I hadn’t been a vegetarian for long before I started coming across references to seitan, mostly from American food blogs. I gathered it was something close to tofu in function, if not origin. I put it on the list of things to try when I found it and forgot about it.
Only I never did find it. Unless it’s marketed in the UK under a completely different name, I just haven’t seen it in any healthfood shop – including the excellent one near me.
I kept seeing references to it in recipes but had no way of getting my hands on a supply. Luckily, you can’t search for seitan for long on the internet without coming across a recipe for making it. It looked reasonably easy, so I decided to give it a go.
I didn’t want to make a huge amount to start off with so I took 500g of plain white flour and mixed in enough water to make a workable dough. I wasn’t expecting this dough to rise, so I didn’t make it as wet as I would make a bread dough, but it was softer than a pastry dough. I needed it for 20 minutes, until I had a smooth ball.
I rested that for half an hour.
Then came the fun part. Seitan is the gluten of wheat dough without the starch. So I put the bowl in the sink, turned on the tap and started to rinse the starch out of the dough, working it in my hands all the time.
Remember when you were a kid and were chewing gum when you decided to eat a sweet at the same time? Remember how the gum went all soft and gooey? That’s what the seitan felt like in my hands. I kept going and hoped that this was what it was supposed to be like.
Once the water had run clear, I was left with a lump of gooey dough about a third the size of the original.
The next stage was to cut it into lumps and simmer it in stock for 20 minutes. I simmered it in water and soy sauce. It does swell during cooking. When it was cooked and drained, I was left with uneven chunks of something resembling cheap chicken breast.
I tried a bit to eat and it was essentially flavourless, chewier than tofu, but not as dense as real meat. Still, it wasn’t unpleasant in itself, so I decided to try it in a recipe.
I did a Seitan and whatever veg were in the fridge stir-fry with black bean and hoisin sauce.
It wasn’t bad. It’s not like eating meat, but it does give you a satisfying mouth-feel that’s all its own. There are far worse meat substitutes out there (Quorn Bacon I’m looking at you) and I’d happily eat it again. It is a bit of a faff to make though, so unless I find somewhere to buy it, it’ll come behind quorn and tofu in my preferences.