Homemade Seitan (Vital Wheat Gluten)

Along with veganism comes certain privileges, including, but not limited to:

  • Knowing how much protein one really needs daily (~1 gram per kilogram, or ~1.5-1.8 if you’re stressed, pregnant, or doing some crazy training)
  • Easy excitability about kale
  • …which is chockfull of calcium, which can’t be metabolised without adequate amounts of vitamin D, in which most Americans are deficient. Coppertone doesn’t want anyone to realise this, though.
  • Powers.
  • Knowing the cooking properties of tofu, tempeh, and seitan.
  • …and knowing how to pronounce ‘seitan.’

Seitan (‘say-tan,’ or, for those of us with a more Hub-of-the-Universe accent, ‘say-tahn,’ in which the second vowel is the same as ‘aunt,’ which is always ‘ahnt’ and never ‘ant’ /linguistics digression) has a long history of use in East Asia, specifically China.

What it is:

  • High in protein
  • Chewy and dense
  • Easily flavoured by stocks, broths, or bouillon
  • Macrobiotic

What it isn’t:

  • Gluten-free
  • Highly processed vegan fake ‘meat’
  • ‘Say-what?’

I can’t tell you how annoyed I get while talking about various Field Roast products or vegan buffalo wings when someone chimes in about vegan meats being ‘processed.’ Sure, grain is processed when it’s ground in a mill, and rinsing the starch out of a mix of flour and water is another form of processing, but I guarantee you that it’s less processed than most meat on conventional supermarket shelves.

But getting back to basics, you really can’t call yourself an awesome hardcore vegan until you’ve made seitan. I used to buy it at Whole Foods for use in stir-fries or other meals, but once I made it for homemade Buffalo wings (shameless plug after shameless plug…), I never looked back.

It’s so easy. Stupidly easy.

It does take some down time (simmering), and a tiny bit of lovin’, but if you can make pizza dough (or any other bread dough, for that matter), then you can make seitan.

I guess, technically, this isn’t even the super-hardcore version, since I buy my vital wheat gluten (it looks like flour). There’s a recipe somewhere for how to make seitan by washing your own dough, but that’s another story for another time.

For now, if you’ve got even a reasonably well stocked vegan kitchen, then you have everything that you need to make really flavourful seitan. Once it’s made, you can create kickass chicken soups, delicious barbecue chicken sandwiches, and Buffalo wings.

(If you haven’t already guessed, it substitutes best for chicken, and Ryan says that it’s eerily similar to chicken nuggets, probably because most industrial ground meat production is bulked up with vital wheat gluten to cheat the customer. We’ve found that for chicken flavoured pieces, Rapunzel Vegan Vegetable Bouillon tastes freakishly like chicken broth (not that I remember what chicken broth tastes like, but still). Traditionally, seitan was simmered in a broth of kombu, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. Really, you can bathe it in whatever strikes your fancy—it takes on flavour really well.)

Finally, unless you’re throwing your homemade seitan into soup, you’re going to want to give it a little pan-fry before using it in sandwiches or the like. Or, ahem, if you’re making vegan buffalo wings, then just bread, fry, coat, and eat!

Okay, I’ll stop, but only if you promise to make seitan. Deal?

Note: Did I mention that seitan is kind of…weird? So weird that I kind of giggle uncontrollably for the first few minutes of making it. Anyway, considered yourself warned.

Seitan Recipe

By M. M. Cassidy Published: November 15, 2011

  • Yield: 1 Pound
  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 45 mins
  • Ready In: 50 mins

