Making Seitan (Wheat Gluten = Fake Meat)

What is seitan? Seitan (SAY tan) is wheat gluten. You know gluten, right? That sticky substance that your liberal friends are in a panic about and that your conservative friends think is a myth? That’s the one!

Below: A package of commercially available seitan. Seitan is very spongy and has a chewiness, like a medium rare steak.

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Gluten, in fact does exist, and you can prove it by making seitan. Why make seitan? Because it has a texture that’s very similar to meat and it can be flavored to be an excellent meat-flavored substitute. Plus, it’s almost pure protein, so there is a nutritional benefit to it. If, however, your immune or digestive systems are sensitive to gluten – and I believe that many people unknowingly are – then you should avoid seitan like the plague. After all, it’s 100% gluten.

How to Make Seitan

You make seitan by starting with a whole lotta wheat flour. You incorporate warm water into it and begin to swish it around and knead it. You’ll knead it about 50 times so that the proteins (gluten) in the flour start to get knotted up (more info – http://www.nyx.net/~dgreenw/whatisglutenandhowisitdeve.html). Protein actually gets physically knotted up, kind of like strands of yarn or thread which get all tangled up. Then you rest the dough ball to help this knotting up process to happen. After 20 minutes, you knead about 20 times more, cover the whole ball with water, then rest another 20 minutes.

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Then you start kneading for a third time. Some of the starch from the wheat (carbohydrates) will start to cloud up the water. You pour that cloudy water off because all you want is the gluten – the proteins. You keep at this – adding water, swishing around, and pouring off – until the ball gets tighter and stickier. You could take the ball and put it into a colander at this point, with a gentle stream of water running onto it, and work the dough very hard with one hand. Pretend like you are really trying to knot up a wad of yarn. A circular motion seems to work well here, almost as if you were a human Kitchenaid mixer.

The ball should get denser and denser as starches and bran (indigestible stuff) is washed away from the protein. Eventually you should have a spongy, gummy mass. This is the gluten. This is the seitan. Congratulations.

Below: Chef Shahnaz mixing up some water to form a dough ball.

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Below: This is the final stage of developing the seitan wherein you really work the dough ball under a stream of water. The water carries away the bran and starch. As long as the bran and starch are present, the seitan cannot come together. However, if you don’t work the dough ball fast enough, the proteins won’t get knotted up enough, and you are in danger of rinsing the entire dough ball down the drain. It’s a gamble when you work with seitan. The key seems to be using a slow stream of water (not a flood) and stirring the dough very rapidly.

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Below: Rolling the gluten into balls that were seasoned with Italian seasonings. I don’t eat gluten, but those suckers smelled a lot like pepperoni and I was quite tempted. Dang you, gluten!

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Below: Hands, sticky from gluten development.

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Below: Hands, sticky from gluten development.

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