Winter weather has kept me indoors1, which has resulted in extended bouts of puttering around in the kitchen. However, as I am not looking to turn John and myself into formless fat-masses which drift about like so much adipose lava, I have been trying to cut back on the baked goods and candy in favor of actual nutritious food.

Besides, I have a solid fudge formula down, can reliably produce both cake and fudge-like brownies and I make an oatmeal cookie that more than one person has claimed actually subverts free will. Time to move on to new challenges.

One thing that has been frustrating my attempts at mastery is seitan – a meat substitute made from wheat gluten and water. So basically, dough. Extremely tough, stretchy, chewy dough that is upwards of 75% protein. When you knead the dough enough, the gluten stands develop to approximate the texture of meat.

So, my first attept: basic 1:1 mix of vital wheat gluten and water. No seasoning. I mixed with a spood until all the liquid was absorbed, then took it out of the bowl and kneaded by hand on the counter. It very quickly turned into a tough, elastic ball of dough that was difficult to reashape, as it always wanted to snap back to its original form. So I cut it up into smaller pieces, and let them simmer in water for about an hour. Results below.


I ended up with several nuggets that could pass a visual inspection for meat-ishness. Texture was like a very chewy chicken nugget. Taste was almost entirely absent, even after stir-frying in some teriyaki.

Second attempt: same mixture, but with a bit more water and also added a teaspoon of quick-rise yeast in. Largely because I was making this no-knead bread, and I wondered what would happen if you tried the same thing with just wheat gluten. It was my hope that letting the yeast work on it might help develop the gluten strands without requiring so much kneading.

It start out largely the same as the regular flour, expanding up out of the bowl, full of bubbles from the yeast gasses. But after punching it down a couple of times, I noticed it wasn’t rising any more, it was contracting. So much so that it squeezed out a lot of the water, leaving a doughy brown ball in a little pool. Neat.

I simmered this batch too – in some water and soy sauce this time. (Actually ended up boiling it, which is a no-no, as it can cause the seitan to get too spongy.) Then put in in the refrigerator and forgot about it for a week or so. Which is fine, because apparently seitan ages pretty well.

For this batch, I tried just frying it in peanut oil for a couple of minutes. The result was crispy on the outside and chewy/juicy on the inside. Very meat-like, at least in flavor. In texture, it was chewier than before, but still lacking the strands that give it the appearance of actual meat. Had they been larger, and not flavored entirely with soy sauce, I think it would have approximated hamburger. At the size I made them, they turned out more like crispy jerky bites as they cooled.

Tried adding some spices to the mix. Also, soy sauce is part of the dough now.

1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp curry
2 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp water

The dough (first pic was only using 2 tbsp water – had to add more to get it to stay together):

Working from advice found here and here, I made a couple of changes. First, as I was kneading, I kept flattening one end, then pulling and stretching that end over the rest of the dough. Then, instead of boiling, I stretched it into a thin log, rolled it in foil and baked it at 325F for about 30 min.

During the baking, one of the seitan logs managed to crazy snake it’s way out one end of the foil. Other than that, the process successfully yielded two leathery churros.

seitan_02_8_web seitan_02_9_web seitan_02_11_web

Pulling them apart, I see lots of stringy fibers thar make for passable pork. Or chicken, if you ignore the color. Flavor-wise, it was still a little off, but adding a packet of taco seasoning made some tasty burritos that no living thing had to die for. Except all the plants.

1Much in the same way that spring, summer and autumn weather does.