There are lots of ways to make seitan. First of all, you can make it from scratch (starting with just flour and water), or you can take a short cut and start with gluten flour. I almost always do the latter. Next, you have to decide what else (other than gluten and water) you want to put in your dough. The options are endless. Common additions are soy sauce, nutritional yeast, garlic, chickpea flower, paprika… Third, you have to decide how to cook your seitan. You can boil it, steam it (another try), braise it, saute it, or bake it. For each method you have to decide what kind of broth or sauce to cook it in (if any). Finally, you have to decide what to do with the final product. Learning how to make seitan is a long and complicated journey, and I am just at the very beginning. Today’s post is about my most recent attempt to make boiled seitan.
I started out with this recipe for “gluten steaks” from Ellen’s Kitchen. I liked that she gives a lot of tips about specific actions and how exactly they affect the final texture. Here are Ellen’s “hints for a firmer texture”:
- The dough:
- Include up to a couple of tablespoons whole wheat, millet, or teff flour, or glutinous/sticky rice flour in each cup of the vital wheat gluten.
- Try using half soymilk, half water for the liquid.
- Add a little oil as part of the mixing liquid
- Kneading: You have to really knead it/ stretch it (once you have reformed the logs) into layers and fold, knead, stretch and fold, until it is dryer and firm. If it gets resistant, you just let it rest till the gluten relaxes, about 10-30 minutes, then continue. Have you ever made filo dough or puff pastry? It is the same sort of process.
- Sauteing the cutlets in vegetable oil BEFORE you simmer them gives a tighter, firmer texture.
- Start the cutlets cooking in cold, not hot/warm broth (preboil and cool the broth). Time from when it begins to simmer.
- Cook at a low simmer, not a boil. If you boil the fury out of the cooking gluten, it will go toward a tougher, rubbery texture.
- After boiling: baking the cutlets in a breading AFTER they are simmered, also gives a drier texture, but it doesn’t tighten the grain as much as the sauteing before.
I didn’t quite follow her ingredient list. I used a bit more water (because I didn’t understand why she calls for so much water and then just has you squeeze it out). I also doubled the soy sauce, added a tablespoon of olive oil, and left out the dried mushroom powder (what is that?).
- 2 cups vital wheat gluten flour
- 1/3 cup chickpea flour
- 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
- 1.5 cups water
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
Rather than follow her wet than dry technique, I used the more standard technique of mixing the dry ingredients, mixing the wet ingredients, then adding the wet ingredients to the dry ones. This recipe has more liquid than any seitan I’ve made before, and it made it really soft and easy to knead. After kneading the seitan (by hand), I broke it into pieces and tried to squeeze the excess water out, but none came out. I think the intense squeezing might have been good for the texture though. Then I put the pieces back together, formed a log, and cut the log into about 22 pieces. I flattened each piece out, sometimes folding it over and then flattening if it was too thin. Some of the cutlets got quite a massage! I let the cutlets sit briefly while I made the broth. I didn’t follow Ellen’s recipe, which uses a lot of expensive ingredients. Instead I made my own broth:
- 16 cups cold water
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 Tbs. bouillon powder
- 1 tsp. yeast extract
I would have used vegetable broth rather than water but I wanted to save it for soup. My broth was salty but not über salty. Many recipes for seitan cooking broth call for massive amounts of soy sauce, but it seems like such a waste. Does the seitan really taste all that different? I’d think if you really want soy sauce flavor then just add it directly to the seitan.
I added my cutlets to the cold broth, and brought it to a boil, and then (almost) immediately turned it down to a bare simmer. I think I cooked the cutlets for about 35 minutes. They seemed done at that point, and I just let them cool in the broth. (I made the seitan in a 12-quart stock pot, but I think I could have gotten by with a smaller stock pot and a bit less broth.) Ellen’s (doubled) recipes says it makes 2 pounds, but I got about 2.6 pounds of (slightly wet) seitan.
