A vegetarian substitute for bacon – Revised recipe…

I’ve re-posted this as I have substantially rewritten the marinade and also made a change in the preparation of the tofu


One of the high-lights of my previous veggie incarnation (20-odd years from 1985 – I can’t be more exact because it fizzled out over a couple of years rather than stopping abruptly), was the creation of a bacon substitute.

Not like the meat analogues you get today, which blatantly try to emulate, visually and texturally (but with wildly varying degrees of success), the food they otherwise go to great lengths not to be – what on earth is the point? – but something that gives you the intense savoury, salty, crisp, hit of bacon while quite clearly NOT pretending to be bacon!

And it’s based on that most unpromising of raw materials that – justifiably in my view – in its natural state inspires widespread revulsion in the West – tofu!

The Tofu:-

You need a firm tofu for this, as it has** to be sliced thinly and not fall apart. I used to buy mine, fresh, in Liverpool but, these days, I have as much chance  of getting there as getting a place on the first Mars mission, so I have to get the firmest available from supermarkets, firm it up more and hope for the best.

**Well, OK, it’s down to personal taste, but I like it thin, so there!

The first step is to freeze it, which makes it easier to extract surplus water.  It seems not to matter how long it’s frozen for, so just toss it in the back of the freezer (not an ice-box – it needs to be as cold as possible  -18C or -22; the colder, the better it keeps, of course), until you’re ready for it.

Defrost the tofu then set up a chopping board on a angle, so that it drains into the kitchen sink, to dispose of any drips, wrap the tofu in lots of kitchen towel put another board on top and weigh down with canned goods (not a lot – just enough to maintain a gentle pressure). Repeat until the tofu feels just moist to the touch, not wet. Note: You’ll never get all the water out, just aim for as much as you can.


The revised marinade:-

300ml hot stock (150ml hot water, plus 1 Kallo organic veg cube, and 150ml Kikkoman Teriyaki marinade), to which add:-

1 large Echalion shallot, chopped (or a strongly-flavoured onion)

15ml Marmite

45ml Ketchup

45ml HP sauce

1 Generous tablespoon Malt extract (I use Meridian brand)

45ml Sweet chilli sauce

30ml Mushroom ketchup (or balsamic or sherry vinegar)

Whisk everything together, bring just to simmering point, remove from the heat, set aside until cold then pour through a fine sieve to remove any bits that might burn when the tofu is fried.

As you can see, I’ve omitted salt and pepper – this is easily added at the serving stage after a taste. Salt might not actually be necessary.

To marinate the tofu:-

Cut the drained block of tofu into slices about 2 or 3mm thick. Be aware that the slices are, and will remain, fragile, so handle gently.

Pour a layer of marinade into a food-grade plastic box (or any flat, non-metallic container),  and add a layer of tofu. Repeat until everything is used up.

Close with the lid, or cover with cling film, and refrigerate for 48 hours, shaking VERY gently a couple of times a day so the slices don’t stick together.

After 48 hours, carefully pour off the marinade and throw it away.** Lay the slices on a grill rack laid over a roasting tin, or something similar, to catch the drips, and leave to drain in the fridge if it’s big enough. After a day, gently mop any excess marinade from the slices with kitchen towel, and turn them over. Mop again, and return to the fridge to continue drying.

**Or bag it and freeze it for re-use. I tend to make deep-fried tofu pieces if re-using it. Cut the tofu into chunks, put in a plastic food bag, pour in the marinade and refrigerate, turning the bag over every few hours. Then treat as the slices, below, before deep-frying. It can be eaten fresh from the fryer, maybe with sweet chilli sauce, or used in a stew or soup.

The next day the slices will be dry to the touch (just a tad sticky, maybe, that’s OK), and ready to be frozen. Cover a small baking tray, or polyethylene chopping board, with clingfilm, VERY LIGHTLY oil it and lay out the slices, making sure they don’t touch each other.  Freeze until hard. Wrap the frozen slices in clingfilm in 3 or 4 batches, making sure the slices don’t stick to each other, then bag, label and date, and return to the freezer until you need them.

I realise this is a long process, but I’ve incorporated what I learned making real bacon, particularly the drying process, and it does give better results.

To use, fry in a very little oil, and stuff into rolls or make sarnies. As I said at the outset, this doesn’t taste like bacon – it’s not supposed to – but it does have the savoury-salty elements that make bacon so desirable.

I used Cauldron Original Tofu, which is widely available. If you have access to fresh tofu (Matta’s, Bold Street, Liverpool, is where I used to buy mine), that will give you bigger slices and, in my experience, a somewhat better texture. It also comes in larger packs.

The quantity of marinade is just enough to process one pack of Cauldron tofu.

If you get into this, it is vastly more economical to buy the Teriyaki marinade, from a Chinese store in larger bottles. They’ll also have a range of sauces and marinades you could try that supermarkets don’t have.