I have been a vegetarian for about 21 years. That's quite a while — practically half my life — and I cannot believe that in all that time, I have never made seitan before. I've never even thought to make it at home. I remember my sister making seitan once, about 20 years ago, when she was experimenting with vegetarian Chinese cooking and made us all a pot full of vegetarian Bah Kut Teh. The seitan was nice and chewy and absorbed all the flavours of the broth very well. It was tasty and I don't know why I didn't ever ask her how she made the dish.
Then last month, when Jane (the kitchen wench behind thewaywardoven) announced excitedly that she'd made seitan, I was all over her. I wanted to know more and I (almost) immediately went out to buy myself some wheat gluten powder to make my own seitan.
What is seitan?
Well, first of all, it's pronounced SEY-TAN (as in sun TAN). Seitan is wheat gluten or protein: pure protein from wheat once all the starch has been washed out of it. It's really protein-rich, perfect for vegetarians, especially if you're experiencing tofu-fatigue. Let's face it, we vegetarians eat a whole lot of tofu and even though I like tofu, I sometimes feel I need a break from the bean curd.
Of course, seitan isn't for everyone: if you've got a gluten allergy/intolerance (celiac disease), you want to stay far away from seitan.
The picture above doesn't look remotely appetising, I'll admit. In fact, it looks like a well-worn sponge doesn't it? Well, that's half right, in a way. Seitan is like a sponge in that it absorbs flavours extremely easily. If you think its amazing that a bland block of tofu can absorb flavours, you're gonna go wild playing with seitam. From the way it's made to how it's used in a dish, you have the opportunity to make taste like anything you wish because it can take on any flavour you want. Jane made vegetarian char-siew (barbecued pork) with her seitan and she raved about how good it was. She didn't let me taste any (I assume she gobbled it up) but I believe her especially since she isn't a vegetarian and could have easily eaten actual meat dish.
So back to the picture above. This is seitan in its initial stage of being: I mixed the wheat gluten (Which you can buy at baking supply stores and some organic shops) with sesame oil, water and my choice of seasoning: curry powder, cumin, caraway seeds, onion and garlic powder, nutritional yeast, soy sauce and salt. (You can choose your own seasoning; I know I will be experimenting with different herbs and spices my next time).
Once mixed, the gluten comes together to form a spongy dough which you need to knead for a bit to give it some elasticity. This also helps massage the flavour into the gluten better.
Once done, it is rested for a bit, cut into piece and drowned in stock: you cook the chunks of gluten dough in a full-bodied vegetable stock for about 40 mins. The result is what you see below.
The pieces on the left are the seitan. The ones on the right are my store-bought mock chicken made from soy protein. The seitan is slightly more chewy; it is dark because of the seasonings (namely the soy sauce and chilli and cumin powders).
I made a dry seitan curry, replicating the recipe for a chicken curry (without the chicken but with seitan). The result? The seitan in the curry was so juicy and flavourful — and the texture, nice and chewy.
Will I be making seitan more often? For sure!
1 cup wheat gluten powder
1 tsp sesame oil
3/4 cup broth/water
*1/4 tsp ginger powder
*1/2 tsp onion powder
*1/2 tsp garlic powder
*1/2 tsp caraway seeds
*1/4 tsp curry powder
*1 tsp nutritional yeast
*1 tsp soy sauce
4 cups broth (to cook the seitan in)
*seasonings are all optional and can be substituted
Mix the dry ingredients together and then add the broth + soy sauce + sesame oil. Mix together quickly, using your hands. It's amazing how quickly the wheat gluten absorbs the liquids to form a spongy dough. Knead for about a minute or two and then shape it into a square/rectangle (or round, depending what you want to use the seitan for) and let it sit for about 5-10 minutes then cut into pieces/cubes.
Meanwhile, put a pot of stock to boil. I had some bottled stock in the fridge so I just heated it up. Once boiling, add the seitan cubes and reduce heat to low. Leave to simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.
The stock would have reduced considerably — absorbed into the seitan. Yes, the pieces expand in the process, so you might want to take this into consideration when cutting them! Once cooked, remove from heat and strain the seitan.
That's it. The seitan is cooked and ready for use. The stock can be used for making soups/curries/or in your seitan dish, whatever you choose to make with it.