So much like bread that I had to throw it in here, instead of my regular blog where I put other supper-making types of things.
For Thursday night’s vegan meal, I was inspired by Penny (her real name?) of Penniless Parenting to make homemade seitan for a stir-fry. I supplemented Penny’s directions with some instructions I found here. There are lots of recipes for seitan online, but most call for Vital Wheat Gluten and I threw ours away (a big bag, too - what a waste!) last week because the mice seemed to enjoy it more than we had. Penny’s and the other site were most helpful because they give directions for starting with actual wheat FLOUR.
Flour, as we all know, has two main components: starch and gluten. Making seitan involves separating these parts in the most utterly magical way.
You start with a VERY basic bread dough: flour and water. No particular quantity is required; I started with 1 kg of flour and enough water to make a pretty stiff dough.
The Blooper Reel: Then, I combined the ingredients to make a rough dough, squished it around a bit until it stuck together, then filled the bowl with water. DISASTER! Just as you’d expect, the ball began to dissolve into the water until there were just chunks of dough floating around. Aaargh! (did I mention I was fasting as I did this yesterday? doubly frustrating!)
So I poured the whole mess into a sieve and started over – adding enough flour to make the ball into a cohesive whole once again. Phew! Disaster averted!
I kneaded it on the table for a while, probably 8-10 minutes, bringing the total “time since mixing” over 18 minutes; as a Jew, I know that’s the amount of time it takes for gluten to really “activate.” I wouldn’t recommend doing anything to the ball before 18 minutes are up.
Here’s what it looked like after kneading – pretty smooth dough:
NOW, I carefully (gingerly, fearfully) submerged it in water and began to knead. Gently!
Whaddya know? It kind of stuck together. At least, it didn’t fall apart too much, and I could actually start seeing the emerging structure of the gluten as the water turned milky. The whiteness is caused by the wheat starch in the flour, fleeing the developing gluten matrix. Magical, right?
After a few times of pouring out the kneading water and refilling the bowl, I decided to just knead the thing in the sieve under running water. It took a while, but kept getting cleaner and cleaner:
Here’s what I was left with after about 20 minutes. No more starchy runoff, just a globby, blobby mass.
I pressed this blob flat in the sieve to squeeze out excess water:
Indeed, here was the promised “silly-putty” texture! Weird. Kind of like chewing gum, too. Dense and very stretchy. This is NOT a hole; this is my finger stretching the gluten, but it didn’t break. It’s like the most over-kneaded bread dough you could ever hope (or dread) to see. (The unattractive bumps on the blob are from the holes in the sieve.)
This is SEITAN:
I tried seasoning at this point (salt, garlic, pepper, paprika), but couldn’t really work anything into the silly putty, so it all just kind of clung to the outside.
Now, I tore off “chicken-nugget” sized pieces of the seitan and pressed them out, longish and flattish. It’s not very workable at this point, but I tried.
Then I dropped the pieces into boiling broth…
… and let them simmer for about 20-30 minutes. (I lost track of time; did I mention I was fasting? This was very late in the day.)
When I fished out the pieces, they looked a bit like matzah balls: fluffy and full of water.
Where I used this sophisticated weighting system to press out as much water as possible:
… and finally, here’s what was left! A plate of what we all agreed was a delicious tasting and miraculously-textured WHEAT MEAT. A little spongy, but chewy and satisfying; fake chicken, fresher, moister and more delicious than you could ever buy in a store:
(okay, Elisheva said if it WAS chicken, she’d send it back as it had a bit of an “underdone” squishy texture)
As I said, this is for Thursday, so the seitan is now sitting in the fridge awaiting our vegan stir-fry. Mmm… I’m looking forward to it!
In general, this is a VERY inexpensive meat substitute. For this much fake chicken, you’d probably pay $8-10 in a store. But the trade-off is prep time: this took at least an hour of full-time, hands-on attention. I might be able to get the time down a bit with experience, but it’s always going to be work.
Nevertheless, (depending on how the stir-fry turns out) it’s probably something worth doing again.
And as I’ve said before, it’s simply magical that a basic flour-and-water mixture can turn into so many completely different things, depending on what you do with it, how long you let it sit, whether you submerge it, boil it, steam it, bake it? Wow.