Oh Great Seitan, Mock Meat Of Vegetarian Champions!!
September 25, 2009 4:56 PM   Subscribe

Oh, Seitan! What is the best way to make you from scratch.... and will your high protein gluten goodness harm me?

Oh, Seitan! What is the best way to make you from scratch.... and will your high protein gluten goodness harm me?

Right now, I am in the middle of making homemade seitan. One is being boiled, as per the recipe in the link above. One is being baked as per the recipe in this link.

The theory goes that baking is superior to boiling in terms of texture result. I made both versions WITHOUT any seasonings - just vital wheat gluten & water. The boiled version is simmering in salted h2O.

Since seitan is about 75% protein and low carb, this seemed like a great experiment. I made both versions w/out seasoning because I am super keen to know what this product is like. If I know it, I'll know how to season it depending on my tastes or the desired result. Fair enough.

But I know that gluten is a problem if you have celiac disease (also spelled coeliac.) I had a friend who had celiac. My understanding is that having a sensitivity to gluten is a bit hard to determine. For those who don't know, gluten can cause an inflammation of the lower intestine in certain individuals.

Anyway, while seitan has been around for centuries, it's not all that popular in the West. Is gluten sensitivity for Westerners like lactose intolerance for Asians? I'm just wondering.

Also, gluten is super sticky. Does the body digest seitan easily? If I eat it often, should I increase my intake of fiber?

I would love to hear from anyone who enjoys this mock meat product! What have you found beneficial about consuming seitan often? Have you experienced any negative effects?

**Bonus points if you share a favorite preparation for this item, as I am always keen to learn something new!
posted by jbenben to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I just had some (terrible) seitan chicken wings for dinner.

I'm having trouble understanding your celiac question; ALL wheat has gluten in it, honey, vital wheat gluten is just the gluten isolated. If you eat bread, you're going to be fine eating seitan.

If you eat a varied diet with all the vegetables and fruits you're supposed to, you do not need to worry about adjusting your diet for seitan. All things in moderation, you know.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:04 PM on September 25, 2009

Celiac disease is more common in some populations than others - the Irish and Italians, I've been told. Gluten is in all wheat products, as well as many other grain products. I'd say if you've been eating bread all your life, and don't have any digestive complaints, you aren't likely* to have a gluten intolerance problem.

*Note the use of likely here. It's possible to have celiac disease and not have any symptoms, but digestive issues are often the first sign.

Oh, and IANAD, but I am someone with my fair share of food intolerances.
posted by chez shoes at 6:30 PM on September 25, 2009

Juliet Banana -- Exactly!! Lots of stuff has gluten in it. I'm having a hard time understanding the celiac thing, generally.

Did the taste of those mock chicken wings fall short for you... or did they make you feel bad after eating? I'm curious.


Currently, my just cooked, basic unflavored seitan (both boiled and baked) are cooling.

The boiled is spongy, but wet. The baked is spongy, but dry. Folks report success chopping the cooked seitan into mince for use in chilis, bolognese, etc. I'd like to determine when or why to bake or boil.


What do you know and how do you know it concerning seitan... Please let me know!

posted by jbenben at 6:36 PM on September 25, 2009

Dunno about you seitan questions, but re: coeliac - there is a huge difference between gluten intolerance (or sensitivity) and coeliac that the 'trendiness' of gluten intolerance makes easy to ignore.

If you have gliaden (one of the two proteins that make up gluten) and you're coeliac, it's generally pretty serious stuff. Essentially what happens is your intestine inflames, might even bleed a little and you'll probably get terrible, terrible pain, cramping, diarrhoea and most importantly - your body won't absorb any of the nutrients in the food you've eaten. Some coeliacs may not get the diarrhoea etc but the malabsorbtion and higher risk profile for lymphoma and and intestinal ulcer has some pretty serious implications in the long run. Any amount of gluten will have this result.

Gluten intolerance may make you gassy etc, and I'm not trying to trivialise how painful and unpleasant that can be, but the risk profile for the other stuff is not there (mainly because the inflammation etc doesn't present is my understanding), and generally a small amount of gluten may not give you any symptoms at all.

You can get a tested for coeliac in a num ber of different ways from blood test to colonoscopy, gluten intolerance is not tested so much, and is generally more self-diagnosed. There wheat allergies (or rather allergies to different components of wheat) but they too are a different kettle of fish.

I know all this because I have been blessed with colitis, which is different to coeliac but in the same family, and I happen to be an avid sourdough bread baker (thankfully, gluten doesn't 'inflame' me, just every other goddamn thing when I'm not medicated).

