Friday, February 20, 2009

How to Worship Seitan: The Easy Way(s)

Wherein I shall explain two very easy and successful methods for making your own seitan at home.

Any good vegan (or vegetarian) should know how to make their own seitan. It's easy (as you'll see), saves money, and lets you get creative without too many consequences.

Making seitan has a few basic steps. First you mix some dry ingredients together, then you slowly add some wet ingredients, you mix into a dough and knead and shape, and then you cook.
At this point you might eat it as-is, or you might prepare it further by pan-frying, baking, grilling, etc.

Traditionally, the cooking step of seitan was a very long and tricky affair involving getting water to almost boiling and maintaining it at precisely almost-boiling for several hours. Fah! I knew from the start that this would never work for me, because I can't seem to keep water at a constant heat to save my life - anytime I try to "simmer" something, it winds up swinging wildly between "intense boiling" and "bored, placid water" with no in-between.
In fact, even more traditionally, the dough-making steps of seitan were time consuming and involved hours of kneading and rinsing under cold water.

Thank goodness for Progress!

Before going any further, a little on the key ingredient in this process: Vital Wheat Gluten. This is the stuff that eliminates the kneading and rinsing for hours part. It is very important that you get the right product. You don't want Wheat Flour, you don't want Gluten Flour. You want Vital Wheat Gluten. It is not so hard to find. Bob's Red Mill makes some as does Arrowhead, and if your grocery store carries bulk flours and grains, it can sometimes be found there in bulk as well.

The recipes also call for Nutritional Yeast (not to be confused with Brewer's Yeast or similar). This too is sold by Bob's Red Mill and can be found in most bulk sections. You can experiment making it without (maybe substitute with soy flour, or even regular flour) but what the hell is wrong with you that you don't have Nutritional Yeast? It's awesome! And used in many great vegan recipes. So stuff yourself full of seitan and then go buy some Nooch (affectionate shorthand not to be confused with Hooch although that is also good to have on hand).

So without further ado, here is a basic recipe. I will follow it up with some notes on spices and then we'll get to the actual easy breasy sleasy peasy cooking methods.

Basic Seitan

Dry Ingredients

1 Cup Vital Wheat Gluten
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 tsp Onion Powder
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Sage
1 TBSP Oregeno

Wet Ingredients

3/4 Cup Veggie Broth
(No-Chicken Broth, veggie boillon, whatever)
2TBSP Tahini (you can use 1 TBSP Cashew or Peanut Butter instead)
1 TBSP Soy Sauce (or Tamari, or Braggs)


3/4 Cup "Beef" Broth
(If you are lucky, you can find this at a grocery near you - I could only find it at Shaws wierdly - or you can use 1/2 Cup Veggie Broth plus 1/4 Cup of Soy Sauce)
2 TBSP Tahini (you can use 1 TBSP Cashew or Peanut Butter instead)
1 TBSP Ketchup

Making the Dough

1. Dump all of the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Mix together with a fork.
2. Now Dump all of the wet ingredients into a Pyrex measuring cup or bowl with a spout. Stir.
3. Pour half of the wet ingredients into the dry mix. Stir it around with the fork or your hands.
4. Pour the rest of the wet mix into the dry.
5. Mix it all together with your hands to form a wet dough. Knead it, smoosh it up, punch it, however you want to abuse it, for about 5 minutes.
6. Wrap in saran wrap (or place in a pot with the lid on) while you decide how you want to cook it and in what shape you want it formed.

A few notes on seasoning in the dry mix:

You can season any way you like. You can experiment with any spices and any broth combinations. The main thing is to maintain a general ratio of wet ingredients to dry of 1 Cup Wet to 1.5 Cup Dry. Although certainly 1.5 Cup Wet to 2 Cup Dry works too. It will affect your final consistency, but not necessarily in a bad way. Don't be shy of playing around.

How to Cook Seitan Method 1 - Steaming!
Time: 30 minutes

This is a very fast and easy way to cook your seitan. It's especially great if you plan to saute/brown the seitan or even grill it later. I really like the texture of this method as if I find it to be meaty, moist and chewy without being too soft or too spongy.

First you need to shape your seitan dough into pieces for cooking. You can make cutlets or larger chunks/loaves. Always keep in mind that the seitan WILL expand so make your pieces a bit smaller than you want them to be in the end.

