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Friday, July 2, 2010

Cooking Seitan


Seitan, gluten, wheat meat. These are all different names for the most versatile meat alternative, a protein made from the gluten part of the wheat grain. Though not easily digestible for a decent chunk of people, gluten is a great and delicious vegan and budget friendly dish for the rest of us.

Seitan can be made in a multitude of ways, each resulting in a different texture of mock meat. Ground meat, cutlets, roasts, lunch meats and sausages are just some of the possible ways to make seitan.

Making Perfect Seitan


I've already shared instructions for making seitan, but I've recently inherited a great seitan book which showed me that there were even better ways to make seitan than the ways I'd already demonstrated.

The book, Cooking with Seitan, is officially my new favorite cookbook, as it shows you how to make seitan so many different ways, from start to finish, and includes details I hadn't previously known. I highly recommend this book to any gluten tolerant vegan or person trying to save money in the kitchen, even if they're forsworn carnivores and avowed "bean avoiders" as these recipes will knock the socks off your feet. (And if you buy it from that link to the right, I get a commission as well from Amazon.)

Different Seitan Types


I learned many different techniques of preparing the seitan, each resulting in a completely different texture, perfect for different dishes. Using my newly discovered perfect seitan techniques, I made a platter of 6 different types and textures of seitan to show you readers.


From the top, clockwise:
Seitan cutlets, simmered then fried.
Seitan corn dogs. Simmered, then dredged in batter and corn meal, then fried.
Seitan cutlets, simmered only.
Ground seitan, made from solar cooked seitan.
Deep fried seitan.
and last but not least-
Solar cooked seitan.

My absolute favorite seitan was the solar cooked seitan. It had the perfect texture and was the best chicken replacement I've ever tasted in my life. Once finished, it tasted completely indistinguishable from chicken. As great as the real McCoy but much, much cheaper.


A bigger picture, for your viewing pleasure.
This seitan was so spectacular, but I wasn't able to replicate the results yet as my solar cooker is still rather flaky.
The solar cooked seitan was cooked in a cooking bag inside my solar cooker; I'm going to try slow cooking it in my crockpot inside a cooking bag to see if I can end up with the same results.

The next best seitan is simmered then fried. This type of seitan passes muster so well that it passed both the carnivore father in law test and the picky child test with flying colored. No one would believe that it wasn't actually chicken.
Chicken nuggets and corn dogs made from boiled cutlets are also amazing and have terrific meaty textures.

Plain simmered seitan also has a great texture, even if not identical to chicken, its pretty darn close.

Solar cooked and boiled seitan can both be ground into mince, which works terrificly in all recipes calling for any ground animal.

Steaming then baking log shaped seitan is the way to make sausages and lunch meat but I haven't worked much with this.
Deep frying and baking seitan don't really cut it for me, as their texture simply doesn't resemble meat at all- they feel more bready and crackery than meaty.

Making Seitan From Wheat Flour


You can buy ready made seitan in the health food store. You can also make seitan from vital wheat gluten flour. I chose to make it from regular flour because that is much cheaper, and I always try to go the cheaper route if I'll end up with a similar result.
Seitan can be made from both white flour and whole wheat flour or a mix of the two, each resulting in a semi different texture. I recommend that the novice seitan maker starts off with making seitan from unbleached white flour, as whole wheat is trickier to work with when making seitan.

I've already written out the process of making seitan here and here, but have since learned a better, more efficient way to do it, so will include the updated instructions here in short, but go check out the above links for more detailed steps and instructions.

Step 1
Mix 5 or 6 cups of flour with enough water to make a dough and mix well. The longer you mix it, the better it will come out. Do not try to double this recipe as it will likely cause your seitan to flop.

Step 2
Let this dough rest. The longer you let it rest, the better, as it allows the gluten time to form long strands which are the base of our seitan. I've made seitan after letting it rest as little as 20 minutes, but I recommend leaving it for at least an hour and up to 24 hours, unless you really know what you're doing. (In my original instructions I said to let the dough sit underwater- completely unnecessary,)

Step 3
Rinse out the starch. You want to knead the dough underwater until all the water becomes white, then pour out that starchy water and and replace it with new water. Repeat the process until the water stays white when kneading the seitan.
You can save this starchy water for later use. Let the starch settle to the bottom of the container, pour out the water on top, and let the starch settle again. The starch paste works well as a replacement for potato starch and corn starch as a thickener in most recipes.
(Want to be especially frugal? Use the rinsing water to water your frugal garden.)


