cheese addiction was harder than giving up meat or oil ever was. Cheese was always my slip up. And then a funny thing happened – the relentless desire (obsession) for cheese just went away. I quit trying to replace the ‘real’ thing with plant-based options. I bucket the flavor of cheese as another umami taste and I use those combinations of ingredients not to replace cheese, but to satisfy that flavor craving.
Putting foods on a naughty list never really worked for me and it wasn’t until I started experimenting with different flavors that I was able to completely forget about those foods I no longer wished to eat. For me, that isn’t about creating plant-based versions of certain foods. It’s about applying flavor profiles in new and different ways. Try focusing on that and how better you feel when you routinely engage in healthy eating. Peace.Print
Make crispy, oil free, plant-based bacon without any marinating time using just your food processor and a sheet pan. Slices of savory, sure to please.
- 8 oz. (250 gm.) tofu
- ¼ cup (60 ml) tamari or soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 Tbsp. liquid smoke
- 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
- ½ tsp. onion powder
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
- Rinse the tofu and press it between two plates or other surfaces with the top surface weighted to help get the moisture out of the tofu. I find it helpful to cut the tofu into quarters before pressing it. Press for 20-30 minutes.
- Once you’ve pressed the tofu, set the oven to preheat at 4000 F (2000 C) and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
- Add the tofu, tamari, maple syrup, liquid smoke, vinegar, onion and garlic powder, black pepper and cayenne pepper to a food processor with a blade and process the ingredients until smooth.
- Turn the tofu onto the baking tray and use a spoon to spread it evenly. Try to spread it to a consistent thickness of ¼ inch (thicker if you want).
- Place the tofu in the center rack of the heated oven and bake until the tofu starts to firm up and brown (about 20 – 25 minutes).
- Once browned, remove the baking tray from the oven (leave the oven on) and gently pick it up using the parchment paper and place it on a cutting board or mat. Carefully slice the tofu into slices or cubes.
- To flip the tofu, place a fresh sheet of parchment paper over the top and lay the baking tray over that. (use oven mitts if the tray is too hot). Lift everything up and flip so the cutting board is now on top. Remove the board and the top sheet of parchment paper.
- Gently separate the slices so the sides will brown and place them back in the oven. Continue baking for an additional 5-10 minutes until it is browned.
- Serve immediately or allow the tofu bacon to cool and then store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- If you want super-thick tofu bacon, after you spread it thicker, lower the oven temperature to 3750 F (1800 C) and bake it for an additional 10 minutes on the first side. You want to be sure it is firm and brown before slicing and flipping it.
- You can experiment with the seasonings and create your own special brand of smoky bacon or add a bit of fennel or anise to give it pepperoni taste.
- Category: Tips & Techniques
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: plant-based bacon