If you can make pizza dough (or any other bread dough, for that matter), then you can make seitan.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and stir briefly to mix. If you elect to add herbs or spices to your seitan, then now's the time.
    Vital wheat gluten looks like flour.
  2. Add in the water and stir to combine. (Remember when you used to make everyday dishes into 'eyeballs' and 'intestines' for Halloween? Yeah, get into seitan brains to take the blue ribbon in that contest.)
    Vital wheat gluten and water looks like brains.
  3. Knead the dough for 5-8 minutes. I usually start above the bowl and then move to a counter. The seitan will be too wet to stick, so don't worry about flouring your surface. It should feel like a very wet sponge. The more you knead it, the more dense it will become and the less it will puff up while simmering. I like my seitan denser and chewier, but even after kneading for what felt like a very long time, it still only got to chicken nugget consistency for a final product.
  4. When done kneading, roll/shape the seitan into a long log.
  5. Let the seitan hang out for a few minutes while you bring your broth to a gentle simmer in a medium pot.
  6. Once the seitan has mellowed, slice it into strips. Slice a little thinner than you want the end result pieces, since they'll puff up while simmering.
    Homemade seitan slices easily into strips.
  7. Slide the pieces into the broth one by one, trying your best to keep them from sticking. The broth should just cover the seitan pieces. If it doesn't, then add a little more water until it does.
  8. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Once it's done, either use it immediately in something or transfer both the seitan and the broth to a container, let cool, and refrigerate.
    Homemade seitan after simmering in broth sort of looks like chicken pieces—chicken pieces without bones. It's like those dinosaur-shaped things in the supermarket freezers! Only without the tortured chickens ground with their brains and bones and insides.
  9. If using immediately, it's best to give it a quick pan-fry in a little oil. This will brown the seitan, wrap it in an outside layer of crispy deliciousness, and give it a little extra flavour.
    Homemade seitan is best when pan-fried briefly before using in a dish.
  10. And there you are! Now, go out and conquer the world of seitan! May I suggest starting with vegan buffalo wings? From there, you can move on to a host of Thanksgiving preparations…

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  • Megumisakura

    What is nutch?

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  • why not just say Nutritional yeast (nutch is not a common word).

    • Anthony,

      Characters are precious! I usually list “large-flake nutritional yeast (nutch)” in the recipes, but it didn’t make it into this one.

      And at least from my experiences, seitan isn’t a common word either. But I’m working to raise awareness for seitan and nutch!

      Meaghan

      • LMD18

        Meaghan – “Nutch” is not a commonly-used name for nutritional yeast. It is also the name of an open-source web search engine. For those who don’t know that you mean nutritional yeast and attempt to look it up, that is what they will find. Seitan, on the other hand, is a fairly common word. Far more common than “nutch.”

        • Yeah, most veg-heads seem to spell it ‘nootch,’ but one of the things that drives me crazy is when people abbreviate things incorrectly.

          • LMD18

            Yeah. And one of the things that drives me crazy is when people decide on their own that a very commonly-used abbreviation is “wrong,” respell it to their liking, and then use it with abandon, all the while expecting others to know what they’re talking about.

            “Nootch” or “Nooch” is what, as you admit, *most* vegetarians shorten “nutritional yeast” to. You don’t have to like it, but if you want people to know what you’re talking about and want to use an abbreviation, use the common one, or else you’re going to have a plethora of people asking you what the hell you’re attempting to convey.

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  • Colby Jaquard

    Your seitan looks just like this guy’s:
    http://www.quitehungry.com/2013/05/23/what-the-heck-is-vital-wheat-gluten/

    In my opinion, your seitan looks so much more appealing than any meat 🙂

    • Yeah, seitan more or less looks like seitan. =) But any way you slice it, it’s better than the (slowly) rotting flesh of former sentient beings… Bon appétit !

  • Shannon

    I was wondering if a different flour besides the chick pea flour could be used? Thank you!

    • Shannon,

      You could certainly try it—I’d recommend fava bean flour, or another bean flour. Bean flours have particular flavour and water absorption properties.

      I’ve also seen seitan recipes with just nutch, or just bean flours. I like this mix between the two of them, but you could also omit the bean flour completely.

  • lyndsay

    I used my food processor with a dough blade and it came out a bit rubbery, is the kneading the way forward?….It was still delish. P.S. what is notch?

    • Hm, if it’s rubbery, then it may have been too kneaded. Not enough kneading generally produced spongy seitan, whereas too much kneading will over-activate the gluten and it’ll be tough.

      And nutch is nutritional yeast. =)

  • ed

    “what it isn’t:gluten free”, perhaps what you meant was “what it isn’t not: gluten free”. I wouldnt disagree with that.