Monday, April 09, 2018

The Impossible Burger, from Munchery

The Impossible Burger.  Perhaps you've read about it.  Perhaps you've been able to try it.  Perhaps ... you have no idea what I'm talking about.

The short version?  It is a vegetarian burger that is pretty much a miracle of food science, in so many ways.  It looks like ground beef, both when it is raw, and when it is cooking.  The texture and chew is uncanny.  Heck, the thing is juicy, bleeds, and even tastes a bit mineral-y.  You could be convinced, particularly if you eat well done burgers, and slather them in ketchup.  If this is fascinating sounding, go read all about it, from the discovery of the compound heme, to the use of assorted proteins and fats.  It really is amazing, if you care to learn.

Anyway, Impossible Burgers came out in July 2016 to much fanfare, available only a a *very* small number of restaurants in the country.  Since then, the reach has grown, but you still can't buy it in a retail store (although some big chains, like Umami Burger, do carry it).  Do not be confused with the other big name in veggie burgers from the past year, Beyond Burger, which is available at Whole Foods.

Ok, so, that is the Impossible Burger.  Available in select restaurants, still fairly limited.

Now, let me introduce you to Munchery.  Munchery is another company I am fascinated by, but for totally different reasons.  Munchery was introduced in 2010 in the Bay Area, a startup trying to change the meal delivery landscape by offering meals not from restaurants, but from their team of chefs, and not served hot, but rather, refrigerated designed for delivery and simple reheating by you at home instead.  The appeal to me, way back then, is that restaurant delivery actually always kinda lackluster in that it is lukewarm and soggy by the time it reaches you.  Munchery designed the meals to be served this way, with components separated out, proteins slightly undercooked so that the finishing process at home didn't over cook them, etc.  I used the service way back then, and I was impressed by some dishes, like their take on Heston Blumenthal's Chocolate and Cauliflower Risotto, but these fancier dishes didn't work out very well in the market.

So Munchery went for more simple options, which were pretty hit or miss for me, but I found many other hits over the years even among those, like the stuffed pasta shells I kinda still drool thinking about.   I even ordered Thanksgiving dinner from them a couple times.  Still, Munchery wasn't hugely successful, so they continued to pivot, introducing same day ordering, breakfast items, and eventually kid's meals ... which more recently pivoted to bento boxes for kids.  They added partnerships with local restaurants to craft dishes for the menus (like Dosa and Slanted Door) and local bakeries provide some of the desserts.  They now offer a slew of different concepts, including actual cooking kits and a gourmet "marketplace" full of high end provisions like prosciutto, Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, even saffron.  And Blue Bottle cold brew, Project Juice juices, etc.  I give them major kudos for just continuing to try everything.

Which finally gets to my story of the day.  Munchery got ahold of Impossible Burgers.  The moment I saw them on the menu, I ordered.

I highly recommend the experience.  In fact, if you'd like to try Munchery for the first time, I can even offer you an Impossible Burger for free.  Or, any other meal you'd like.  Or just an amazing dessert and the aforementioned bottle of saffron, if you so prefer.  Whatever you'd like, here is $20 entirely free, no strings, to try on Munchery.  (I recommend the Impossible Burger or the cheesecakes though!)
Impossible Burger by Munchery.  $18.95.
My experience was everything I wanted it to be.

Easy online ordering, on-time delivery, nicely packaged food, clear instructions, and, well, delicious and fascinating.

Munchery even went a step further and made the entire offering vegan, including the bun and the aioli.   I was skeptical, to be honest.  I was a bit sad they made the whole thing vegan.  I wanted cheese!  I wanted yummy toppings!

It turns out, the vegan-ness was not an issue, at all.  I loved the toppings, and I didn't miss the cheese (I even added some melted swiss myself, and decided I liked it better without).
Boxed Up!
"What is impossible, you might ask? Resisting the carnivorous urge to sink your teeth into this juicy burger, loaded with everything you crave (and none of the meat). This triumphantly meatless patty from Impossible Foods touts everything meat-eaters yearn for in a sustainable package—the secret ingredient “heme” gives it a trademark sizzle on the grill and glorious beef flavor. Served with a vegan herb aioli, pickled red onions, a crisp side salad, and pickle spears, become the architect of your dream burger and experience impossible."

As always, Munchery items come well labelled, with full ingredients and nutrition info, along with preparation instructions.

My box showed this meal clocking in at 960 calories, but the online nutrition stats said 760.  Not sure which was accurate, or why they disagreed by a fairly large margin.  It was also a bit surprising, given that the side dish was just a very small salad, and there wasn't cheese or anything on the burger.  It did have an impressive 44 grams of protein though!
Packaging.
The packaging was fairly impressive, nearly every component done differently.  Two items came in plastic bags, sized appropriately for each.  Two came in small plastic containers.  Another in a bigger plastic container.  Another in a smaller yet.  Everything held together in a box.

