Seitan (pronounced say-tan) is a healthy meat alternative. It is simple, although time consuming, to make. Unlike tofu, seitan has a chewy meat-like texture. It is virtually tasteless, so it can be altered to have a variety of flavors. Like tofu, it takes on any flavor you choose, which can be added during the making or the cooking process.
To begin with, you need to buy whole wheat flour. Seitan is simply gluten, so you are going to remove the starch and bran from the flour. I use about 2 1/2 pounds of flour (half of a 5 pound bag). You can use any amount, depending on how much seitan you want. You might want to make a smaller batch the first time you make it. Although it’s easy to make, there is an “art” to it. Each time you make seitan, it will be easier and easier. You’ll be a pro in no time at all! There is no set recipe for seitan, so measurements are variable.
Begin by dumping the whole wheat flour into a big bowl. Add water and stir. The amount of water you use is dependent on how much flour you begin with. Add small amounts of water at time, and keep stirring. I use approximately 3 cups of water for 2 1/2 pounds of whole wheat flour. The amount of water will also vary according to the current humidity. You want to end up with a doughy mass that has absorbed the water, is a little sticky, but still has form.
When you have a large sticky mass, cover the bowl loosely and take a little break. I usually let mine rest for about a half an hour, but if you are impatient you can skip this step.
The next thing you do is kind of weird. You are actually going to wash the doughy mass under water. I put my bowl right in the sink and cover the mass with cool water. You will begin squeezing and kneading. I tip the bowl a little and leave the water run in a slow, steady stream. This process takes quite a while, so be very patient. You will notice the mass begin to get very stretchy and spongy, and the water will be cloudy. The starch and bran from the flour will be washed down the drain, and you will be left with gluten. It is amazing how the flour becomes a spongy mass. Remember to keep squeezing and rinsing until the water runs clear. If you want to alter the flavor of the seitan while you’re making it, you can add spices to it , then continue to rinse it under water. To flavor it like sausage, you would add fennel seeds, garlic, Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper flakes to the dough. Use your imagination, and flavor the dough according to your preferences.
The seitan has to be cooked before it can be used in any recipes. I like to cook mine in vegetable bouillon to give it a little flavor, but you can just use plain water. The mass should be in the form of a ball. Put it in a large saucepan (I use a Dutch oven) and cover it with liquid. Bring the liquid to a boil, then turn it down to simmer. Simmer the seitan for at least an hour.
When the seitan is cooked through, it is ready to use in any recipe. The sky’s the limit here. I like to slice it very thin, and sauté it with onions, mushrooms, and green peppers. It’s great on a hoagie roll with melted cheese. The mass can also be cut into chunks to use in stew, or broken up to use as a substitute for ground beef. The seitan can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days, or frozen for future use.
Seitan has the consistency of meat, which makes it appealing to most vegetarians. It is interchangeable for meat many recipes, and provides an amazing amount of protein. A four ounce serving of seitan boasts a whopping 20 grams of protein, and is lower in calories than an equal portion of beef.
If you have never tried seitan, you’re in for a treat.