Gluten has been present in a western diet (in the form of bread) for many thousands of years, so I don't think the lactose theory would be the reason. I have no idea for gluten intolerance, but coeliac is an auto-immune dysfunction, so reasons of prevalence in the west probably have more to do with the hygience hypothesis than necessarily diet related stuff.
posted by smoke at 6:39 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

My favorite seitan recipe (via VeganYumYum):

1 Cup Vital Wheat Gluten
2 tsp Smoked Paprika
2 Tbs Nutritional Yeast
2 tsp Bill’s Best Chik’Nish Seasoning, optional
3/4 Cup Water
2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 Tbs Soy Sauce

In a medium bowl, combine the gluten with the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the wet ingredients and knead for a few minutes. With a large knife, divide the seitan in half, and in half again. Continue to cut each piece in half until you have about 30 bite-sized chunks of seitan.

Place a large skillet (one that has sides) on the stove and fill with 1-2″ of vegetable stock. Bring to a simmer, then add the seitan cubes. The stock should be about level with the seitan, the same amount of liquid you’d use for braising. GENTLY simmer (no boiling allowed!) for 8-10 minutes. When the seitan chunks are done, they should be larger, paler, and springier than when you started. Remove the seitan chunks with a slotted spoon.
posted by perpetual lurker at 7:00 PM on September 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

Normally I wouldn't air my minor gripes with a restuarant on Ask, but since you asked...

To be honest, the only great seitan I've ever had was at a little Chinese joint that had the full menu available vegetarian (oh, Cashew "Chicken," how I miss you). It was stringy and chewy and dense and very meatlike. I might have had lower standards then, since I was vegan and I didn't eat in restaurants very often and hadn't had meat in years.

A lot of seitan seems to have a spongy, rather than stringy, texture.* Since it seems to have a distinct nutty taste, if I'm eating something spongey I'd rather have tofu which is rather taste-neutral.

The reason the chicken wings failed for me in this case was 1) the spongey texture 2) the intense taste of seitan competing with the taste of wing sauce.

*There was an Ask thread recently that asked how to make stringy seitan; it doesn't look like they got a lot of answers.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:05 PM on September 25, 2009

My Country Fried Seitan Steaks are always a hit, even with meat eaters:


And if you ever make it to Philadelphia, you must go to Horizons. They have the best grilled seitan steak ever. It is mind-blowing, and I wish I knew how to recreate it from home. They get custom "cuts" of seitan from "Ray's Seitan" in Philly, and his secret preparation is amazing... somehow he manages to make it stringy, succulent, and not the least bit rubbery/spongy. My country fried steaks are great (probably since they're fried... haha) but I don't know how they'd taste if grilled (probably not quite as amazing). If I ever figure out Ray's trick I'm going to spread the word and tell everyone :)
posted by bengarland at 7:06 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

The best seitan I've ever made was in the form of Julie Hasson's steamed seitan sausages. Watch her make them in this video, then Google around for variations, because vegan bloggers got really (justifiably) excited by the basic recipe and everyone riffed on it. I bought a big-ass dumplin' steamer from my neighborhood Asian grocery just to facilitate cooking these bad boys. I do not think you will regret it.
posted by mumkin at 7:52 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seitan by itself doesn't have a very strong flavour; it's great a picking up other flavours from stews and whatnot.

Traditionally, it's made by kneading a wheat-flour dough very very well*, then kneading it in a big bowl of cold water, replacing the water as it gets closer to saturation with the more water soluble starches (as opposed to the protein).

*if using a food processor or a whatchamacall eggbeater-looking thing with the dough-hook attachment, make sure to only 'knead' in one direction; changing directions will spoil the polymerization process. If kneading by hand, try not to twist or 'knot up' the dough. What you want to do, theoretically, is to crosslink the homophilic protein strands into a polymer.

Eventually, the cold water will get cloudy and the dough gets tougher and more elastic. Repeat as necessary until no more starch comes out.

What you are left with is (mostly) wheat gluten. If you save the cloudy water, it can be dried down into gluten-free wheat flour. Traditionally, this stuff is used to make dumpling wrappers (the haw gow shrimp dumplings you get a dim sum? made from this leftover stuff).

You can either cut it up and stew it as is, or you can fry it in oil to give it a different texture. Freezing will also leave you with something with a different texture and mouthfeel.

It's a pain in the ass to make by hand, so I usually just buy it, but handmade seitan can be "stewed" in a mixture of tomato paste, ketchup, and sugar and it's yuuummmy.

