A vegan meat alternative, “wheat meats” such as seitan have been enjoyed for centuries, though the term seitan is a more recent development. Coined in 1961 by George Ohsawa, a Japanese advocate of the macrobiotic diet, the term ‘seitan’ is of Japanese origin, first imported to the west in 1969.
Made from wheat, seitan (pronounced say-tan) is used as the base for countless commercially available vegan and vegetarian products, particularly cherished for both its texture and its versatility. While seitan is made from wheat, it’s unlike flour or bread. Instead, it’s produced by washing wheat flour dough with water until the starch granules have been removed, leaving the sticky gluten as an elastic, dough-like mass. This needs to be cooked before eating and works particularly well in myriad dishes where meat would typically be used. In recent years, seitan has become a particularly popular alternative to chicken, starring in many vegan ‘fried chicken’ shops. The flavour is particularly mild, but it acts as a blank canvas, while the texture is particularly meaty, unlike soy-based products such as tofu or tempeh.
As well as being a surprisingly convincing meat substitute, seitan is also low in calories and high in protein. However, given that seitan doesn’t contain all of the amino acids typically found in meat, pairing with other plant-based proteins such as nuts, beans, or grains is recommended as part of a balanced diet. It also contains around 20 percent of adults’ recommended daily iron intake. Naturally, seitan is unsuitable for anybody unable to tolerate gluten, but otherwise it’s fairly healthy providing it’s not too high in salt, which is the case with many commercial brands intent on maintaining shelf life.
Making your own seitan is thus recommended. Although fairly labour intensive, homemade seitan can be made to your exact specifications, without preservatives or hidden ingredients. Vital wheat gluten can be used to make the process simpler, but this homemade seitan recipe uses plain flour. I also suggest mixing and kneading by hand to avoid as much mess as possible. The process does take some time, but most of the preparation time is inactive, requiring less effort than expected.
Although plain seitan is especially versatile and can be used in hundreds of recipes, this recipe is seasoned with a mix of herbs, paprika, chilli, garlic, onion, and a dash of liquid smoke to amplify the ‘meatiness’. When it comes to seasonings, the possibilities are endless, however, and it’s completely subjective. The recipe’s seasoning is a guide, but like seitan its highly adaptable. The final result will keep for up to five days in the fridge, can be frozen, and also reheats well.
- Deep frying pan with a lid
- Large mixing bowl
For the seitan
- 1 kg plain wheat flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 715 ml water amount may vary
For the seasoning
- 1.5 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- ¼ tsp garlic granules
- ¼ tsp onion granules
- 400-600 ml vegetable stock amount will vary depending on the size of your pan
- 2 tbsp liquid smoke
- Salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- Oil for frying
- In a large bowl combine the flour and baking powder and mix until the baking powder is evenly dispersed. While mixing add just enough water to make a firm dough. There should be no dry spots and it shouldn’t be sticky.
- Transfer the dough to a colander and place the colander containing the dough into a large bowl. Fill the bowl with cold water so that the dough is fully submerged and leave it to rest for one hour.
- After an hour, drain the dough and top back up with cold water, knead the dough under the water until the water becomes milky. (The colander makes this process easier).
- Continue kneading the dough in fresh batches of water until the water no longer becomes opaque and milky (about 5-8 times). The more the dough is washed, the harder it will become to ‘knead’, so just squeeze, and agitate it under water.
- After washing the dough, squeeze as much excess liquid out, it should be considerably smaller in size at this point. Leave the dough to rest for 15 minutes. This can be done in the colander to continue draining.
- In a clean mixing bowl, combine the dough with the dry seasonings and salt and pepper. The seasoning won’t incorporate the same way it would if you were handling a bread dough. The easiest way to add the seasoning is to stretch the dough slightly and roll in the seasoning.
- Split the dough into four pieces. Stretch each piece into a sausage shape and twist, then create a knot and tuck the ends underneath, like a pretzel.
- Fry the seitan over a low/medium in a splash of cooking oil for 3-4 minutes on each side until browned. In a jug combine the stock and liquid smoke, the amount of stock will vary depending on the size of your pan. Pour the stock mixture into the pan, it should reach halfway up the sides of the seitan, add more stock as necessary.
- Simmer covered on low for one hour, flipping the seitan at the halfway mark. The seitan will keep in the fridge for 5 days and can be reheated in frying pan on a low heat for a few minutes.