For cutlets, shape your unwieldy seitan dough into a large loaf and roll it on a cutting board so that it forms a thick log. Using a serrated knife, slice off very thin slices (about 1/4 inch). They might not come out perfectly round, but they should look vaguely like chicken or veal cutlets in shape and size (maybe a bit smaller).

For chunks (such as for making kebabs (!!! yum !!!) later), do the same steps as above but making your slices a little bit thicken (about 1/2 inch) and then slice the cut-off pieces into strips and then rotate 90 degrees and cut through them again to make cubes. I totally made that sound harder than it is. Just cut off some slices and then cut those slices down into cubes. Viola.

Now you need to figure out your steamer situation. With luck, you have a bamboo steamer or a real steamer pot or steamer pot insert. This should allow you to put your seitan pieces onto a place with a slightly smaller circumference than the steamer (the plate will sit inside the steamer). Now top that with another plate facing down, so that you have a UFO made of plates, with seitan bits inside rather than aliens. Place the UFO inside the steamer.

But wait! What if you are stuck with a lame ol' veggie steamer style basket, or even just a rice cooker? You could wrap each piece of seitan in foil and rest it on the veggie steamer or the rice cooker steamer insert. But if you are making the tiny chunks, then that would be a lot of wrapping and you're no MC Hammer.. so make your own steamer!
The hell you say?
Sure, just overturn a few shot glasses in a pot, fill with 2 inches of water or so (to just below the top of the shot glass) and place your UFO directly on top of the shot glasses (balanced properly of course). But really, go get a bamboo steamer and it'll make your life much easier.

Actually, before you place the UFO inside of anything, you should first get that water boiling. Once it's boiling, place the UFO in the pot and put the lid on.

Clean for about 25 minutes and then (with oven mitts!) turn off the heat, remove the lid (alwayas open a steam lid away from you so the steam doesn't blast your face off), and remove the UFO. Still with gloves on, lift the top plate off. You might need to use a knife or two in this process to really get the plates out and apart, but just try not to burn yourself, break any plates, or drop the seitan on the floor.

Anyway, there you go - yummy seitan of your very own!

How to Cook Seitan Method 2 - the Seitan O' Greatness method (baking in tight foil):
Time: 90 minutes

This couldn't be easier. This method is great for sausage, but if you make one large sausage log, you can also slice off very thin slices like lunch meat. You can also slice off thick slices and then slice and/or cube it further.
This cooking method produces a sausage-like texture, with a tough outside and nice meaty inside. As always, it can be further prepared in any dish by grilling or adding to a gumbo, or placing on pizza, or crumbled into ground "beef"

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Take your glob of seitan dough and roll it out into a large log or big thick sausage. Or break it apart and roll each chunk into the size and shape of a hotdog/sausage. Then take each sausage (or just the one big sausage) and place one a sheet of foil. Wrap the foil around the sausage and twist the ends. It should look like a tootsie roll, basically. I then like to wrap it again in a 2nd piece of foil, so that the flaps where the foil ends are in different places. This prevents the seitan from exploding out (as it is wont to do), although if it does explode out a little it's fine and no cause for alarm.

Place the foil-wrapped sausages in an oven-safe dish (such as a casserole dish) or if you are confident they won't fall through to the bottom of your oven, you can just place them directly in the oven.

Bake for 90 minutes at 350. Remove. Unwrap. Enjoy.

Bonus (and an example of spice changes): Mexican Style Foil-Baked Seitan

This is great for fajitas and whatnot.

Dry Ingredients

1 Cup Vital Wheat Gluten
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 tsp Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Paprika
2 tsp Cilantro (dried)
1/4 tsp Cayenne

Wet Ingredients

3/4 Cup Veggie Broth/No-Chicken Broth
2 TBSP Ketchup
2 TBSP Lime Juice

As per usual, mix the dry, mix the wet separately, then mix slowly together, then form into a dough and knead for a few minutes.

Then form into one big sausage or a few small sausages, wrap tightly in foil, and bake at 350 for 90 minutes.

What else can you do with all this great seitan? Well, you can make Seitan Picatta (lemon and caper sauce) for one. That's what I did last night! I will post up the recipe in a bit.

Also important: You can store seitan for a very long time! You can refrigerate for about a week, but you can freeze it for 3 months (!!!), so don't hesitate to make a bunch.

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