It is summertime. And I want to accomplish big, bold, BBQ flavors on the grill. With this in mind, I set out to prepare seitan, a convenient plant-based meat alternative that can be made at home.
Recently, mock-meats or faux burgers continue to receive attention within the commercial plant-based food scene. Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat patties and sausages are now readily available and appearing on BBQ menus and burger spots across the country. These options make it easier to keep up with eating better for the planet.
While those alternatives are convenient, there is something to be said for creating something that is entirely your own.
Say what? Is that the devil’s food?
Seitan, pronounced say-tan, is made from wheat gluten, a primary protein found in wheat. Gluten is insoluble in water. Therefore, it is obtained by making a wheat dough, kneading it in water, and rinsing away the fiber. What is left is a glutinous mass which is dried and made into a powder. Now, it can be sold as vital wheat gluten. You will find vital wheat gluten in the baking aisle of your grocery store with other flours.
Seitan is a very protein-rich food. To demonstrate this, I used Cronometer to generate a food label based on the recipe for this project. As you can see, in just 100 grams (about 3 ounces) of seitan, there are approximately 25 grams of protein. I do concede to adding a lot of salt.
How to make it (and make it taste like something)
Making seitan starts with combining vital wheat gluten and liquid to form a dough. Once it is kneaded and shaped, the dough can either be baked, steamed, or simmered in broth.
There is a lot of room for creativity when making seitan. Creating a dynamic flavor begins with mixing dry and wet ingredients together. Do this by adding a variety of herbs, spices, and condiments.
One approach to try
In wanting to focus on creating something reminiscent of brisket or flank steak, I prepared the initial seitan dough with dried shiitake mushrooms, ground to a powder along with garlic powder, nutritional yeast, and dried herbs. For the wet ingredients, I included miso and tomato paste, Bragg’s liquid aminos, along with enough water to form the dough.
Simmered in a brine
To continue building flavor for the dough, I tried simmering it in a brine. Another alternative is to use a flavorful stock instead. Choosing a moist cooking method allows for continued flavor development when making seitan.
For the brine, I used a 3 to 1 ratio of salt to sugar along with 2 parts a small dice of mirepoix (carrots, onions, and celery) and 12 parts water.
After an approximate 1 hour cook time in the brine, I fully cooled and dried the cooked dough before adding a dry rub overnight.
Hot smoking dough
What better way to impart big BBQ flavors than to set up the grill as a smoker? But how do you keep the seitan from drying out while cooking at a low temperature for a long time?
- Use a mixture of fresh herbs and minced onion and garlic with coconut oil. Coconut oil is a solid at room temperature. As I result, it is possible to spread a layer of this on top of the dough. While it smokes, the fat melts through the dough, and the herbs and onions will also help to create a flavorful crust.
- Place a pan of water inside the grill to help with keeping the smoking environment moist.
And the Results?
It tastes good. This method, with out a doubt, accomplishes a strong, meaty flavor. The seitan itself was also easy to slice when warm, and can certainly be enjoyed this way.
The texture of seitan is not quite like meat. It is actually unique to itself and not quite like anything else. In some respects, it is more appropriate to think of seitan not as a meat alternative but perhaps as a method for creating a flavorful medium.
While it was easy to slice thinly, when hot, The results were more interesting once the seitan had fully cooled. In this state, it is easily diced, which inspired me to brown some of it in a pan with mushrooms in order to create a rich sauce for pasta. Or even enjoy as a deli slice.
Biesiekierski, J. R. (2017). What is gluten? Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 32, 78-81. doi:10.1111/jgh.13703
McGee, H. (2004). On food and cooking the science and lore of the kitchen. New York: Scribner.
Track nutrition & count calories. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://cronometer.com/
United States Department of Agriculture. (April 2018). National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (v.126.96.36.199). https://ndb.nal.usda.gov.ndb/search/list