The instructions were fairly simple, although, uh, I didn't quite follow them:

"Slice bun.

In The Microwave: heat burger 2-3 minutes, toast bun separate.
In The Oven: Preheat to 350 degrees. Heat 10-12 minutes, or until heated through, add bun for last minute of heating.

To Serve: Top with onion and mayo, add dressing to salad."
Side Salad with Harissa Vinaigrette.
The burger came with a side salad, packaged up in a plastic container, with harissa vinaigrette in its own smaller container inside of that.

It was fine, a base of fresh crispy mixed greens/spinach/romaine, some shredded radish and carrot on top.  The instructions said to use this as a side salad and serve with the dressing, but the photo showed using it as lettuce on top of the burger.  Your choice.  Or do both.

I didn't care for the dressing, strong flavors that didn't seem to compliment each other - harissa paste, strong sherry vinegar, acidic orange juice, tangy dijon mustard ... but I didn't really care.  I did not order this for the salad.
Vegan Bun.
Unlike most Munchery items, the bun actually did require work: slicing.

It was actually a decent bun, not dried out nor stale, not hard, nice shine to it.  Toasted up nicely.
Pickle Spear.
Packaged up in a plastic bag, but not sealed tight, was a pickle spear.

The item description said "pickle spears", plural, so I ding them a point for just including one.

It was a very classic pickle.  Crisp, fresh, juicy, briny.  Good enough, and yes, perfect on the side with a burger.
Pickled Red Onion.
Next, a little container of pickled red onions.

These were stronger flavored than the pickle spear, tart, puckery if you ate them on their own.

They went great with the aioli and burger though, really did complete the package.

This quantity was more than generous, so I had plenty left over to use in a salad later.
Vegan Herb Aioli.
Also in a container, vegan herb aioli.  The component, besides the burger itself, I was most skeptical about.

I didn't need to be.  It was fantastic!  Creamy, herby, garlic-y, flavorful.  I think it had rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley.  I certainly wouldn't have known it was vegan.   I loved it, particularly when paired with the pickled onion.
Impossible Burger Patty.
The patty came in a plastic bag.

It was actually far bigger than I expected, hard to see here, but, a hefty burger, for sure.  More than a quarter pound, certainly.  I'm sure this is part of the reason why the entire meal has at 44 grams of protein; there isn't much in any other component, and this could easily be two normal burger patties.  Impossible Foods, the makers of the patty, say that a 3 ounce portion has 20 grams of protein, so, if this was more like 5 ounces as I estimate, that would basically add up, assuming the bun contributes a bit of protein too.
Pink Inside!
I sliced the patty in half, so I could try different heating techniques.

I'll admit, I have read a lot about this thing, I know people say it is like meat, but, wow.  Look at it!  Pink inside!

The only sad thing is that since this was through Munchery, it arrived cooked, not raw, medium.  Which would be perfect, except I needed to warm it further, so my end cook state wouldn't be this lovely medium-ish. 
Grilling ...
Munchery told me to either microwave for 2-3 minutes or heat in oven for 10 mins.

I certainly couldn't bring myself to microwave it.  I was about to put it in the oven, but at last minute,  I went rogue, and pulled out my grill.

It sizzled very satisfyingly.
Grilled (and topped with my cheese).
I pulled it off the grill, and immediately took a bite.  I didn't even wait to add toppings, assemble my burger, anything.  I was too fascinated.

The texture.  Wow.  It was ... totally like beef.  From the grill, it even got a sear on the outside.  It was well-done at this point, never how I like my beef, but, it remained quite juicy.  And, exactly like a well-done beef patty.  So crazy.

I then topped one half with Swiss cheese, and left it in a hot oven for a moment to melt the cheese.  It was fine, but strangely, I preferred it without the cheese.  I'm really not sure why.
Cheeseless Lettuce Wrap.
The other half I left cheese-less.

I'm not really a big bun-lover, and wanted to taste the burger itself more, so I opted to make lettuce wraps instead, loaded with the pickled red onions, and slathered with that delicious aioli. 

I dunked it into even more aioli.  And into my own ketchup, which complimented everything nicely.
Lettuce Wrap: Inside.
And the verdict?  It was really good.  Not a medium-rare burger like I'd normally order, of course.  But I could easily be convinced this was beef, and Munchery did a great job with the flavorful, complimentary toppings, one creamy, one tart.

How could it be improved?  Well, it would need to arrive less fully cooked, so it would be less cooked once warmed up at home.  I imagine the Munchery beef burgers suffer from this as well.  They could add more decadent toppings, some bacon jam, or cheese, but I'm not convinced any of that is necessary.  I would prefer pickle slices to add on top rather than the spear on the side, as it did need some additional juiciness, and I didn't find myself wanting other toppings like fresh tomato.
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