Seitan – vegan gluten patties with shitake-herb sauce
Once in a while I crave these high protein gluten patties that are quite popular in vegetarian and vegan cooking. Seitan (pronounced Say-Tahn, a strange name) is made from wheat gluten and has texture and flavour reminiscent of poultry or meat. The original method for making seitan involved making a dough with regular flour and rinsing it under water to wash off the starch and end up with gluten. Don’t ask. It’s way too much work. Today you can buy gluten flour ready made and use this as your base for making Seitan (Red Mill makes Vital Wheat Gluten and have a recipe on the back of the package). I make seitan in the simplest possible way, by mixing gluten flour and water with a wooden spoon in one bowl and then cooking it in simmering stock until done. You can also buy several ready made seitan product in stores and some of them are very good but it is so easy to make your own and then you know it is free of the the excess salt and other additives and preservatives that are inevitable in prepared products.
There is an entire book devoted to making and cooking with seitan: Cooking with Seitan by Barbara and Leonard Jacobs and you can refer to it for making different varieties of seitan and adding various flavouring. What I am offering here is a very basic and delicious recipe with a no-fail system for making it. I use one cup of gluten flour with 1 cup water. Sometimes I add onion powder for added flavour. You can also add soy that will make the seitan darker and more like “meat”. This recipe produces seitan that is lighter in colour and looks more like “poultry”. Seitan on its own is a blank slate ready to adopt a wide range of flavours from many cuisines. If you have a specific ethnic cuisine in mind (Asian, Indian, Mexican, Italian, Spanish) you may consider adding one of the flavourings of that cuisine to the the liquid in which it will simmer. Soy and ginger for an Asian dish, cumin and curry to an Indian dish etc.
The flour to water proportions are variable to a point. More water yield a softer texture and less water yield a denser texture. You can try it with the1:1 proportion I provide or you can try a 1:3/4 flour to water ratio for a denser texture and see what you prefer. Once you make the gluten, the dough can be cut into any shape: disks, strips, chunks, cutlets, burgers, whatever works with your dish. If you need to stretch the gluten for cutting it into certain shapes refrigerate it for a few hours as it becomes more elastic as it it rests. You can also make the gluten in advance and freeze it for later use. When you are ready to proceed bring it out of the freezer and and let it thaw for a little while, cutting it while it is still somewhat frozen (easier that way) and proceed with the recipe.
If you haven’t made seitan before I hope this will encourage you to give it a try.
1 cup gluten flour
(1 teaspoon onion powder optional)
1 cup water
5 cups vegetable stock
2 cups dry bread crumbs mixed with chopped parsley
Alternatively you can use flour instead of the bread crumbs.
3 tablespoons olive oil for frying
Place the gluten flour, water and salt in a bowl, mix with a wooden spoon until dough pulls together, which will not take long. This is a spongy, not a sticky dough.
Knead and squeeze the dough for a minute or two just to make it compact and shape into a cylinder about 8″ long and 3″ in diameter. At this point you can proceed with the recipe or wrap and freeze the dough for later use. If you freeze the gluten cut it into medallions while it is still frozen, it is not necessary to defrost.
Cut the cylinder into 1/2 inch slices and set aside. If they squish as you slice flatten them with you hands into disks.
Bring 5 cups of vegetable stock to a boil.
Add all the gluten patties (don’t worry, they will not stick together), lower heat to low and simmer, partially covered for 40-45 minutes. Stir them down now and then to keep them submerged and moist.
When the patties are ready remove with a slotted spoon into a plate or a sieve to drain.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 garlic, minced
8 shitake mushrooms, stems removes, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
A handful fresh thyme or 2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 cup white wine, optional (or skip this step)
2 cups stock or cooking liquid from the seitan
Heat the olive oil in skillet.
Add onion and cook until softened and lightly golden but not browned
Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
Add the mushrooms and cook until they exude their juices.
Add the flour and stir to cook it for a couple of minutes.
Add the wine and cook until almost evaporated.
Add 2 cups of the seitan cooking liquid and the herbs and cook until the sauce is thickened. Thin it out with more stock if needed.
Taste and add salt as necessary.
Add freshly ground pepper.
Assembling the dish:
Press the still moist gluten patties into the bread crumbs and parsley mixture so the crumbs adhere to both sides of the patties. This is intended to provide a very light coating, not the flour-egg-breadcrumbs coating that you would use for fritters. If you use flour instead then dredge the patties in the flour on both side to create a light coating. It helps the patties brown better when fried.
Heat up the olive oil (just enough to coat the bottom of the skillet) and add the seitan patties in batches, frying them on both sides to create a crusty exterior.
Spoon the mushroom sauce on top of the patties or serve it in a sauce dish alongside.