Monday, April 7, 2014

Seitan Making 101...

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ve probably heard me talk about Seitan on a number of occasions. Or maybe you’ve scrolled through my posts and caught a glimpse of a rather ‘meaty’ looking dish and wondered to yourself “What’s that?” Maybe you’re new to the inventive world of seitan, or maybe you’re well acquainted with it, but didn’t know you could easily make seitan at home. Well, no matter where you fall on the spectrum, this post’s for you.

So lets start at the beginning shall we? Seitan - (Pronounced Say-Tahn) is a vegetarian meat made from gluten, the main protein in wheat. It’s said to have originated in ancient China as a meat substitute for adherents to Buddhism - but just who invented it and how is anyone’s guess. Some stories claim that seitan was born in a Buddhist monastery, made by monks who had originally been making bread. The dough became over-kneaded and tough and so they tired to salvage it somehow and ended up with what we know as seitan. Other stories insist that seitan was originally developed by the chefs who worked for the Chinese emperor who traditionally observed a week of vegetarianism each year. Personally I like the monk story best, but that’s me.

Even though seitan might be a new concept for you, it’s actually been used in a wide variety of ways for a very long time, and it’s still quite popular in many Asian cultures, in fact, you may be more familiar with it then you realize. Have you ever been into a Chinese restaurant and ordered something vegetarian? Mock duck, or mock chicken perhaps? Then you ate seitan. Have you ever been into a vegetarian Chinese restaurant and eaten anything that looked ‘meaty’? Then you were eating seitan, unless it was otherwise specified as being soy. The word might not have been in your vocabulary, but the product was on your plate.

Over the past decade as vegetarianism, and veganism have grown as a movement worldwide - and especially in the West, the word Seitan is popping up more and more. The product itself is popping up more and more, and sometimes in the most unlikely places. You can even buy prepared seitan in health food stores, and most other places that vegetarian meats are sold. This shift is really quite fantastic, and I think it’s great that seitan has become so easily available to the masses. However, I don’t personally like a lot of store-bought seitan. To me, it has a strange after taste that I dislike. In fact when I first went veg, and tried Seitan I found it so unpleasant that I avoided it for years until I discovered that making your own seitan was super easy, pretty fun, and way, way tastier! - Obviously this is not the case if you're Celiac, or have a gluten sensitivity or allergy, however I have heard of a few ingenious gluten-free vegans who've made gluten-free seitan. give it a Google, see what pops up!

Honestly, it might sound like a big hassle or a pain in the ass but it really isn’t, and the finished product is so rewarding. Typically I spend one morning every couple of months - maybe 4-5 hours - and make up huge batches of seitan to store in my freezer. This way I always have seitan handy when a recipe catches my interest, and this makes seitan a convenient food for me, it’s something I don’t need to buy, and something I don’t have to prepare on the spot. How often I do this is not set in stone basically whenever my seitan stores get low, I pick a day and have at it. How often I need to make seitan depends on how often I use it, and my use of it varies depending on the season or what recipes I’m currently interested in making. Sometimes I might not eat any home-made seitan for an entire month, and sometimes I might cook it once or twice a week. It’s never the same.

For the past month or so I’ve been telling myself I need to re-stock. The freezer’s been pretty empty, but I also haven’t really been eating seitan lately, and so I kept putting it off and putting it off. Since I knew I would have a lot of free time yesterday morning I decided to spend it making seitan, and I took pictures to show you just how easy it is!

Dry Mix for 'Moo-Free Seitan'

Firstly, there are a few different ways one can make seitan. The traditional way - the original way - is to use whole what flour mixed with water, and to knead and knead and then rinse the dough to remove the starch and then knead some more, and rinse again, and then simmer it for an hour or two. I’ve never made seitan that way, though I’m intrigued to give it a try even though the process is a little more time consuming.

'Moo-Free Seitan' once mixed

I typically use one of the three more common ‘streamline’ methods, which involve mixing Vital What Gluten with water/broth and other seasonings and then simmering on or in the stove, steaming, or baking. My personal favorite method of the three is steaming, that’s the one I use most often. I like it because it’s quick and easy and makes for really chewy firm seitan. The simmer method makes pretty flavorful seitan but I also find the end result rather soft, sometimes spongy. Finally the baking method I’ve only tried twice, both times resulted in really flavorful and extremely firm seitan.

'Moo-Free' Seitan' In it's broth and ready for the oven!

Yesterday I used two of the three methods. First, because I wanted to make the Monte Cristo Sandwiches from “Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day” by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes I had to first make the Moo-Free Seitan, which is a beef-flavored seitan used in several of the recipes in the book. This recipe called for vital wheat gluten, soy flour, nutritional yeast, and various other wet and dry seasonings like broth and soy Tamari. So, first things first. You combine your dry ingredients in a bowl, combine your wet in a separate bowl, and then mix the two together until a dough forms. Up to this point it’s very much like baking bread. Once your dough sticks together and isn’t sticking to your hands you knead it for 5-8 minutes, and then let it rest for 10 so that the gluten can develop. Then you roll the whole thing into a ball shape and place it in a casserole dish with vegetable broth, onions, garlic and a few other things. Then bake in the oven at 300'F for 3 hours. Though this particular seitan is being baked the finished product is more like what you get when you simmer on the stove for an hour. Soft and chewy - other baked seitan recipes require being baked in aluminum foil with no liquid.

