Can it be… SEITAN?

I simply cannot resist a bad food pun.

Seitan is vital wheat gluten (so poison for those with gluten intolerance), as unappetizing a phrase as it is a concept. It’s pretty unappetizing for most of the preparation, too. But oh my god, it totally rocks!

I am so excited about this. At last, a protein that acts like meat (but isn’t), and is really easy to make! If I can do it, I swear, anybody can. I present the following for seitan newbies who might be wondering if this is hard to do, or for those who’ve started and are now wondering if something’s gone horribly wrong.

I followed Mark Bittman’s recipe and instructions, basically.

  • 1 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • all the courage you can muster

Put 1 cup of vital wheat gluten in a bowl, and add 3/4 cup water.

Mix together. You might as well use your hands right away, you’re going to have to knead this stuff anyhow. It comes together almost instantly into a sort of squishy, rubbery ball that you can’t believe is supposed to be food. I should have taken a photo at this point, but I didn’t know what was going to happen. It’s an unattractive, grayish-yellow color, maybe about the size of a softball.

Knead for 5 minutes. I watched part of a documentary on the Spanish Influenza while I did this.

Leave it in the bowl and cover it with a cloth for, Bittman says, at least 20 and not more than 30 minutes. I’ve seen recipes on the web that contradict this, though – I suppose it alters the consistency somehow, depending on how long you take with this or that step. Anyway, these numbers worked for me.

While it’s “resting,” make the simmering broth. I used Bittman’s Dark Simmering Liquid recipe, which is just 1/3 cup soy sauce plus 6 cups vegetable stock (I like Better than Bouillon). Combine in a large pan that can be covered.

When the 20 minutes are up, cut the weird, rubbery spongy thing in half, and try to make two “logs.” I failed miserably at this. The stuff is so elastic, it kept shrinking back no matter how I stretched it, though I admit I was afraid to stretch it too much. This may be why mine turned out kind of dense. Lay the two “logs” or whatever shape you come up with in the liquid. Bring it to a boil, then turn it down so it’s just simmering. Cover and leave it for about an hour, coming back to turn the “logs” a couple of times.

I went back to my documentary and forgot to turn mine until half an hour in. When I raised the cover on that pan, I stepped back with a cry of shock. The two grayish-yellow lumps had ballooned up into two great, yellowish-gray, misshapen, floating masses that collapsed slightly as the air hit them. Still not at all something you’d want to eat.

Seitan in the pot. Ew.

Looks like a pair of moldy sponges, right? It didn’t smell that great, either. I was frightened and a little discouraged. But I let it finish simmering for its hour, then allowed it all to cool in the liquid while I went to the store for some onions. When I got back, I stuck I fork in one and cut off about half of it, making a face the whole time, and sliced it up.

Sliced seitain - looks like food!

Hm. Actually starting to look like food now. Doesn’t that look kind of like chicken or pork? So I fried it up in my $5 IKEA wok, using another Bittman recipe (I love love love his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian), and it looked like this:

Wok with seitan. You know you want to.

Looks like meat! Smells like meat! I started to get excited.

And here’s my stir fry, all put together. It’s just carrots, onion, celery, brown rice, and…

Stir-fried seitan, yum!

… delicious morsels of seitan! Seriously, I cannot believe how good it tasted. I would have thought I was eating leftover barbecued chicken. I don’t know where the barbecue flavor came from, but it was yummy. And “leftover” because, like I hinted above, my seitan is a little denser and chewier than it’s probably supposed to be (maybe I over-kneaded it), but I still loved it. My only regret is that I didn’t put more in that stir fry.

The idea of eating “vital wheat gluten” still kind of grosses me out, and handling those spongy brain-like masses currently floating in their simmering liquid in the refrigerator is pretty distasteful, but the result is completely worth it. I just might be a seitan worshiper. (I can’t help it! What do you want me to do?)

Next time I’ll try that famous baked version that’s around the web – supposed to taste like pepperoni. I can’t wait! Have you tried seitan or anything else new lately?

4 Responses to “Can it be… SEITAN?”

  1. absurdbeats Says:

    Okay, that stuff in the pot looked like brain. Or innards.

    Something unholy.

  2. soundofrain Says:

    Ultimately I’ve decided not to make any more seitan. Anything that looks like meat, feels like meat, tastes like meat, yet isn’t meat, just creeps me out too much! But it was an interesting experiment!

  3. Kana Says:

    Hi,
    I tried this recipe and found it to be way too tough. Have you made it again? Any advice for getting a softer and less dense seitan?

  4. soundofrain Says:

    I never did make it again; it did get kind of tough after the first day, and it started to seem yucky. Plus now I’m trying to avoid gluten. How much did you knead it? I think that was the mistake I made, because the more you knead gluten, the tougher it gets. Good luck!

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