Monday, May 24, 2010

Wheat Meat

Not too long ago, I noticed @carrier talking about something called seitan on The Twitter. Further investigation revealed that she could explain the entire recipe in under three tweets, which to me indicated one thing: Easy - and hey, I like easy! So even though I had no understanding of what the taste/texture should be, I knew I already had all the ingredients on hand, so I might as well try to make some...

And I did! And it didn't seem to be a miserable failure! So then I made some again. And again. And gave some to Tracy. She liked it! That's important, because she's a vegetarian, so it has to be good, right? Anyway, it's become a staple around our house, and folks be wantin' to know how it's made, so here you go.

Seitan

Ingredients
All photos can be clicked to embiggen
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Water (not pictured)
  • Vegetable broth, canned/boxed (not pictured)
  • Flavorings: Steak sauce, Soy sauce, various seasonings (in this case: Garlic, pepper, mustard, thyme)

Dump a bunch of flour into a bowl - I use a giant stainless bowl that fits pretty much exactly in one side of my sink. Add enough tepid water to make a kneadable dough:

Flour and Water Before Kneading

And then knead. I generally knead for about ten minutes, and I do it right in the same bowl I've been mixing in. If you have a bread machine or a mixer with a dough hook, I'm sure you're already using them by this point, but me? I mix and knead by hand, because I don't have those things. I like it, though - there's something satisfyingly old school about kneading dough by hand. Anyway, after kneading, the dough will look something like this:

After Kneading

Now, fill the bowl with water, because it's time to soak.

Soaking

...and walk away. Just walk away! The original tweets from Carrie said to soak it for two hours, but I tend to soak it for a minimum of two hours. Which is to say, I just deal with it when I get back around to it. So, go do whatever for awhile. Here are some ideas, from things I've done while seitan soaks: Naps, videogames, showers, rescuing family members from state parks, other naps...

Where was I?

Oh, right. Soaking. So, after you've soaked the dough, it's time to rinse it. You'll find that the dough has relaxed and softened...

After Soaking

...and basically now you're going to squish and squeeze and otherwise manhandle the dough until the water is more or less clear. Fill the bowl with water, manhandle awhile, dump the water out, refill... in other words: Rinse, repeat. What we're doing here is washing away as much starch as possible, to leave behind only the gluten. Wash, wash, wash. This takes long enough that my A.D.D. kicks in and I become convinced that it will never ever be done, so, eh, about fifteen minutes. Here, we're about halfway done with the rinsing. Notice that the mass is reducing in size. It's gonna do that.

Cloudy Water Mid-Rinse

By the time I give up and stop rinsing, the mass has reduced by at least half, and what's left is stringy and spongy, and for me evokes-memories-of-brain-dissections-in-high-school, or a bigass lump of chewed gum. I'm pretty sure I've never managed to get it all the way 'clean', but whatever, it's close enough:

Clear Water Rinsed

Now, the liquid. Again, I don't measure much: I used three cans of generic vegetable stock and the same amount of water. Then I dumped in half a bottle (or so) of steak sauce, a bunch of shots of soy sauce, maybe a tablespoon or so of minced garlic, and ten-ish of shakes of ground mustard, ten-ish shakes of thyme, and about 20 twists of pepper. I know, it's frustrating not to know exactly how much, but it really honestly doesn't matter. The only thing that I find you gotta have is the stock and two sauces - the rest is just whatever seems like it'll work. I bet a couple of bay leaves would be nice, but I don't generally keep them on hand these days. The point is, you want a strongly flavored liquid, because you want to infuse that flavor into the protein. Stir it all together, and bring it to a boil:

Flavorful Liquid

Now, squeeze as much water out of your seitan dough as you can. Here is where you have a decision to make. Slice it and throw it in the pot? That's what I do:

Sliced Seitan, Uncooked

...or you can also roll it in cheesecloth and tie it off in a sausage shape before tossing it in the pot (for a more dense and solid texture), or maybe even just drop the entire thing in. Whatever strikes your fancy.

Now, we boil. A low boil, for 30 minutes:

Cooking

When the timer goes off, fish it out with a slotted spoon. Congratulations, you've made seitan!

Completed Seitan

I put it all into a container with a tight-fitting lid and put it in the fridge, where I use it over about two weeks. Once it's completely chilled, it can be manipulated in a number of ways: I typically grate it, for a ground beefier texture, then I use it in place of beef in spaghetti sauce, tacos, queso, or wherever else I might use meat. Last night I even sliced it into chunks and tossed it into vegetable soup.

I like not depending so much on meat, all the time, and I like making what essentially amounts to somethin'-outta-nuthin'. I especially like that the kids totally accept it in their normally meaty meals, without complaint.

Wheat meat: Try it!