Vegan fried chicken drumsticks are served on a bamboo skewer. If southern comfort food is calling you, look no further. It’s a savory, hearty main course that is sure to impress and delight.
Hello, comfort food.
Entrees don’t get more indulgent, satisfying, and just plain fun than vegan fried chicken drumsticks.
Crispy seasoned breading encases meaty seitan with the flavors of thyme, marjoram, herbs de Provence, and sage. It even has a layer of “skin” and a bamboo drumstick to kick up the kitsch factor.
Serve it with home-style comfort foods like collard greens and mashed potatoes, and you’ve got a seriously cozy dinner ahead of you.
This dish could even be used as a holiday main course as the vegan’s answer to a turkey drumstick. After all, it is equally not turkey as it is not chicken. (Although, the breading puts me more to the mind of the latter.)
Vegan fried chicken that’s made from scratch
The base of this dish is seitan. It’s made with vital wheat gluten, chickpea flour, nutritional yeast flakes, water, and seasonings.
It’s basically a savory dough that’s steamed, breaded, and fried. It’s a high protein main course that is incredibly filling.
You can find vital wheat gluten, chickpea flour, and nutritional yeast flakes in natural grocery stores or online.
Spring roll wrappers as “skin”
One of the really fun textural elements of this vegan fried chicken drumstick is the “skin” surrounding it. Spring roll wrappers made of rice paper hold the breading well. And they get wonderfully crisp around the exterior.
After all, even vegans sometimes want a main course that they can hold onto with a stick, and tear into with their teeth.
The first time I ever tried rice paper wraps used in this way was back in 2015 when I cooked with Chef Roberto Martin. He used it for one of his recipes along with Gardein. I thought it was genius.
I told him that I wished I could hail a time machine, and take the idea back to when I first went vegan. In those days, there were a lot fewer plant-based meat options. As a new vegan especially, I missed eating things with chewy textures.
For his method of using them, he wrapped the spring roll wrappers around the vegan chicken like a very taut burrito. But I’ve found a simpler way to attach it, as you’ll see in the description below.
You can find spring roll wrappers next to the soy sauce in most grocery stores or in Asian markets. It’s in shelf stable packaging, not refrigerated.
The main ingredient is rice flour. The kind I buy also includes tapioca flour, which helps with the structure.
For best results, round spring roll wraps work best. However, square will also work in a pinch. You just may need to break off any excess at the bottom.
Cashew cream as the binder
A thick, dense cashew cream helps the flour breading to stick. It’s made with an equal 50/50 portion of raw cashews to water.
It’s easiest to make cashew cream with a high-speed blender, because you don’t have to soften the raw cashews first. You can just put them straight into the blender.
But if you don’t have a high-speed blender, use one of the workarounds listed in the notes section of the recipe box.
Depending on the blender, the cashew mixture may fall under the blade while it’s blending. That makes it harder to fully break up the cashews. So you’ll need to make more cashew cream than you’ll actually need for this recipe.
That’s fine, though! Even if you’ve dipped vegan chicken in it, it’s still safe to use in other recipes.
Add leftover cashew cream to the following recipes:
- Sliced roasted potatoes with cashew cream
- Vegan polenta stacks with barbecued squash & cashew cream
- Vegan baked potato soup
- Creamy gnocchi soup with sausage & kale
- Creamy vegan mushroom soup with lentils
- Creamy vegan tomato soup
- Vegan risotto with mushrooms & sausage
- Vegan pot pie
(The leftover cashew cream will replace the cashew cream or non-dairy milk that’s already there in the recipe. Depending on the recipe, you may need to add more water to thin it out and/or add additional seasonings.)
Bamboo skewers make this a drumstick
As any fairgoer will tell you, everything is more fun on a stick. Here bamboo skewers turn regular vegan fried chicken into a drumstick.
You can use any 6-inch bamboo skewers you have.
Or if you only have 12-inch skewers like I use for my Thanksgiving kebabs, break them in half.
They can splinter if you just break them by hand. So I recommend using a sturdy pair of sharp scissors to cut into them in the middle to score them. Once they are partially cut, you can neatly break them in half with your hands.
Can this be made gluten-free?
No, seitan is pretty much pure gluten. One of the main ingredients is vital wheat gluten.
For a gluten-free alternative, try this recipe from my friend, Kristy. She uses Soy Curls as the base for her plant-based air fryer chicken.
Equipment you’ll need
For this recipe, you’ll need:
- Mixing bowl
- Aluminum foil, torn into roughly 8 x 8 or 10 x 10 squares
- Several dinner plates
- Wide shallow soup bowl
- Large non-stick frying pan
- Steamer pot with lid and basket
- Blender (preferably high-speed)
- Bamboo skewers (Two 12-inch skewers that are broken in half or four 6-inch skewers)
- Long metal tongs
How to make vegan fried chicken
Start by making the seitan that is the main component of this dish. In a large mixing bowl, combine the following:
- Vital wheat gluten
- Nutritional yeast flakes
- Chickpea flour
- Granulated onion
- Rubbed sage
- Dried thyme
- Herbs de Provence
Stir to combine. Then create a well in the center and add:
- Extra virgin olive oil
Stir everything together. As it gets sticky, knead with your hands to create a dough.