The finished 'Moo-Free Seitan" with a few garlic slivers on top

Anyway, once that was in the oven it was time for me to move on. I set up two pots with water and steamer baskets on my stove and set about making a batch of Red Seitan and a batch of White Seitan both from Terry Hope Romero’s “Viva Vegan!” book. This is really my ‘go-to’ seitan recipe. It’s quick, easy, tastes great, and never fails. You can put it in anything. Now if you’re wondering what the difference is, red seitan is more like a ‘beef’ flavor, where as white seitan is more like a ‘chicken’ flavor. Different combinations of seasonings are used to alter the flavor while the same base recipe is used. While her recipes call for the use of vegetable broth or water I typically use a vegan beef bouillon cube and a vegan chicken bouillon cube to added flavor enhancement.

White Seitan on the left
Red Seitan on the right

So once you have your dough mixed together and properly kneaded your next task is to divide it. Divide each dough into four portions and roll those portions into a loaf shape. Once that is done you cut off a strip of aluminum foil place the seitan on top and wrap it up - tight but not too tight - like you would a Christmas parcel. Once that’s done you stick them seam side down in your steamer basket and steam for about 30-45 minutes, until the packages have expanded and they’re firm to the touch.

Seitan Loaf Ready to be rolled
Remember to roll it tight but not too tight. It will expand as it steams,
and if the parcel is too tight it will explode.

A perfect fit into the steamer

Once I had that going it was time for me to make some sausages. All I had left in the freezer were some curry apple sausages and some chorizo. So I pulled out my copy of Sky Michael Conroy’s book “The Gentle Chef” and proceeded to go crazy. I made the German Bratwurst, the Italian Sausages, the Bangers, and the Andouille Sausage. I’ve made both Italian and Andouille sausages before using different recipes - usually Isa Chandra Moskowitz's recipe from "Vegan Brunch"  for the Italian, and Alicia C. Simpson’s  recipe from "Quick and Easy Vegan Celebrations" for the Andouille, - but since I haven’t tried many recipes from The Gentle Chef yet, I wanted to give them a try. Plus I was particularly excited to try some seitan brats, and bangers.  I have to say the dough is much wetter, and softer then other seitan dough I’ve previously worked with, in fact most of the dough’s didn’t stick together at all and I had to add a bit more flour. No big deal though. After the dough rested the next step was to roll it into sausage shapes. Since the sausage recipes called for the same steam technique that he red and white seitan use, the process is fairly similar.

Once you have a nice sausage shape you place it onto a sheet of aluminum foil and then roll it up and twist the ends like a Tootsie roll. Once that’s done you place them in your steamer and steam for about 40 minutes.

Bratwurst Sausage ready for the steamer

Still, even after all that I wasn’t quite finished. I really decided to go all out and once my Gentle Chef Sausages were done I made a batch of Bianca Phillips Creole Sausages from her book “Cookin’ Crunk” and then a batch of Taymer Mason’s Jamaican Jerk Sausages from “Caribbean Vegan” only by then I was running low on vital wheat gluten and so I decided to half the Jerk Recipes - which was huge it made 12 sausages as written! Anyway I’m not quite sure what happened, I don’t know if my calculations were off or what but I still ended up with more liquid ingredients then dry and the dough was more of a paste. In hopes of saving it I had my husband run to the store for some more gluten, and in the end was able to add enough to make a proper dough. It steamed up nice, and the sausages were very firm, but I still ended up with 10 even though I initially halved the recipe so I don’t know flavor wise how those ones are going to turn out. Hopefully they still taste great though.

Andouille Sausage ready for the steamer

Anyway, once everything comes out of the steamer it’s a good idea to set your seitan on a plate and let cool to room temperature. Leave the dough in it’s aluminum foil wrapping and then once it’s cool place it inside a zip-lock bag and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. Then you can use them any little way your heart desires or pop ‘em all into the freezer for a later use. Personally I don’t always refrigerate for 8 hours sometimes I just throw ‘em all into the freezer right away, but I’ve read recently that refrigerating first helps develop the texture and flavor of the final product so I’ve been testing this out.

And that my friends is how you do it - seitan making 101. See how easy it is? I mean it may seem like a lot of steps but really the longest part of the process is either the steaming, baking or simmering and that’s all down time you know? Mixing the dough and kneading takes less then 10 minutes. Admittedly rolling the sausages can be a pain in the ass but once you do it a few times you’ll be a pro!

The Fruits of my labor.
Top, Left to Right - Red Seitan, Bratwurst, Andouille, & Creole Sausages
Bottom, Left to Right - White Seitan, Italian, Bangers, & Jerk Sausages

If you’ve never made seitan at home before because you were intimidated by it or simply didn’t know you could, I urge you to give it a try. There are a lot of great recipes out there, you can find plenty online or use one of the books I mentioned! Let me know how it goes! And if you’re an old hand at seitan making feel free to drop me a line with any helpful hints or tips for making the best seitan!

Lastly, the beautiful and delicious Moo-Free Seitan on the delicious
Monte Cristo Sandwich! 

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