18 April 2011

All about Seitan: It's not just for restaurants and coffee houses

Like many of you, I have enjoyed Seitan Reubens and BBQ sandwiches in hipster coffee houses and restaurants. I have also seen Seitan shrink wrapped and for sale in the store. In the store it looks nothing like a delectable vegan reuben and is really quite costly. So what is Seitan and how does it become an edible delight worthy of purchase and praise?
According to Essortment.com,

Seitan (say-TAHN) is made from gluten. Gluten is the name of the insoluble protein in wheat, probably most familiar as the stuff that makes bread dough elastic. Known as "Seitan" in Japan, as "kofu" in China, and as "wheat meat" and "gluten" here in the U.S., seitan is a low fat, high protein, firm-textured meat substitute.

After my last trip to said hipster coffee house for an expensive but worth it Seitan Reuben I decided to purchase some Vital Wheat Gluten, the inexpensive main ingredient in Seitan and with my partner, give it a go at home.

Despite our initial verve and optimism, we have stared at the box of Vital Wheat Gluten on our shelf. I’ve passed by the little blue box, picked it up, put it back down and walked away at least half a dozen times since purchasing it two months ago. Neither of us have been brave, cool or inquisitive enough to try and create it at home because we have found the grayish tan meat kind of intimidating. I haven't been able to wrap my mind around how to take it from a powder, to a meat to a sandwich worthy of praise, in our own kitchen, from scratch.

This week we finally decided to tackle this strange wheat protein concoction and try our hand at creating this meat substitute. Sandy read the instructions on the box to make basic Seitan and thought there had to be more. So, we did what every other self-respecting curious vegan chef does today and Googled how to make Seitan. For the most part, the recipes we found offered the same overall instructions as the box, but did provide some other variations to help season it. This started to pique our interest.

Inspired by a variety of recipes, we chose to mix seasonings for an Italian sausage flavor while following the basic cooking instructions from the box. After boiling the mixture for more than an hour according to the directions, I could not believe how ridiculously inedible the Seitan looked. I want to warn you now with my words of caution and photo, because I want you to continue in your pursuit of handcrafted Seitan despite its dastardly appearance. It really will be worth it.

So, it totally tripled in size while boiling, which was expected, but something was wrong. It was not only hideous looking, but the texture of it was something I would not want to put in my mouth. I kept thinking about all of the hipster cafes and their Seitan Reubens and wraps. They did not look like the swamp thing I had boiled.

In desperation and not wanting to throw out this entire pot of food, Sandy decided that the moisture needed to be partially removed from the Seitan and turned on the oven. On a lightly greased cooking sheet, we baked the ugly Seitan strips in hopes of saving them. This was the magic touch. It further cooked in the flavor and “firmed” up the otherwise spongy Sietan.

Perhaps other recipes provided this insight, but the ones I found did not mention this last step. I would highly recommend that you try it this way, or like me, you would probably never make it again.

Here is our version of Italian sausage seasoned Seitan. This sandwich was so decadent and soulful that I had it two days in a row with different toppings. The Seitan is delicious, worth the wait and unbelievably inexpensive to create yourself.
1 1/3 C vital wheat gluten
1½ tsp fennel seed, finely chopped (run your knife through it several times to release the flavor)
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 C water
2 tbsp liquid aminos
10 cups of water or broth
Make it Happen:
In a large bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients together. Add the 1 C water and liquid aminos and mix with a fork until it gets rather firm and rubbery. Knead for a few minutes by hand. Roll into a log and let stand for 5 minutes. Cut into roughly 1/2 inch thick pieces. Boil the Seitan pieces in 10 cups of water/broth for one hour. We used 8 cups of water and 2 cups of low sodium veggie broth. Remove from water and place the strips on a sprayed cooking sheet and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Pull out of the oven, turn the strips over and bake another 20 minutes.
Italian Sausage Hoagies:
We made these hoagies a day after making the Seitan. Slice about 4 pieces of the Seitan into ½ inch strips and lightly sauté with colored peppers of your choice. Add a ½ cup of marinara sauce per serving (we made 2) and simmer just until heated through. Warm up your favorite hoagie roll, slice and put in the Seitan and pepper mixture. Enjoy.
If you too have been hesitant to make Seitan, take the leap, I think you will be surprised. It is worth it, I promise, even more rewarding than I would have guessed. You can switch up the seasonings to make all sorts of flavored Seitan.
Have a delicious day.

Related Post: VIDEO: Vegan Basic Seitan with Daelyn

Sherry Duquet | Facebook
Sherry is on a mission to inspire others to join in her journey to change the world, one meal at a time. As a long time vegetarian and vegan newbie, Sherry launched a compassionate living blog Exploits of a Vegan Wannabe where she welcomes meat-a-tarians, vegans and anyone interested in creating change with their choices and voices.

Photo credit: Sherry Duquet