Local chefs share tips on navigating the coronavirus meat shortage

The coronavirus has produced a mix of challenges for Americans, who are finding themselves adjusting their lifestyles in more ways than one.

Now, there's a meat shortage to deal with after multiple large meat-packing and processing facilities are closing or cutting back production due to outbreaks of the disease. National grocery chains, including Kroger and Cosco, are limiting quantities of some meat items that can be purchased per customer.

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For Americans who were perfectly fine eating meat with every meal, there are some surprisingly tasty alternatives out there. Some of the options I discovered include a mix of untraditional meats, products that pretend to be meat, and non-meat, protein-rich foods that you may have forgotten about. Often, these meals are cheaper, healthier, and better for the planet.

How to get started? Local chefs gave us some advice.

Meats that might not be on your shopping list

Many Americans have been raised on a meat-heavy diet, and may not feel comfortable not having meat with meals. Chef Elizabeth Wiley, who owns Meadowlark Restaurant and Wheat Penny Oven and Bar, suggests turning to turkey, canned fish, seafood and your local meat producers.

“I am not a vegetarian, and so I do tend to add meat to my meals, even if it is not a lot,” Chef Wiley said. “Eat local meats. The small Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana producers aren’t having the problems that the big boys are. You can even get all kinds of chicken, beef, pork and lamb products delivered right to your door once a week.”

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Wiley suggests using Market Wagon, a supply-chain website based out of Indianapolis that connects consumers with local farmers. "I get burger patties, Italian sausage, beef cuts, etcetera, as well as cheese, dairy and produce," she said.

In addition to eating local, Wiley has opted for turkey over chicken lately. "We have an amazing, all-natural turkey producer right here in our region, Bowman Landis," she said. "Have you ever braised a turkey thigh? Flavor-wise, it beats the hell out of a chicken thigh. I also cook with a lot of ground turkey as well. (Scroll to the end of this article for her favorite for ground turkey recipe.)

>>RELATED: Meat shortages leading to surge in shoppers at small grocers

Wiley is also a fan of canned seafood. "Canned tuna is amazing in pasta," she said. She really likes the clam spaghetti recipe that Dorothy Lane Market recently featured in its newsletter.  She also recommends making salmon patties with Trader Joe's boneless, skinless canned salmon for a delicious weeknight dinner.

Try cutting back on meat altogether

Before the coronavirus pandemic set in, there was already plenty of reasons for Americans to rethink their meat consumption, particularly red meat. Going meatless has been proven to be good for our waistlines, hearts and cancer risk. A study published Feb. 22, 2013, in Cancer Epidemiology found that eating a vegetarian diet reduced the overall risk of all cancers compared with eating a non-vegetarian diet.

Going meatless is also great for the planet. Raising livestock causes a cascade of environmental issues, from methane emissions and water pollution, to destruction of rain forests for grazing land. Environmental activists have long encouraged Americans that simply adopting a small change in lifestyle, such as “meatless Mondays,” has an outsized effect on our carbon footprint.

How meatless meals can taste good

Chef Anthony Head of The Chicken Spot turns to a classic dish, beans and rice, when he wants to go meatless  for a meal. Beans and rice is a versatile and filling  meal that offers endless combinations, between varieties of both beans and rices, as well as herbs, flavorings and add-ons like onions, peppers and avocado.

Fully exploiting mushrooms is Head’s other piece of advice. “They are little flavor sponges and when cooked right give a wonderful texture,” he said. “Mushrooms  are perfect for savory rich dishes with plenty of goodness to absorb, either to stretch meat out, or replace it all together.”

If you've never experienced the meaty goodness of mushrooms, try Chrissy Teigen's Thyme Butter Roasted Mushrooms.

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Credit: Submitted: Anthony Head

Credit: Submitted: Anthony Head

Tempeh is an interesting soy-based vegan product that many people are unfamiliar with. Its use originated in Southeast Asia, and boasts a firmer consistency than tofu. Tempeh has a nutty flavor, and tends to absorb the flavors of the food or sauce to which it is added. For an easy dinner idea, try slicing and marinating tempeh with your favorite stir-fry recipe.

If it’s hard for you and your family to shift from the tradition of using ground beef in your pasta dishes, tacos, chili, or sloppy joes, perhaps try a “ground meatless” alternative. These high-protein, vegan products are an easy substitute to those dishes.

It’s also worth noting that veggie versions of hamburger patties have come a long way over the years. Products like Beyond Burger are plant-based and boast the “satisfaction” of a traditional hamburger. Have kids who love hot dogs? After you add  ketchup, kraut, relish, or veggie chili, they may have a hard time telling the difference between regular hot dogs and the new veggie versions.

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In a surprising turn for one of the veggie worlds most "boring" vegetables, cauliflower has become a popular substitution for hot wings, of all things. It's a healthier way to get all of that yummy buffalo flavor, without feeling weighed down.

There was one piece of advice that was unanimous: be creative. You might just find that you like keep these new foods and recipes in your diet after the pandemic passes.

Spiced Ground Turkey on Grilled Eggplant with Middle Eastern Salad

From Chef Elizabeth Wiley

1 lb. ground turkey

½ yellow onion; small dice

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon mild ground chile, such as Aleppo or ancho 

Pinch of chili flakes or your favorite spicy something

1 cup good canned chicken broth

2 tablespoons of tomato paste, or ½ cup of canned tomatoes with juice

salt and pepper

Saute onion in olive oil until it begins to turn soft. Add the raw turkey and break up with a spoon. Keep attending to it until fairly broken up, with the clumps turning beige, though still pink inside. Add the chicken broth and tomato product and stir to combine, then cook until turkey is cooked through, letting the liquid mostly evaporate. Put the contents of the skillet into a food processor. Pulse until all is minced finely. Return to pan and add spices, cooking a minute to activate the flavors. The spiced ground meat should be a bit moist so that it kind of sticks together, not dry and crumbly. Add a glug of chicken stock if it does seem dry. Season with salt and pepper and taste for spices, adjusting to your liking.

Thickly slice, oil, and salt and pepper an eggplant. Grill or roast the slices until they are cooked through, with a custardy interior.

Chop cucumber, cherry tomato, and some poblano or bell pepper in ½-inch pieces. Add part of a can of chickpeas if you have it. Or green peas if you like. Or anything you like. Dress with a little lemon juice and olive oil, and salt and pepper. Add some mint, dill, cilantro and/or parsley leaves. 

Open a container of hummus and spread a large spoonful onto a plate. Or use tahini if you prefer. Lay two or three slices of eggplant on top. Mound a good amount of the seasoned ground turkey on top of the eggplant. Spoon the dressed salad on top of that. 

If I do use tahini, I like to drizzle a bit of yogurt on top of everything. I also like roasted, salted pumpkin seeds for crunch! I’ve been known to drizzle hot chile oil on as well. You get the idea—whatever you want.

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