Step 4
The end result will be a silly putty textured, stretchy tan mass, roughly 3/8ths of the amount of the flour with which you started.



Step 5
Now is the chance to mix things in to the seitan. I often add different spices like paprika, garlic, salt, turmeric, nutmeg, sage, brewers' yeast, and thyme (among others) to get it to taste more meaty. I've read about adding a little chickpea or soy flour to the seitan at this point to make it a bit heavier. These flours change the texture but also round out the protein in seitan to make it a complete protein.
If you add spices or flours at this point, it is very important to mix it in very well, otherwise the seitan will have a funny texture, not unlike an unrolling jelly roll cake. I recommend using a food processor (or blender stick attachment) to mix the additives into the seitan for best results.

Step Six
Cooking the seitan. In most cases, you'll be simmering the seitan in a broth. The recommended broth is one of diluted soy sauce and kombu seaweed (eliminating the need for spices, as the broth flavors the seitan enough). I've also successfully cooked seitan in a miso broth and a diluted worchesterchire sauce broth. Cooking in plain vegetable broth also works, but will result in blander seitan. If using vegetable broth, make sure not to skip step five.
Watermelon rind curry made with simmered seitan chunks.
If simmering , either cook the seitan as a log or roll up the seitan into a jelly roll and then cut into slices to make cutlets. When simmering, make sure that the broth doesn't reach a rolling boil. Bubbling water will make the seitan more spongy and less meaty, and will likely make the seitan fall apart. It takes a while to simmer- be patient. The seitan is only ready when it is a solid piece and no longer mushy and stretchy.

Step Seven
Cook further. Do whatever you want with your seitan. Fry it, blend it, barbecue it, cook it in a tomato sauce, or add it to your watermelon rind curry. The choices are limitless.

Enjoy!

Have you ever made or eaten seitan? Do my steps make seitan making seem daunting, or does this seem like a decent, doable, frugal meal for your family?


Coming soon- seitan troubleshooting. 


Linking up to Grocery Cart Challenge's recipe swap.

5 comments:

  1. I'm new to seitan and have only made it about 5 times. I use whole wheat flour with the bran sifted out as I'd be losing it anyway. I bake mine after cooking in broth and it really helps with firming it up. I'm next going to try "sausage" as I've been impressed so far and can't wait to have more than just the nuggets or strips I've had so far. Sites such as yours are great information! Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Greetings Penny,

    I have a question that I have a feeling you'll be able to answer. Not sure if you've ever been to a vegan/veg chinese restaurant that uses seitan, but their seitan has the texture VERY similar to chicken and/or ribs...very fibrous, stringy and actually a little tough.
    I have made seitan using the rinseout method starting with reg. flour as well as with the VWG. I kneaded the pre-cooked seitan by hand for about 10-15 minutes hoping to develop the inherit 'stringy-ness' gluten both times has but it always yielded a soft, spongy unpleasant texture.

    I came across something new in this blog which I'll have to try. You mentioned letting the dough sit for a bunch of hours similar to letting a pizza/bread dough rise. So my question to you is: is this extra step crucial to getting that sinewy texture I so desire and dream about?

    Thanks a bunch.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! Yes you are correct... i have tried recipe after recipe with several combinations and i always get that horrid soft texture (and also a typical unpleasant taste) no matter what I do! Did you ever find a solution? How DO they make it so very meat-like in the restaurants??

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  3. Hi Penny !

    Your solar cooked seitan looks terrific. I don't own a solar cooker but I suppose I can get similar result in an oven at a lower temperature? Can you give us more details like was it loosely or tightly packed? How much time was it baked or any other useful tip. Btw did you get a chance to cook the seitan in the slow cooker?

    Thanks

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  4. How long do I need to simmer the seitan?
    I got a rubbery spongey texture when I simmered it. I need some help.
    I would like to bake it for a firmer texture, what temperature and how long do you recommend I should bake it for?

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