Add more water, a Tablespoon at a time, until there’s no dry flour at the bottom. You want to have a soft moist dough that isn’t floury at all. Break the dough into four equal portions.
Tear four squares of aluminum foil, and oil them. Form each dough section into a ball. Then pull it into a point, like a teardrop.
Put the drop-shaped seitan in the center of the oiled foil. Then roll it up like a Tootsie Roll. Continue with the remaining dough.
Put the foil-wrapped seitan into a steamer basket. Steam covered for 25 minutes.
Carefully remove it from the steamer basket, and unwrap it to cool. When the seitan is done, it will be firm & bouncy to the touch.
Once the seitan is cool enough to touch, you can move on to wrapping it in rice paper “skin.”
Rinse one spring roll wrapper under water, using the faucet of your kitchen sink. Quickly wet each side. (This will take only seconds.)
Put one of the seitan balls smack dab in the middle, as if it were dressing as a Halloween ghost, and the rice paper is its sheet. Pull the wrapper down over the seitan ball, and squeeze it with both of your damp hands.
At first, it will seem like it might be too dry or break. But keep squeezing for 20 seconds. The spring roll wrap will soften and form around the seitan.
Move it to a dry plate. Continue with the remaining seitan until all of them are covered.
Now it’s time to make the binder and breading station.
In a high-speed blender, combine an equal portion of raw cashews with water to make a cashew cream.
(Don’t have a high-speed blender? Check out the workarounds in the notes section of the recipe box.)
Move the cashew cream to a wide, shallow soup bowl.
To make the flour breading, combine the following on a plate:
- All-purpose flour
- Dried thyme
- Granulated onion
One at a time, dip each piece of vegan chicken in the shallow bowl of cashew cream. Make sure all of it gets covered. Then wipe most of the cream away. You want just a thin layer, not globs.
Then roll each piece of vegan chicken in the seasoned flour mixture, fully coating every part. Make sure there isn’t any wet cashew cream showing. Then tap off any excess flour.
Put a 6-inch bamboo skewer into each piece.
Fry them in organic canola oil (or another high heat oil) in a large skillet at a medium high heat. Fry for a couple minutes on each side, turning with long metal tongs until they’re brown all over. It will take about 6 minutes in total to fry them.
Move the vegan fried chicken to a plate lined with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to drain.
Make it your own
You can make this vegan fried chicken your own by adjusting the seasonings or breading.
If you don’t have any one of the seasonings for the seitan (marjoram, thyme, herbs de Provence, or rubbed sage), you can replace it with an equal amount of dried rosemary. Crumble it in your hands to break it up.
Or replace all of the dried herbs with one teaspoon of poultry seasoning instead.
For the flour breading seasonings, you can add a generous dash of your favorite Cajun seasoning salt instead of the cayenne, salt, and pepper.
Instead of flour breading, you can use seasoned breadcrumbs. Leave off the spring roll wrappers. Then dip the seitan in cashew cream, and dredge it in panko breadcrumbs seasoned with a pinch of thyme, granulated onion, salt, and pepper.
I haven’t tried replacing the cashew cream as the binder. But you could try one of the following:
- Make a slurry of non-dairy milk and cornstarch
- Dip in aquafaba like I do for vegan fried ravioli
- Dip the vegan chicken in eggless mayonnaise, like I do for vegan eggplant parmesan
- Do a wet batter instead, like in beer battered fried green tomatoes
You can leave off the stick, and enjoy this as a breaded and fried standalone entree instead. Or use a sprig of rosemary as the stick instead for something a little more elegant. (Add the rosemary after the seitan has been fried.)
What to serve with it
Vegan fried chicken is a hearty, indulgent entrée that is best served hot with your favorite side dishes. But it can also be eaten cold as a protein-rich option for a vegan picnic.
Serve it with:
- Vegan potato salad
- Plain mashed potatoes or mustard mashed potatoes
- Easy collard greens
- Roasted cabbage
- Vegan coleslaw
- Buffalo grilled corn
- Vegan waffles & maple syrup
Vegan fried chicken drumsticks
For vegan chicken
- 1 cup vital wheat gluten
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
- 1/4 cup chickpea flour
- 1/2 Tablespoon granulated onion
- 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon herbs de Provence
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Few grinds pepper
- 1/2 Tablespoon tamari
- 1/2 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil plus more for oiling foil
- 3/4 to 1 cup water plus more for steaming
To make the vegan chicken
- In a large mixing bowl, combine vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast flakes, chickpea flour, granulated onion, dried marjoram, rubbed sage, dried thyme, herbs de Provence, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper.
