When I was a kid, one of my favorite treats was miàn jīn, Chinese fried gluten. It is impossible to describe in a way that makes it sound appealing. Balls of wheat gluten that had been deep fried, and canned in some sort of mysterious and delicious oil. In terms of appearances, it was not a pretty thing. It also kept its shape fairly well, so when you peeled pieces out of the can with your chopsticks, they always retained its vaguely cylindrical, brainlike consistency, and is advertised as "mock meat". You're drooling right now, aren't you.
So, like with most things, once I moved away to college and away from the sometimes astonishingly ... antique contents of our pantry at home, I forgot about most of these things.
Until, a couple of years ago, Hillside Quickie happened. So the name of the restaurant is a bit of a misnomer, given that it is neither situated on a hillside, nor is the service quick, by any stretch of the imagination. What it does boast, however, is VEGAN SOUL FOOD.
Now, I've already gone over my various and complicated feelings about "-an" classifications of eating, so you can take my word for it when I say that this isn't just good food by vegan standards (if you are one of those skeptics that believes that meat + butter related substances are key for anything delicious). This food is good, period. If you are ever in the Seattle area, it is definitely worth a stop. This place affirms the hypothesis that everything can be made delicious through the process of deep frying.
Hillside Quickies can be wholly attributed to my discovery of seitan - namely, that it existed outside of the nebulous walls of my mother's pantry, and that other people eat it.
Since I've started cooking in earnest this year, my roommate has pioneered many successful attempts at making seitan through baking. As I was doing research for our weekly group vegan dinners, I finally thought that I would try my hand at it. And let me tell you, there is a lot of shit to sort through about seitan.
I encountered a few recipes that uttered dire warnings about boiling the seitan, others still who swore by it, tons of recipes that differed between cooking time, cooking method, amount of oil, type of oil, marination. You get the idea.
So, deciding that it was time to just pony up and start experimenting, I glommed together various recipes from around the internets and came up with this.
- 6-8 cups vegetable broth
- 2 2/3 cup vital wheat gluten
- 3 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 Tablespoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon tumeric
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- 1/4 cup dry sherry
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 3/4 cup water
- 1 stalk green onions, chopped
- 1 head cauliflower, chopped
- 2 cups rice milk
- 1 Tablespoon flour
- 1 Tablespoon curry powder
- 1 tablespoons salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
1. Pour the broth into a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer.
2. Combine the vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, curry, and salt into a medium size bowl.
3. Combine the soy sauce, sherry, and water into another bowl.
4. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a spoon. Knead into dough a few times until all of the ingredients are incorporated. The water will react almost instantly with the vital wheat gluten to make a tough dough.
5. Tear pieces of dough off the larger dough ball with your hands and drop gently into the simmering broth. The pieces should be about an inch in diameter. Allow to cook for about 20 minutes, or until the seitan has expanded and risen to the top of the pot. Remove from heat and place in a shallow dish.
6. Mix half a cup of rice milk with the flour in a medium saucepan. Stir over low heat until the mixture has thickened.
7. Add the remaining rice milk and other sauce ingredients, and cook at medium heat for approximately 5 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened.
8. Pour the mixture over the seitan pieces and refridgerate overnight.
9. The next day, allow the seitan to sit at room temperature for about ten minutes before cooking.
10. Heat 2 tsp of oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Spoon the seitan pieces into the pan, reserving the sauce, and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the seitan is slightly browned and firm.
11. Pour marinade sauce over the seitan, add the cauliflower, and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes.
12. Salt and pepper to taste, garnish with green onions, and serve over rice.
I was a little nervous about making this, in the way that I am nervous about attempting to make cheese. When food texture is so important, it generally is common sense to assume that it would be really easy to screw up. And though I cooked my seitan a tiny bit longer than I should have (I modified the above recipe accordingly), the seitan just was a little bit tougher than was my preference, but could very well be exactly up someone else's alley. But the point is, the whole thing did not explode into a seitany, satan-y ball of doom, and was quite forgiving of all of the humiliations that I put it through. Do be prepared for the alarming rate of dough expansion among cooking, and learn from my mistakes and test the seitan frequently to make sure that it is at the consistency and texture that you like.
Though I will admit: I am still a little bit freaked out by the insta-magic of wheat gluten. The final product was a very convincing meat-like texture, with good flavor. In the future, I'm going to try slicing and frying cutlets (instead of boiling pieces), so we'll see how that works out. Also, I am well aware that this is the second curried cauliflower recipe that I have posted. I'm working on diversifying, I promise.
It was quite an easy make-ahead sort of recipe, and the vegetables could certainly be flexible, depending on what is in season. Seitan keeps remarkably well in the freezer as well, so you could always portion the seitan in freezer bags, instead of just marinating overnight.
And while it is not quite as cheap an option as tofu or beans, it is quite a treat, and - it turns out - easy to make.
Also, if anyone has any killer seitan recipes, then do let me know! Sorry for not having pictures of the final product (the first picture was the seitan, post-marinade) - but it always gets eaten up so fast...