‘Scary’ Seitan

Seitan not only is spelled funny, but when spoke aloud, evokes thoughts of a fiery devil- just waiting to strike anyone who dares to mess with it. That pretty much sums up how I felt about seitan (say-tan) until I read Vegetarian Times’ recipe over winter break and realized that despite its intense versatility and presence on many experienced vegetarian/vegan menus, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inaccessible for the home chef. I figured with a small enough ingredient list and amble time on my hands, all I had to lose was a few dollars worth of food and potentially my bragging rights about being able to tackle pretty much any recipe…I used Vegetarian Times’ instructional video to get my bearings before starting off and I highly recommend it for anyone who’s wary of making their own seitan at first.

We made the seitan loaves exactly as called for, just adding a dash of sage into the dough for some additional flavor. We boiled them in the seasoned broth, and realized they have the appearance of a meatloaf with a similar external texture to a matzo ball – that dimpled, cloud-looking, puffy look. If we had packed our loaves a bit more tightly before boiling, I imagine we would have gotten a smoother external surface.

Asian marinated seitan loaf with ginger glazed carrots

Asian marinated seitan loaf with ginger glazed carrots

Our first seitan entree game-plan was to treat the seitan almost like meatloaf – we made a glaze of soy sauce, hoisin, and some sesame oil (in addition to about 2 tablespoons of the cooked, diced onion from the cooking broth) and drizzled this over 1 of the seitan loaves. Just as we did this, our power went out! We wrapped the baking dish in foil, quickly stuck it in the fridge, and went out to dinner. As a result, we unintentionally marinated our seitan loaf for 24 hours before cooking it the next day, which I recommend- the flavors penetrated the ‘meat’ and were delicious! To serve, we baked the seitan uncovered for about 20-25 minutes to warm it and allow the sauce to thicken – we basted it about 3 times throughout the cooking process. We then steamed some carrots and tossed them with just a bit of butter, brown sugar, and grated ginger. Together it was a really hearty but not overly dense meal – and we still had 1 loaf of seitan left over for another night! While it may be a 2-day process (1 to make the seitan and another to make the entree) it was well worthwhile to have a new source of protein that is so easily adaptable to any flavors.

A depiction of our night in photos...

From good, to better, to best…the dogs thought so too!

With our extra loaf of seitan, we opted for a more casual meal and made a faux BBQ brisket sandwich. We marinated our leftover loaf in the cooking liquid doctored up with some additional Worchestershire sauce and Liquid Smoke, and sliced the seitan loaf paper-thin, then seared the pieces in a large skillet. As they cooked, they started to shrink up a bit and crisp around the edges, reminding us of cooking bacon or slabs of ham on a flattop (we may not eat it anymore, but we still watch Food Network!) We toasted some of our homemade dutch oven loaf of bread and spread our favorite BBQ sauce on each side, then topped the bread with thinly sliced pickles. Once the seitan was well seared and developed a bit of a crust, we made 2 piles of seitan in the skillet and topped each with some cheddar cheese. We added about 1/4 cup of the marinading liquid to the pan and covered it, allowing the cheese to melt and the seitan to aborb back some of the flavors from the marinade. Once the cheese had melted, we added the seitan ‘pile’ onto the bread. If the dogs’ faces (above…both chins resting on my knee!) are any indication, this smelled phenomenal and tasted exactly like the BBQ we’ve grown to miss just a bit (a natural result of living in the South). With this recipe, however, I know we’ll be satiated when the craving strikes. It has the smoke from the marinade, the sweetness of the sauce, and the exact texture of soft, crunchy, and chewy meat. The cheese is evocative of the mac n’ cheese served alongside BBQ here in South Carolina, and the sour pickles broke up the richness of everything with a little punch. We wolfed down these sandwiches and were amazed by just how believable the seitan was in this preparation.

Overall, our seitan experience was nothing less than eye-opening, and far from the mess and stress I had built it up to be in my mind. The preparation of the dough is incredibly simple and leaves amble room for experimentation and personalization of the recipe, and the cooking technique is very hands-off and simple. Once cooked, you have a myriad of ways to prepare your seitan and all are relatively quick, as the ‘hard’ part is done upfront. For our next seitan adventure, we’ll shape our dough into nuggets before cooking and see if we can imitate a dippable, bite-sized meat substitute. We also plan to customize the dough more by planning in advance what the final preparation will be; perhaps paprika and garlic powder for ‘chicken’ dishes, sage and tarragon for ‘turkey’, and some liquid smoke and Worchestershire for ‘beef’.

While seitan is available pre-prepared in stores, I had never tried to cook with it, instead leaving it to the experts at vegan restaurants nearby. I can now safely say that it will be a staple in our meal preparations, since it’s so easy to make, fun to come up with new combinations, and relatively cheap…especially compared to other meat substitutes that come frozen. Locally we can buy vital wheat gluten (the key ingredient for seitan) for about $3 per 6 oz box, and it takes 2 boxes to make a batch of seitan (each batch makes about 8 servings). Now that I’ve gotten over my fear of seitan, I’ve started ordering it in bulk from Amazon for much cheaper, knowing I’ll go through the volume associated with a full case (they don’t sell the Bob’s Red Mill vital wheat gluten at my local store). With this new source of protein, I don’t think we’ll ever scour the sales for pre-packaged meat substitutes again!

What kinds of recipes do you want to see us tackle using seitan? What are your suggestions for incorporation seitan into our weekly meals?

Note: We stored our leftover seitan loaf in the broth it was cooked in to keep it moist in between meals. You could easily use this time to marinate remaining seitan for another entree, but if you don’t have another meal in mind it’s best when stored in liquid. The liquid is a flavorful base for  many other sauces, so don’t throw it away once the seitan has finished boiling!

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