The texture of my seitan was not as spongy as it has been in the past, neither was it as rubbery and chewy. Some of the pieces were fatter and in the middle they were more hard and dense. The thinner pieces were softer. So I think much of the improved texture came from boiling the seitan in thin cutlets rather than in large lumps. But kneading the seitan more than usual, and letting it rest longer, also seemed to help the texture.
I liked the flavor of the seitan just fine. It was pretty neutral tasting–salty but not too salty. Next time I might reduce the soy sauce just a bit.
I filtered and froze the cooking broth to re-use next time I want to make seitan.
Update Feb 2013:
I tried making versions of the Ellen’s Kitchen recipe twice in February. The first time I followed the seitan recipe closely except that I didn’t have any mushroom powder. We formed some of the seitan pieces into long thin cutlets and rolled some into tighter balls. Both came out too soft and squishy, in the direction of soggy bread. My only explanation was that there was simply too much water. The seitan tasted really good though. I had boiled it in some homemade vegetable broth supplemented with a few dried shiitakes and a piece of kombu, and it infused the seitan with great flavor.
I tried the recipe again a few weeks later except that I used less water and I formed four larger balls which I tied up loosely in cheesecloth. The texture was entirely different this time. The seitan came out extremely dense with a very fine crumb. And it was almost tasteless. I guess the main difference was because the seitan only had a bit of room to expand in the cheesecloth, and as a result the broth wasn’t able to get into the seitan and infuse it with flavor (or salt).
One last note: In reading about seitan it seems that the seitan queen is Bryanna Clark Grogan. I don’t have any of her cookbooks, and it seems that all of her seitan recipes have been removed from her blog. I did find one of her seitan recipes at Livestrong. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for others.
Update Nov 2012
I made seitan today roughly based on this recipe from the savvyvegetarian, which appears to be based on a recipe from from Robin Robertson’s cookbook, Quick Fix Vegan,. I doubled the recipe, and then made a few changes. I didn’t add the salt because it already called for soy sauce and I was planning on cooking it in salted liquid. I didn’t want it to be too salty, because I wouldn’t want to have to change the salt quantity in my recipes. I cut down on the nutritional yeast because I have to import it from the U.S. I halved the oil as well, because most seitan recipes have plenty of added fat. I added some tomato paste for some color, but not enough because the seitan ended up quite light colored.
- 600g vital wheat gluten (about 4.33 – 5 cups?)
- 2.5 oz tapioca pearls, ground in my coffee grinder to an almost powder (about 6 Tbs.)
- 21 g. nutritional yeast (about 1/3 cup)
- 1.5 tsp. garlic powder
- 2 tsp. onion powder
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups cold water
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 50 g. tomato paste
- 4 cups cold vegetable broth (unsalted, homemade)
I accidentally added 4 cups of vegetable broth, which made a very, very wet dough. Generally ratio of water to flour should be under 3:4 I think, so I should have added just 3.5 cups? I kneaded the seitan and then let it rest for several hours. I came back, kneaded it again (kneading back in it some broth that had leaked out), and then put the whole quite wet block in a 3-quart casserole pan and added a little salty seitan cooking broth from the last time I made seitan, plus some water so that it was covered. The pot was quite full, but I thought since I’d cook it in the oven it would just simmer, and so it was fine if it was full. I brought it to a boil on the stove, then covered the pot and put it in the oven at 350 F for about an hour. But the pot was clearly too full because when I went to take it out it had boiled over, making a mess all over the stove. Next time I clearly need a 4- or 5-quart pan. I also would probably break it up into four pieces so that there was less of the raw-ish inside portions. The final cooked block of seitan weighed 4.5 pounds.
The texture of the seitan was reasonably good. The outside was more cooked than the inside, which was perhaps undercooked. Overall the seitan was slightly spongy, but definitely more tender than overly chewy. I think the tapioca flour adds to the somewhat doughy inner texture. The flavor was fine–not particularly distinctive. Salty but not very salty.
I used the outer parts of the seitan (the firmer parts) for the balsamic-roasted seitan with cipollini onions recipe. In the dish the texture and the flavor of the seitan were great. No criticisms at all.