Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tofurkey: Who Invented This and Why Do They Hate Us So?

According to a leading online encyclopedia, "tofurkey" is a portmanteau word of tofu and turkey. (For those of you who don't know, "portmanteau" is the French word for the blending of two silly sounding words into one sillier sounding word.)

In essence tofurkey is faux turkey (for those of you who don't know, "faux" is the French word for ridiculous) – a loaf made of tofu, filled with a stuffing made from grains flavored with a broth, and seasoned with herbs and spices.

As someone who is always trying to eat healthier, I picked one up for the holidays and eagerly placed it into the oven just as my guests began to arrive. We poured some cocktails and engaged in conversation as an unusual aroma wafted from through our home. At the appointed time, we all moved to the kitchen and I removed the tofurkey from the oven. It glistened as I lifted it from the roasting pan and onto my carving board. One guest looked over my shoulder and in a voice that could only be described as awe whispered,  "Il a l'air d'un fichu désastre" (which I'm sure is French for "It looks delectably delicious").

We filled up our plates and took our seats around the table. After a toast and a blessing we dug in.

Then we looked at each other.

Then we spat it out and reached for our glasses of wine.

It wasn't delectably delicious.

At least not as a stand-in for Tom Turkey.

Perhaps if they called it "Glory Morning's Big Hunk O' Tofu" or even "Serenity Farm's Self-Basting Thanksgiving Wad" it might've tasted better because we wouldn't have been expecting the taste of roast turkey on our palates.

Because here's the deal for me: I love vegetarian food and I make it often, but I love it on its own terms. The minute someone tries to create something that it clearly is not (i.e. imitation turkey, hot dogs, bacon, etc) I'm immediately put off because I know that a tofu dog will resemble a real Coney Island hot dog as much as that new Fiat they've been peddling on TV will resemble a real car.

So yes, if you invite me over for Thanksgiving this year I'll be sure to bring along some garlic smashed potatoes and my famous mashed rutabagas with apple sauce. But please promise me that you'll leave the tofurkey in the grocer's cooler and pick up a frozen a real Tom Turkey. You might not hear someone whispering "Il a l'air d'un fichu désastre" over your shoulder, but I guarantee your guests will love you for it.

Now here are three questions that I often get asked whenever we start preparing for the holidays.

Bon Appetit!

How long can I keep a frozen turkey in my freezer?

During the holidays we may often have more than one frozen turkey lying around. Perhaps you wanted to take advantage of a good sale or you received a company turkey as a gift after you already purchased one. At the risk of having turkey every night from Thanksgiving to President's Day, you must store the extras. If you have room, and your freezer is cold (as in 0 degrees) you can safely store a frozen turkey almost indefinitely. However, just because it is safe to store a frozen turkey until the cows come home, it doesn't mean that it's a good idea to do so. Quality is another matter. If the texture and taste of turkey are important to you then it would be best to cook the turkey within a year. If taste and texture are not important to you then I would forgo the cost of buying a turkey and would instead freeze a chunk of foam rubber, it's cheaper and can be readily found at your local upholstery shop. Just be sure to make lots of really good gravy.

Can I make gravy without pan drippings?

I love to make gravy from pan drippings. Cookbooks are loaded with recipes for great pan gravies. But what if you have more leftover turkey (or beef or chicken) than you have gravy? Can you make gravy without the drippings? Absolutely. And although it is not as good as if you made it from the drippings, this recipe is down right good and will certainly do in a pinch.

Gravy Without Pan Drippings

Prep Time: 5 minutes                        Cook Time: 15 - 20 minutes


4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4-cup all-purpose flour
2 cups soup base or canned broth of choice (beef, chicken, turkey)
1/4  teaspoon salt
1/4-teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet (for color and flavor)


1. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk together, making sure to get all visible lumps. This is will produce a roux which is the foundation for gravy and many other sauces. Add salt and pepper and continue to cook, stirring constantly for 2 - 3 minutes so that the roux looses its raw, flour smell. This will produce a light roux. The longer you cook the roux, the darker it will become. Therefore, your roux for chicken gravy will be light, turkey will be darker, and beef will be even darker still.

2. Turn heat to low and slowly add broth, stirring constantly.

3. Add Kitchen Bouquet and turn heat back up to medium. Continue stirring until gravy boils and thickens.

Makes 2 cups.

I have a small kitchen, should I make my turkey or roast a day ahead of time?

If you're like many of us, your kitchen may not be conducive to creating a large feast, especially if you only have one oven. So it might sound like a good idea to cook your turkey or roast a day ahead of time and then reheat it after you've created the side dishes. While this may make sense in concept, it's really not the best option.

I would reverse things and cook your side dishes a day ahead, wrap them tight and refrigerate them. The next day I would cook the turkey or roast and after it's done and allowed to stand for 15 - 30 minutes, I would put my sides in the oven to reheat. The texture of the turkey or roast will be far better than if you prepared it a day ahead of time. Besides, if you made enough, you'll have plenty of opportunity to delve into the leftovers, so why start your signature meal off with leftovers?


  1. The only thing that has stopped my family (of pescetarians) from eating Tofurkey is the yeast in it. My husband and son are allergic, but I've always wondered about the taste. I guess I won't wonder anymore.

    Thanks for the "heads up." Of course, there are probably plenty of folks who love Tofurkey, and I hope you hear from them too.


  2. @Alaiyo. I'm sure I will hear from folks who enjoy it. :-)

  3. LOL! What a fun dinner you had! I'm sure it was the talk of the night ... great idea, Warren, using that as an ice breaker! I love my tofu but all these wannabes really spoil everything. I recently tried (and couldn't swallow) tofu cheesecake. Eeww ...

