Whenever Tim and I go out to eat and seitan is featured in a dish on the menu, there’s a pretty high chance that one of us will end up ordering it. Generally, restaurants that go to the trouble of getting seitan are pretty good at preparing it, so it’s usually a safe bet that dishes using “wheat meat” are going to be delicious. We’d occasionally eye up a package of seitan in the store, but it always costs way more than we’re willing to spend on protein, so we’d sadly reshelve it and get tofu instead. That is until Tim found a packet of vital wheat gluten and we learned to make seitan from scratch at home.
For those not familiar with it, seitan is a wheat-based vegetarian “meat” substitute and generally has a chewier texture than many of its other vegetarian protein counterparts. Like a lot of meat substitutes, it has very little taste on its own and really takes on the flavor of what you cook with it. Seitan will soak up sauces like a sponge, which also makes it ideal for marinades. If you’ve never tried it, I’d recommend it, though I know that the chewy texture has put some of my friends off. If you tend to have hangups about food textures, seitan might not be for you, and that’s okay. (Personally, my turn-off texture is weird soggy-mushy things, which is why I cannot stand bread pudding.) But for the rest of you, totally give it a shot!
Discovering vital wheat gluten was amazing, because it gave us the ability to whip up seitan whenever we wanted. We started off with a box of Arrowhead Mills Vital Wheat Gluten, but soon discovered that Whole Foods carries wheat gluten in bulk, which is a little cheaper. (Tim also substitutes wheat gluten for some of the all-purpose flour in recipes for our bread maker, so we don’t have to buy separate bread flour.) The recipe is so easy, and I can generally make some while puttering around the kitchen and doing dishes, so we got pretty hooked on having seitan waiting for us in our fridge all the time to add to stir-fries or make into buffalo wings or barbeque.
The basic ratio is 1 C of wheat gluten powder to 1 C minus 1 Tbsp of water. (What is that, 15 tablespoons? I generally just fill the cup up to the line and then pour from it into a tablespoon, which I just dump back into the sink.) These measurements make about a pound of seitan, but it’s super easy to double or triple the recipe. Combine the water and wheat gluten in a bowl and knead it for 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a log (it might be a little springy, this step can be tricky, but it definitely doesn’t have to be perfect) and let it rest for 5 minutes. Boil some water in either a pressure cooker or a pot, enough to cover the seitan when you add it. After the dough rests, take a sharp knife and slice the log into 1/2″ or so pieces. I have found it helps to keep the knife and your hands wet, because the dough will stick to dry surfaces (and to other slices! don’t pile them on top of each other on the cutting mat!), and I usually work with a straight knife rather than a serrated one, but either will do. Place the slices (carefully!) into the boiling water and tightly cover the pot or pressure cooker. If you’re using a pot, cook for an hour. If you’re using a pressure cooker, cook for 30 minutes, once the pressure is up. After the cooking time is over, drain the seitan slices in a collander, and let them cool down a little. After about 45 minutes or so (because I am a giant baby about burning my hands), I squeeze as much excess water out of the slices as possible and put them in an air-tight container to be stored in the fridge. Your seitan is ready to cook with. (As a variation, you can cook the slices in veggie broth, though we’ve never done it, but I imagine it gives the seitan a bit more flavor on its own.)
One of the things we like to do with seitan (other than make endless variations of our favorite stir-fry which we’re currently obsessed with) is to make buffalo wings. Slice the seitan into appropriately-sized pieces (ours usually end in 1/2″ square “sticks”) and brown them up in a skillet with a little oil to get the crispy texture on the outside. Then, you can heat the wings in a saucepan with some buffalo sauce (apparently you’re supposed to keep the pot covered, which I learned on Saturday, or else the sauce will burn a little on the bottom, whoops!) until the wings have soaked up a nice amount of the sauce and everything is piping hot. Drizzle a little bonus wing sauce and some homemade ranch dressing over the top, and you’ve got yourself some delicious food to comfort you while your team plays embarrassingly poorly (or wins! Good job, Illini!) on a Saturday afternoon.
As Tim likes to say “Seitan is my motor.” Try some today!