- Create a well in the center of the dry mixture. Add tamari, extra virgin olive oil, and 3/4 cup of water. Combine by stirring. Then once it becomes a dough, start using your hands to knead the dough and combine everything.
- Slowly add more water one Tablespoon at a time until there's no dry flour at the bottom of the bowl. It typically takes just one or two more Tablespoons, but you can add up to 4 Tablespoons more, if necessary. The dough shouldn't be overly wet, but not floury at all either. Continue kneading for about 30 seconds more once everything is combined, developing the gluten.
- Break the dough into four equally sized portions, and set aside.
- Tear off four square pieces of aluminum foil. The size should roughly be 8 x 8. Pour a little oil onto each of the four squares, so that the seitan won't stick on it.
- Take one of the four portions of seitan in your hand, and knead it for a few seconds more. Form it into a ball. Then pull one end into a bit of a point, making a teardrop shape. Put that seitan lump into the middle of an oiled aluminum foil square. Loosely roll it up and twist each end, as if you were wrapping a Tootsie Roll. Continue with all of the seitan portions until all four are wrapped.
- Put a couple of inches of water into a steamer pot with basket. Bring to a boil. Put the foil-wrapped seitan into the steamer basket. Cover with a lid. Steam for 25 minutes.Be sure to watch that the pot doesn't cook off all of the water. You want enough water that it will keep steaming for the full amount of time, but not so much that the water touches & boils the seitan. Once the water is at a boil, you can lower the heat to medium, and it will keep steaming the whole time. (If you don't see steam pouring out the top, turn it up.)
- When the seitan is done, it will be firm and bouncy to the touch. Carefully remove it from the steamer basket, unwrap it from the foil, and set it aside on a plate to cool slightly.
To bread and fry
- While the seitan is steaming, prepare the breading station. Start by making cashew cream. It will bind the flour mixture to the seitan. In a high speed blender, combine a half cup of water with 1/2 cup of raw cashews until totally smooth. Stop and scrape down the sides, if necessary, so that there aren't any whole cashew pieces left. (If you don't have a high speed blender, look in the notes section for standard blender instructions.)Move the cashew cream to a wide, shallow soup bowl.
- Now make the flour breading. On a plate, combine all-purpose flour with a pinch of dried thyme, granulated onion, salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne. (If you don't like spicy things, you can leave off the cayenne.)
- Once the seitan chicken is cool enough to touch, you can move on to wrapping it in "skin." This adds a fun textural element to the dish. Under a faucet, moisten one spring roll wrapper. It only needs to run under the water for a few seconds, being sure to moisten each side of the rice paper. Put one of the seitan balls right in the middle of the paper, as if it were a Halloween ghost, and the rice paper is its costume sheet. Use your damp hands to squeeze the rice paper and form around the seitan in a ball. Give it a good squeeze for a full 20 seconds. If the paper cracks a little at first, that's fine. At first the spring roll wrapper will seem too dry, but near the end of the 20 seconds, it will soften and fully form around the seitan. If there are any parts around the bottom that aren't sticking to the seitan, press them with your fingers into the seitan until it's a fairly neat ball. Move that spring roll wrapped seitan ball to a dry plate, and continue with the remaining three seitan balls, until all of them are covered.
- Before you start actually breading the seitan, fill a large non-stick skillet with about an inch of organic canola oil. Bring it to a medium high heat. Allow it to come up to temperature while you're breading the vegan chicken.
- One at a time, dip each piece of vegan chicken in the cashew cream. Make sure all of it gets covered. Then use your fingers to get most of the cream off. It should just be a thin layer of cashew cream totally covering each one. You don't want thick globs of cream.
- Then one at a time, put each piece of vegan chicken into the flour mixture, fully coating every part. Tap off any excess flour. There shouldn't be any wet cashew cream showing.
- Put a 6-inch bamboo skewer into the base of each piece of vegan chicken. If your bamboo skewers are too long, use a sturdy pair of scissors to score them in the middle. Then neatly break them in half.
- Test the oil to see if it's hot enough by dropping a pinch of flour into the skillet. If bubbles immediately form around the flour, the oil is ready.
- Put the vegan chicken into the oil. Fry for a couple minutes on each side. Don't move the chicken until it has nicely browned. Then use long tongs to turn them. Continue rotating them with tongs until they are brown all over. It will take about 6 minutes in total for them to brown all over.
- Once they are fully brown, move the vegan chicken legs to a plate lined with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to drain.
- Grind dry raw cashews in a coffee grinder until the cashews are like a flour. Then add them to your standard blender with water, and blend until smooth.
- Soak raw cashews in water for several hours to soften them. Then drain them, and add them to your blender with 1/2 cup fresh water.
- Cover the raw cashews in boiling water or microwave them in water. Then let them sit for 10 minutes in the hot water. Drain. And add the softened cashews to the blender with 1/2 cup fresh water.