  4. Hey, I had tofurkey once that was amazing - but prepared by die-hard vegetarians who truly lived the life. As opposed to me, who just didn't believe I should be eating anything I wasn't willing to kill. So good stuff IS out there - you've just gotta be invited over by the "right" people!

    Happy Thanksgiving, my friend. I'm grateful for friends that pop into my life every now and then, especially when I least expect it! :)

  5. I have no idea about turkey and thanksgiving coz we don't observe/celebrate it here in India. But I certainly follow one principle - for special occasions and dinners it is always better to go for the familiar ingredient & the real thing and not the 'faux'!!

  6. For the most part, I'd have to agree with you about imitation meat products- though I have found some really delicious substitutes. I think, especially for Thanksgiving, rather than trying to replace the turkey, just forget about it and focus on all the amazing vegetable and fruit side dishes :)

  7. @Ping. Exactly! It's the wannabe's that I really don't enjoy (although I sometimes use TVP in place of ground beef in spaghetti sauce...)

  8. @Beth. Good point. Even though I'm vegetarian for about 6 months out of the year, I'm certainly not a die-hard. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving as well!

  9. @Easyfoodsmith. I'm with you on the idea of "Faux", and just not in relation to food. "Faux leather"? How bout we just call it what it is: naugahyde? :-D Take care!

  10. @FlexYourFood. I'm with you on the veggies and fruits as sides. And there are a gazillion ways to prepare veggies as a main course that are not only substantially filling, but absolutely delish as well: grilled portobello's, winter stews, roasted root vegetables, a variety of galettes and soups, etc. Well, you get what I mean. :-) Happy Thanksgiving!

  11. Thanks for the gravy recipe.I hate making gravy on Thanksgiving, it's such a pain, but this is simple and I can make it the day ahead. Thanks!! Happy Thanksgiving!

    P.S. My friend who is a Vega,hates Tofu Turkey too!

  12. Not only am I an avowed omnivore, I absolutely hate tofu and contrive medical reasons to not have to eat it. However, I do make my side dishes ahead of time. If you have a larger toaster oven, it can be used for a casserole and mashed potatoes or yams can be warmed cooked and then kept warm in a crockpot. The larger toaster oven can also be used to cook the rolls. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone.

  13. @emmy. I'd like to hear some of those contrived medical reasons. For future reference. LOL.

  14. @Sofie Dittman. Thanks! Please feel free to stop by often!

  15. The one mistake many people make with the Tofurkey is they forget they have to be defrosted (just like a real turkey) for a couple of days before it's baked. Otherwise, the outside will be charcoal and the inside will be ice. Blech!

  16. Love you blog and the gravy recipe!


  17. I'm vegan and I hate tofurky. I've been making nut roast for thanksgiving dinner and it's amazing. :D

  18. Ha, ha! You really should've known better Warren. I will often 'surprise' my BB with spag bolognese made with soy minced 'beef' or some other such 'concoction'. I don't warn him, of course, I just wait for his reaction. This last time it ended up in the bin - not so good. I've yet to find a meat 'substitute' that tastes nice. Tofu, soy - don't like either of them. As others have mentioned I too, would rather have a stuffed mushroom or another veggie.

    PS: french grammar hint: de+le = du.

    I am a french grammar FREAK. Oooh la, la! ... :o)

    Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving -
    A little turducken for Dec 25 perhaps ????

  19. @Kooky Girl. Love it when you show up! And when you find the perfect meat 'substitute' drop me a line asap, okay? lol. Oh, and about my French? I know it is sub-standard even though I took it for four years in high school. Let me know if you are ever open to personal tutoring. I'm a quick study! Oooh la, la... I'll bring the wine if you bring the turducken. :-D

  20. ummmmm! Phytoestrogens aren't recommended for breast cancer survivors, even though my cancer had nothing to do with hormones. It still sounds legit. I guess you could claim that the phytoestrogens were infeminating but that would be a long shot for both of us. I just really hate tofu. And don't want to argue with anyone over the health benefits.

  21. haha tofurkey doesn't even sound appetizing.

  22. Ca y est ! I located the turducken. Allumer le feu et faire ouvrir la bouteille! Loving all things French - I'll be there from Dec 21 - Jan 2nd. Can't wait! When was your last trip to France? :o)

  23. Lol! The reaction to the sight of the turkey was too funny! I had a tofurkey last year and I wasn't impressed. I am used to veggie meats but I agree that they are not very appetizing to meat eaters.

  24. @Kooky Girl. Le feu est allumé et le vin est refroidi. :-) Never been to France. But since your going, bring me back a t-shirt. LOL.

  25. @Ruth. And I don't really mind veggie meats, either. As long as I don't imagine them as 'meat'. :-) I do, however, prefer tempeh and seitan. Lot's of possibilities with those two!

  26. @Tamar1973. Good point! I wonder if they put that suggestion on the label?

  27. @Beyond Willpower. Sounds great! Can you point us to a good recipe?

  28. @Soni. Thanks for the complement! Please drop by often!

  29. Oh man I have never had tofurkey but I often wondered what it tastes like. Just out of curiosity. Maybe it would be better incorporated (DEEPLY incorporated) into a whole 'nother dish?

    Thank goodness you all had the wine!

  30. @Dionne Baldwin. Good to see you again, Dionne, both here and on Foodbuzz. Glad you had a wonderful (and tofurkey-free) Thanksgiving. (ps. loved your blog thoughts on the holiday: it's not about food so beautiful...sharing in the mayhem...and the new tradition of Turkey Cake...etc. All well said!)