June 13, 2016
Posted in: Culinary Arts

The Many Flavors of Seitan

Seitan can be used to make an array of vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Seitan, or wheat gluten, is a staple of vegetarian and vegan diets with a long history in certain schools of Asian cooking. In the past, it was commonly used as a meat substitute for religious reasons, but today people from all backgrounds appreciate this versatile ingredient. Seitan opens up endless possibilities for a chef trained at an accredited culinary institute. When you learn more, you may be surprised at how many great uses you can find for it in your cooking.

Giving seitan soul
One quality that makes wheat gluten such a handy addition to your culinary arsenal is the fact that, like tofu, it can absorb just about any flavor. Serious Eats pointed out that it is also packed with protein and has a satisfyingly chewy texture. For those reasons, it’s an excellent stand-in for many varieties of meat, though it probably will not fool any skeptical diners.

“Seitan can absorb just about any flavor.”

Before you can start making seitan the cornerstone of tasty dishes, of course, you need a supply of the main ingredient. As Slate warned, it’s hard to get the ideal texture out of the mass-produced wheat gluten available for purchase in some American grocery stores. To avoid a product that is either overly tough or prone to crumbling, you’ll have to prepare a batch in your own kitchen.

The requirements for seitan are simple, though the process can take some time. One Green Planet explained that all you really need to make dough is water and the gluten in a powdered form, sold as either vital wheat gluten or whole-wheat flour. However, you will probably want to add some more taste to that otherwise bland combination. Choose flavors for the dough based how you plan to use the seitan. For instance, tomato paste can make the results taste closer to beef.

Knead the dough for a few minutes, and then let it rest for about ten minutes. Give the dough a little more kneading before placing it in a pot with vegetable broth, water and soy sauce. Then, simmer the seitan for about 45 minutes. After turning off the heat, let it sit in the broth another 15 minutes before draining. If you prefer, you can also try other cooking methods like steaming or baking.

Many restaurants craft delicious vegetarian meals with seitan.Many restaurants craft delicious vegetarian meals with seitan.

Wheat gluten at its best
Once you master preparing the seitan itself, you’ll have to decide how to incorporate it into your dishes. Luckily, you’ll find no shortage of inspiration. There are a number of restaurants presenting seitan in forms that would satisfy even the most ardent carnivore.

Established in 1994, Candle Cafe has locations on both the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side of New York City. At either one, you can enjoy an array of creative meatless options like a seitan chimichurri. For this dish, the wheat gluten is marinated in citrus and herbs and cooked on skewers before being topped with a jalapeno aioli. In the Cajun sandwich, the seitan receives a spicy crust and is served on grilled focaccia bread with steamed kale, onion, avocado and ancho chili aioli.

At Veggie Galaxy in Cambridge, Massachusetts, seitan takes the form of beloved breakfast foods like sausage and corned beef hash. The restaurant gets even more inventive with the ingredient by offering weekly seitan cutlet specials. One week that might mean a seitan picatta, with the wheat gluten breaded, fried and topped by a vegan lemon butter sauce and capers. Another dish brings the cutlet covered with mushroom wine gravy, accompanied by basmati rice and mixed vegetables.

Diners at Tree House in St. Louis dig into a variation on beef Wellington that features the meat substitute wrapped in a mushroom duxelles and puff pastry. It’s served with bordelaise sauce, roasted garlic encrusted by nutty Parmesan cheese and herb mashed potatoes. They can also try a dish influenced by Japanese-style fried chicken with katsu sauce, jasmine rice, green curry and cabbage.

Celebrated for over 30 years, the Chicago Diner, with two locations in its namesake city, built its longstanding reputation on the basis of its vegetarian and vegan takes on comfort food classics. Among the virtuoso uses of seitan is the Radical Reuben, featuring corned beef-style seitan with grilled onions, peppers, sauerkraut, cheese and vegan Thousand Island dressing on marble rye bread. The Thai chili wings cover the wheat gluten in a chili lime marinade, and it’s paired with a Sriracha ranch dipping sauce and sesame garnish.

However you like your seitan, you can appreciate the limitless possibilities for adapting this meat substitute to your cooking style. Put your culinary academy skills to work by crafting your own savory yet meat-free signature dish.