Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Seitan How-To Guide

Vital wheat gluten, wheat-meat, or seitan as it is called in Japan is a vegan substitute for meat that is noted for its texture and ability to take on a robust meaty flavor that is so close to the Real Thing a lot of vegans and vegetarians dislike it for its likeness. It has been a popular stand-in used for decades by Buddhist monks, Seven Day Adventists, Mormons, and other people who followed the Pythagorean diet.

A Quick Note: Is Wheat Gluten Healthy?

Seitan has also gotten a bad rap among the “health conscious” community lately because of its composition being of gluten; however those assumptions about gluten being unhealthy and the overall concept of gluten intolerance has been always been in question and new studies are sealing the opinion that there is no such condition outside of allergies and Celiac associated with gluten consumption, or in the least actual gluten sensitivity is very rare and these people may not even be reacting with gluten but perhaps a specific type of carbohydrate. What we do know is that the seitan has been eaten for thousands of years across cultures around the world including Buddhist monasteries which actually had some of the highest average lifespans in the world. That being said, if you have Celiac disorder or are allergic to wheat: keep on doing what you are doing.

Where to Find Seitan?

Even though seitan has historically been a popular substitute for meat in vegetarian dishes, because of recent fears associated with gluten it has been slowly eclipsed in popularity by other stand-ins such as tofu, tempeh, quinoa, beans, etc. Prepared seitan will be the most difficult variety to find if you are looking for an unflavored variety but many faux sausages do contain it as well.
The good news here is that you can get wheat gluten in flour-form and its very easy to prepare and not at all messy. What you need to look for is “vital wheat gluten” or “gluten flour”. Some of the most popular brands include Bob’s Red Mill, but some grocery stores may also sell it in their bulk section: shout out to Winco in the Pacific Northwest! Also, check your grocer’s organic section as well or just ask an associate.

Making the Perfect Seitan

So this is the part you’ve been waiting for? I know, you’re thinking: “Gee, what’s with the exposition?” Well now its time to get your hands… well good news is this stuff doesn’t actually stick you your hands so they won’t be getting too dirty.
I really recommend to start that you purchase the flour form simply because it is far more pliable with what you can do with it. Basically what you need to know is that for every part gluten flour you add equal parts water per volume: So two cups seitan means you will need two cups of water.

Starting Out: Dry Ingredients

To begin, just like any other recipe involving flour you are going to dump all your dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix them well. The most common starting spices are onion power and garlic powder. Most recipes call for about 3 tbsp of each if you are starting with two cups of seitan. You’ll also want to add in some nutritional yeast here to improve nutritional quality and add a bit of sharpness to the dish. If you want to go lighter flavors herbs like sage, tarragon, marjoram, and thyme will do the trick. If you want something more hearty add in chili powder, cumin, coriander, basil, oregano, paprika, etc. It really is the spices that make seitan what it is.

The Wet Mix

Once your have compiled your dry mix, its time to prepare the wet ingredients. For this you can just use water, but using vegetable broth works much better. Popular add-ins to bulk up the seitan include tahini (around 1/4 cup for two cups gluten flour), soy sauce, tamari, and olive oil. If you want a heavy beefy flavor, adding in tomato paste with a darker broth with create a hearty rib that would pass with any meat-lover. I guarantee it. You can also add in a teaspoon or so of liquid smoke here as well if you want a nice smoky flavor.

Mix & Knead

Now that both your wet and dry ingredients are prepared, it is time for the fun part. Just pour your wet ingredients into the dry and mix. You will end up with a dough with a nice clean consistency that should not stick you you hands. Begin kneading for five minutes, let the dough rest for five to ten minutes. Repeat until you have kneaded three times.
You will know if your dough is ready because it will be elastic, firm, and want to snap in place. At this point it is ready to cook or you can put it in the refrigerator to work with at a later time. If you do this make sure you take it out of the fridge, let it sit to warm up to room temperature, and then give it a good kneading. You may need to add a teaspoon or tablespoon of water to the dough, but test first. You can also simmer the dough as well (keep reading) then place if the fridge.

Cooking Seitan

You’ve prepared the seitan and are ready to cook it. First, cut the dough into serving sized pieces for whatever you are going to use it in. If you are serving as an entrĂ©e like ribs give them a nice sausage. If you are making a stew, cut them up into little pieces. There’s not much you can do wrong here. If you want a more moist experience and are grilling or baking them you can go a couple steps further here:
Before you place seitan on the grill or in the oven you will want to either give it a nice simmer or steam. The steaming method is good for larger cuts like steaks, logs, and such. You will want to wrap the seitan in aluminium foil and place into a steamer for about 30 minutes. Make sure you do not wrap the foil too tightly because the steam will expand it in.
The more traditional, and easier method is to simply drop the seitan into a slowly simmering pot of broth. Its best to use the same broth as the one you added previously to your seitan if you did use broth earlier. Make sure you simmer on low or medium-low heat. Allowing the seitan to boil will turn it to mush. Let simmer for about 45 minutes covered, turn off heat and let the pot cool for 15 minutes with the lid off. This is another point at which you could place the seitan in the refrigerator as well.

To the Grill, Griddle, or Oven

Now for the second part of the cooking process. Once you have steamed or braised your seitan you will want to bake it or toss it on the griddle, grill, or even fry it up. This is pretty self explanitory. Basically, you will just add whatever dry-coat seasoning, marinade, sauce etc you want then bake, grill, or fry to your liking. If baking the general rule here are about one hour at 350 °F, turn half-way through. You will want to give them a good baking or grilling first if you are adding them to a stew as it will prevent them from turning to mush.

Experiment!

The great thing about seitan is that it is a great palette to experiment with. It incorporates flavors very well and there is so much you can do with it. You can be as lazy or as detailed as you like with it and still make an excellent meal. One thing I like to do is make seitan rings and fill them in with mashed potatoes and gravy on the plate. A little imagination goes a long way.

Recipes

For some great recipes I suggest you check out my friends over at One Green Planet for more great ideas. They even have their own how-to which does cover most of the same information. However to give you some inspiration I will provide a basic example recipe for seitan dough.

Example

Dry Ingredients

  • 2 cups vital wheat gluten flour.
  • 3 tbsp onion powder.
  • 3 tbsp garlic powder.
  • 3 tbsp nutritional yeast.
  • 3 tbsp chili powder.
  • 1 tbsp thyme.
  • 1/2 tsp finely ground black pepper.

Wet Ingredients

  • 2 cups water + 2 tsp vegetable bullion, or 2 cups broth.
  • 1/4 cup tahini.
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari.
  • 1 tbsp vegan Worcester sauce (optional).
  • 1 tbsp olive oil.
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste.
  • 1/2 tsp liquid smoke.

Preparation

1: Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Then mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl and combine the wet into the dry.

2: Knead the dough for five minutes and let it rest five to ten minutes, repeat three times.

3: Cut into servings and broil, steam, or bake as desired. For this recipe I recommend adding a little dry rub, your favorite barbecue sauce and tossing in the oven but you can do whatever you like.