Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cooking Floyd: Seitan - The Other Wheat Meat

Not too long ago I went off about vegan/vegetarians using meat names for non-meat foods instead of just calling the food what it is.  Like "vegetarian meatloaf" instead of cheese and nut loaf.  It's trivial I know, but I like to know what I'm eating and just because I'm an omnivore doesn't mean I have to be tricked into eating all vegetables for a meal.  I'm omni- I eat everything!  Well, not reptiles and amphibians.  I don't eat them.  And I'm not big on rodent-like vermin.  Squid and octopus- right out.  But what I'm getting at here is I've been playing with this vegetable protein substance called Seitan (SAY-tahn.  Yeah, watch the pronunciation or the born-agains will be right on ya.).  It's an Asian concoction made from wheat gluten and, like a number of Asian soy products, is decidedly meat-like in texture.  Which has earned it the moniker of "Wheat Meat".  I hate calling it that but it is the easiest way to convey it's use, texture and mouth feel.  There are two reasons I've been experimenting with it: A) I want to become more familiar with vegetable protein sources, especially those I can make at home and B) I'm absolutely convinced that while we will have cheap meat available for the next few months (because farmers are thinning their herds and flocks due to the drought and corn crop failure), meat prices will rise steeply next year because corn prices will rise due to the lack of crop.

So here it is, Seitan, aka Wheat Meat.  Yep, I hear the gluten-free crowd moaning.

Because of what seems like everyone I know saying they have a wheat sensitivity, allergy or Coeliac's disease, I looked into making a soy meat product at home.  And looked and looked.  The last source I checked with was Mark Bittman.  Because he really does know how to make everything.  Unfortunately, he says that soy meats are a highly processed product requiring industrial methods that can't be reproduced at home.  His recommendation is to go out and buy already made textured vegetable protein (TVP) if you want to go that route.  But his opinion is that there are far better and more flavorful options out there and Seitan is among his recommendations.  Then I looked into the percent of the population that actually has a wheat allergy or Coeliac's disease and was surprised to find these numbers:
The percentage of people who have Coeliac's disease is between .5 - 1% of the population of the United States.
Wheat allergies in adults are even rarer affecting about .21% of the adult population.

Geez, it's like that entire .21 - 1% of the population must reside in Floyd.

It was explained to me that when people avoid foods containing gluten they typically replace them by eating more fruits and vegetables (which we all should be doing) which are less processed, more nutritious, and higher in fiber, improving their diets without realizing it.  The result is they do feel better and more energetic because they are eating better, not necessarily because they have Coeliac's or a wheat allergy and are avoiding gluten.

So in this post we're going to go for the gusto!  Or gluten as the case may be!  I've given the basic recipe below but the Seitan that you see in the photos is one I tweaked with the addition of reconstituted dried tomatoes and dried Portabella mushrooms.  My notes and additions are in italics

Basic Seitan Recipe:
makes one “log” – about 10″ long, 4″ wide

1 1/3 cups of vital wheat gluten  Vital wheat gluten can be found in the flour section of some grocery stores, at most health food/gourmet food stores (like the Harvest Moon), and at bulk food stores (like the Bread Basket).
1 cup dried tomatoes, 1 cup dried mushrooms in a bowl and covered by boiling water
1 cup veggie broth (+ 2-3 Tbsp based on how dry or moist your other ingredients are) I used the liquid from reconstituting the tomatoes and mushrooms.
1/3 cup soy flour (or any flour) I used fine cornmeal
2 tsp dried spices (any variety) I skipped these because I used fresh herbs (see below)
1 Tbsp soy sauce OR apple cider vinegar (for savory or vibrant flavor)
1 tsp maple or agave syrup
1/8 tsp fine black pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped veggies or herbs (optional)  I used a mix of chives, rosemary, oregano, parsley, sage.  About 1 cupful. 1/2 in the recipe and 1/2 to roll the log in.
1 tsp healthy fat oil (EVOO, truffle oil, safflower..)

Cover with boiling water and soak the dried tomatoes and mushrooms together in a bowl for at least 1/2 hour.

Drain off the water and reserve it.

Chop the reconstituted tomatoes and mushrooms and set aside.

Chop the fresh herbs and set aside
Add vital wheat gluten and soy flour (or corn meal) to a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine.

Add in any dried spices and herbs. Add the tomatoes and mushrooms and half the chopped fresh herbs.  Stir to combine and coat.

Add 1 cup veggie broth (Use the reserved liquid from the tomato-mushroom blend.  Start out with 2/3 cup because the tomato-mushroom blend is wet so you'll need less liquid.  Add more liquid if necessary a bit at a time until you have a dough) and all other liquids. Start mixing with spoon – the mixture will thicken quickly into a dough.

Knead in any chopped veggies (already added above).  If your mixture is too dry to knead – add in a few more splashes of veggie broth.
Place a large sheet of foil on the work surface and lightly oil it.  Place the seitan on the foil and roll into a log shape. 

(Lightly oil the seitan log, pepper it, and roll it in the rest of the fresh herbs.)  Coat the top of the seitan with more dried spices and pepper. Slather a hint of oil.

Wrap seitan log in foil. Twist the ends of the packet.

Set an extra large pasta pot on the stove 1/4 filled with water. Bring to a boil.

Some recipes forgo the packet and steamer and simmer the seitan log directly in water or meat/vegetable stock.  I haven't tried that yet, I've only used the steam/bake method.

Settle the packet over top the boiling water to steam it. Cover loosely with lid. Steam for 30 minutes. If you have a fancy steamer you can use that too.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F.

Transfer the steamed packet to the oven to bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Poke a few holes in the packet so the steam can escape.  I also put the packet on a rack over a cookie sheet to catch any drips.

Remove packet from oven. Cool at least ten minutes before opening.

From here you can slice and serve. Slice and saute. Slice and marinate. Slice and season. Or slice and chill. So many options! You can use this seitan however you’d like.  For this meal I sliced off a few pieces and sauteed them lightly.  Then I placed them on a bed of lettuce surrounded by heritage tomatoes, thin slices of shallots, a sprinkle of capers and dollops of herb-laced mayo.  A later meal found the seitan sliced and served gyro-style.

Seitan is easily customizable both in flavors and shapes.  In an earlier experiment after chilling the log I sent it through my meat grinder and ended up with a product that looked like and could be used like ground beef or poultry.  Vegetable sloppy joes, chilis, burgers and loaves are possible for those craving a more meat-like texture.

If you're not avoiding gluten seitan is a great source of protein and a good meat alternative.

1 comment:

  1. No reptiles for me either. I am trying to think of a rodent-like vermin.... rabbit? I would eat rabbit. Anyway. I have heard of Vital wheat gluten, but have never used it. I have seen some recipes using it for making veggie burgers. I need to check it out.