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Make your own Seitan – A fake meat recipe

2009-06-17

First of all, I don’t usually blog recipes, but this is one I actually know and don’t need a cookbook for. I was going to make some seitan, and thought I might just as well write it up.

Seitan is a vegetarian meat substitute. It consists of wheat gluten, which can be extracted from a dough of flour and water, by washing it. Gluten is essentially just protein, so a good meat substitute. Seitan can be used in most recipes instead of meat. What you have to understand is that the product you have when this is all over is a raw ingredient, that should be fried or cooked with other ingredients to actually become a meal. In a meat analogy, this would be the slaughtering and tanning process.

I’m not a vegetarian, but I like variation in my meals. Since flour is so very cheap, seitan is also a very affordable meat substitute — I think I once calculated that it costs less than a quarter of the price of ground beef. I’m a student and my money can be scarce, so that’s good for me. Also prefabricated fake meat is pretty expensive, at least in Sweden, so for vegetarians this option is even better!

I won’t kid you though, it’s a time consuming process. But I’m sure that if you try it, you’ll find it tasty enough to be worth it.

Ingredients

  • Flour
  • Water
  • Vegetable boullion cubes
  • Soy sauce
  • Salt
  • Other seasonings

Flour

Flour

Seasoning

Seasoning

 

Step 1
Choose an amount of flour you feel is suitable. Depending on the type of flour you use, and how well you knead the dough, the weight of the seitan will be about 30% of the flour weight. I usually do batches of 3.5kg of flour, which makes around 1kg of seitan.

Now mix the water with the flour until the consistency is doughy and springy but not sticky. This can be done in a food processor or by hand.

Step 2
Knead the dough thoroughly. The more time you spend on this — up to a limit — the more weight your seitan will retain. It’s something about gluten threads developing or some such. If anyone knows the mechanics, feel free to educate me.

Dough

Dough

When you’re done, let the dough rest for a few minutes. Or if you’re impatient, just get on with it.

Step 3
Now here’s the boring part. You’re going to wash all the starch out of the dough you just kneaded! Using a bowl, and as much of the dough as can fit in it, wash the dough by kneading it in alternatingly warm and cold water. Again, I don’t know the science behind this, and I’ve heard people advocate using only cold or only warm water too.

With each rinse, the water will get white and opaque. When that happens, discard the water (or save it up and allow it to sediment if you’re in need of wheat starch) and fill the bowl back up.

Keep repeating this step until the water doesn’t get murky, but stays clear and the dough has turned into a yellowish, elastic ball of pure gluten. This will normally happen after about 10 washes. At some point (usually around steps 5-7) the dough will become very unattached. It will seem like you have failed, and that nothing will ever stick together again — it’ll all just be crumbling. This is normal. Just make sure you don’t pour any of it out with the water, and it’ll come together in a bit. Just keep washing.

Washing process from beginning to end

Washing process from beginning to end

If you had to part your dough because it didn’t fit in the bowl all at once, then guess what — you’re going to have to repeat the whole thing again with the remaining dough! D’oh! (I’m so sorry, but honestly don’t say you didn’t see it coming.)

Step 4
Now boil enough water to fit all of the gluten and some more — it’s going to swell quite a bit. Divide the gluten into clumps the size of tennis balls, and lower them into the boiling water.

Boiling water

Boiling water

Here’s the fun part where you get to experiment. When seasoning, you should at least have boullion (made from vegetables if you want to keep it vegetarian, of course), soy sauce and salt. The rest is up to you.

I myself prefer to use garlic, sesame seed oil, thyme, chili, hot sauce, nutritional yeast and a hint of food coloring (the kind you might use for making brown sauce). Nutritional yeast is one of those things that vegetarians use, but others have usually never heard of. It’s esentially deactivated yeast, close to brewer’s yeast, but with added vitamins. It has a nutty/cheesy taste that you either love or hate.

Make sure you don’t get it too salty, and as always when cooking — taste everything while you’re cooking it!

Anyway, once you have your seasoning done, let the pot simmer for about 45 minutes or up to an hour. The clumps of seitan will swell and rise to the surface.

Swollen and floating seitan balls

Swollen and floating seitan balls

Step 5
Now, for the last step, pick up the seitan and cut it into the shape you prefer. If you want, you can carve fillets or dice or even a turkey shape if you have big enough seitan pieces. The texture will be porous though, and the chewiness is a bit different from meat. I tend to cut mine in strips.

Cut seitan

Cut seitan

Now you’re done, and ready to store your fake meat. Either store it in the fridge in some of the stock, or in the freezer without the stock. I like to keep it in the freezer, because it’s really easy to defrost in the microwave. If you cut the seitan into larger pieces (or don’t cut it at all) you can freeze it and then when you want to eat it only partially defrost it and it’ll be easier to cut.

Every time I make seitan, I always fry some of it right away to have at least something out of all that time I just spent. Just throw the seitan in a frying pan with some more spices of your liking and give it a nice, crispy surface.

Fried seitan with tomatoes and pasta

Fried seitan with tomatoes and pasta

Enjoy!

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