Depending on where you are, Chinese grocery stores sometimes sells "raw" or fried seitan. Buddhist restaurants are good places to start to get a hookup for locally made seitan.

I've not much liked Western named companies' wheat gluten compared to the stuff from Chinese groceries and Buddhist restaurants.
posted by porpoise at 8:14 PM on September 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

If you bake the seitan, it's chewier, and better to add to saucy recipes, since the firmer texture keeps it from falling apart. I don't like boiled seitan, as it is too spongy, but there is a baked-in-broth version from Bryanna Grogan that's very good, and the one I prefer if I'm going to eat it plain.

My favorite version of seitan, however, is a variation on the one in your "link" link, but the flavors are more traditional:

Dry ingredients:
2-1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
½ cup chickpea flour (besan)
½ cup nutritional yeast flakes
3 tablespoons vegetarian chicken broth powder (I use Frontier Foods brand)
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon sage
½ teaspoon thyme

Wet ingredients:
1-3/4 cups water
2 tablespoons tomato paste (I use the double concentrated kind from a tube)
2 tablespoons soy sauce (I like Braggs for this)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 325.

Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, briefly beat together wet ingredients with an electric mixer. Add about 1/3 of the dry mixture (about a cup) and beat on medium for 2 minutes. Set a timer and don’t cheat! Add another cup of the dry mixture and beat on low for another 2 full minutes. Add remaining ingredients and blend in with a spoon. If necessary, add more water 1 tablespoon at a time until dry ingredients are just combined.

Divide dough into two equal pieces and roll each piece into a log about 6 or 7 inches long. Wrap each log tightly in aluminum foil, twisting the ends to seal.

Bake for 90 minutes.

Makes 2 pounds of seitan, about 12 servings.

I also like the seitan-bean sausages from PPK, via Vegan Dad.
posted by zinfandel at 9:28 PM on September 25, 2009 [6 favorites]

Bread is part gluten. Seitan is all gluten. If you are somewhat but not horribly gluten-sensitive, seitan is going to set you off more than bread will.

That's what happens to me. I can handle bread and pasta in small quanities but seitan kills my digestion for days. The consequences are not fit for a family audience. Eventually I accepted the fact that I just shouldn't eat seitan.

Field Roast is mostly seitan, by the way. So are a lot of fake meat nuggest in stir fries. And fake patties.
posted by rhiannon at 12:43 AM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's very weird that this recent question doesn't show up in the "related box," but you're getting a lot more responses here (probably the timing). Anyway, back then I was trying to remember where I found two great seitan recipes, both braised--one in wine (basically seitan bourguignon) and one in beer. Anybody seen these? Great texture.
Porpoise, your approach is the one I've used to make from scratch before--do you have any hints about the process that affect the texture?
posted by Mngo at 12:52 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

What you need to make next is some nut-crusted seitan. Example recipe. Yum.
posted by medusa at 3:29 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used this seitan ham recipe as a starting point for my experiments with seitan. I didn't like the seasoning blend in the original recipe, so I made my own variations. I don't use tomato paste at all, or msg. I put in some nutritional yeast flakes, and then kind of season the seitan like the meat I'm trying to replicate. I imagine if you wanted to get something a bit more beefy, using some marmite in the seasoning and some gravy browning would give you a mock roast beef. I also avoid putting soy sauce or braggs in my faux meats, I think it's really out of place and generally over-used in vegetarian cooking.

The best one I ever made was seasoned like monteral smoked meat. What made it especially good was slicing it and frying it up with a bit oil and a bit of vinegar to give it a bit of a cured taste. One day I'd like to actually trying making brined seitan.

I haven't played around with seitan since the spring, so I will try again soon and I'll try to take notes and post them to my blog.
posted by glip at 7:26 PM on September 26, 2009

Hey everyone, thanks for playing! I found everyone's input super helpful as I have no prior experience with this product. Your enthusiasm is appreciated!

I also try to avoid msg, FWIW. I did by some liquid smoke to play with when I started this experiment, but haven't tried it yet. I'm still working on technique and texture. To that end...

...I'm keen to try adding mashed beans or vegetables, other flours like chickpea, and olive oil to various versions of seitan to see if I can tweak the texture. I want to discover the secret to creating that stringy meaty quality you all profess to love!

posted by jbenben at 10:43 PM on September 28, 2009

For the record, those two slow-cooking recipes (Bourguignon and beer-braised with sauerkraut) are in Peter Berley's Modern Vegetarian Kitchen.
posted by Mngo at 9:25 AM on October 5, 2009

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