The Best Food To Replicate Chicken For Vegan Tikka Masala

Indian food is world famous for its complexity, each dish containing a panoply of freshly toasted spices blended into the richest, most fragrant sauces, stews, and spice rubs. It's also one of the most vegan-friendly cuisines in the world, offering vegetable dishes, stewed lentils, and coconut milk-based sauces.

Tikka masala is based on a sauce full of fragrant spices, aromatics, and savory tomatoes that can be made vegan-friendly. However, the original and most common application for this sauce is over chicken. Variations of tikka masala include chicken, lamb, fish, and paneer, but lack an option for vegans. The best food that is both vegan-friendly and similar in taste and texture to chicken is oyster mushrooms.

While it's easy to transform any mushroom into plant-based meat, oyster mushrooms are the closest in texture and flavor to chicken. Their fibrous flesh even looks and feels strikingly similar to chicken, starring in recipes for vegan fried chicken, buffalo dip, and chicken noodle soup.  Plus, they're quick to prepare and easy to make; oyster mushrooms' intense flavor requires little embellishment, and roasting, frying, or sauteing them yields a wonderfully meaty texture.

Many vegan iterations of meat dishes use tofu for its dense, chewy texture and neutral taste that goes with any flavor pairing. Fried, breaded cauliflower is another substitute for chicken's texture, but its nutty brassica flavor fails to replicate chicken's flavor. Oyster mushrooms offer the complete package, a one-two punch of flavor and texture that could fool even the staunchest chicken lover.

How to use oyster mushrooms in tikka masala

There are two main oyster mushroom varieties: king oyster and pearl oyster. They both have meaty textures and flavors, but pearl oyster mushrooms are shaped in a way that more accurately imitates the form of chicken. Since oyster mushrooms grow on wood and not in dirt, they require minimal cleaning.

Once you've given them a quick rinse, you can pat them dry, tear them into medium to large pieces, and place them in a bowl. As with chicken tikka masala, you'll create a marinade to coat the oyster mushrooms using the same spice mixture as the tikka masala sauce. While traditional chicken marinades usually use yogurt as the liquid ingredient, vegan oyster mushroom marinade uses neutral vegetable oil.

You can pour the marinade over the mushrooms, making sure to coat them evenly before transferring them to a baking sheet to roast in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Halfway through the roasting process, flip the mushrooms over for evenly crispy edges. Roasting will concentrate their flavors and firm up their texture to most closely match chicken.

While the mushrooms are roasting, you can prepare the tikka masala sauce, frying the spices and aromatics to release their fragrance and intensify their flavors before adding tomato puree and coconut milk. Once the mushrooms have finished roasting, add them to the simmering sauce and serve.