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Four and a half years ago, Naz Hamid wrote an article for One Good Meal called "The Finest in Fake Meats" about how to make your own seitan. I found it interesting but never bothered trying it because I wasn't a vegetarian and the couple times a year that I cook with seitan, it seemed easier to just pick up a packet of pre-made seitan (also called gluten or wheat-meat) than it did to make my own.

And I realized as I turned up my nose at the Chix patties and frozen veggie burger patties in the freezer section, but headed to the refrigerator case looking for seitan, that I was being hypocritical. I was turning up my nose at pre-made food while buying pre-made food. So I turned to Naz's archived column, realized it didn't sound too hard to make my own — but then I wondered what I would do with it.

Whether you make your own or buy it in the refrigerated package, you still need ideas on what to make with seitan. Aside from eating barbecue seitan sandwiches, I realized I needed more options. So I turned to the internet because Julia Child never cooked with the stuff.

While it has more flavor than tofu, it still needs seasoning. A lot of seasoning. That's why barbecue seitan sandwiches are so popular at restaurants. They're easy and flavorful. Slice seitan, warm it in barbecue sauce, and then serve on a bun is an easy way to make a meal.

If you're not making your own seitan, you'll have to add your flavoring to what you cook it in. There are lots of Asian sauces that provide a lot of flavor in a small amount of sauce: teriyaki, ponzu, hoisin, sriracha, plum sauce or any bottled "stir-fry sauce." Since seitan is firmer than tofu and doesn't require pressing, you can just slice the seitan into bite-sized pieces, sauté it with some onion and garlic, pour on some bottled sauce, let it cook for a few minutes while stirring constantly, and then throw in a few handfuls of vegetables to cook for another few minutes and serve over rice for a quick and easy stir fry.

Despite the history of seitan (created by Buddhist monks looking for a tofu alternative and then made popular in Japan) I wanted to find ways to cook it that weren't as obviously influenced by Asian ingredients. Because it is so firm, it can easily be tossed into chili and stew recipes, thrown into pots of beans, substituted in casseroles, tossed into pasta sauce, cooked in enchiladas, or even roasted with vegetables the way you would a beef or pork roast.

But because it generally lacks a great deal of flavor on its own, it should be flavored before it is added to any of these dishes. You can create a marinade and soak the seitan pieces in it overnight (or for days), you can create a very strongly flavored sauce and saute the pieces in it, or you can fry the pieces in a little oil and cook your spices in the same oil to create an aromatic start to your dish.

Here are a few different mixes of spices and herbs to coat and cook your seitan in, along with an idea for a few different ways to use it. These are the amounts I recommend for one pound of seitan. Alternatively, these mixtures will also be good for a pound of chicken, pork or beef pieces. Simply add 1 tablespoon of olive or cooking oil to a skillet placed over medium heat. Add the seitan chopped to your desired size and then sprinkle this mixture over it. Stir to coat everything evenly and then cook for 7-10 minutes or until the spices start to smell nutty and you've got crispiness on the seitan.

Spicy Blend for use in tacos, enchiladas, or anywhere else you want a little spice.
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper or 1 teaspoon of chile powder

Italian Blend for adding to any pasta sauce or baked pasta recipe, including lasagna.
4 teaspoons of dried parsley
2 teaspoons of dried basil
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon of dried rosemary
1 tablespoon of tomato paste (or 1 teaspoon of tomato powder)
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon of onion powder

Chicken Substitute Blend to add to any casserole that calls for chicken pieces.
1 teaspoon of sage
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of dried rosemary (ground or leaves)
1 teaspoon of thyme
1/2 teaspoon of dried mustard

Here are a few previously published recipes from "One Good Meal" with seitan substitution directions:

  • Cut this recipe for Ropa Vieja in half and substitute seitan for the flank steak without changing any of the other ingredients or steps in the dish. Or you can simply add two pounds of seitan and keep the recipe as it is. The leftovers would freeze well.

  • Seitan can directly substitute into this recipe for Baked Ginger Chicken with no alterations to the recipe.

  • Mojo Sauce makes a great marinade for seitan that you can cook under the broiler for about 3-4 minutes.

  • This Dill Marinade with Vegetables would also work great with seitan.

  • And these sauce recipes will also work great with seitan instead of chicken breasts.

  • This comforting lasagna recipe includes tips on substituting fake-meat for the traditional beef/pork mix.

  • The Spicy Blend above would go great in this enchilada recipe.

Many vegetarians find the texture of seitan off-putting since it closely resembles the texture of cooked meat. Since I enjoy meat, I don't have that hang-up. If you're worried that you'll hate meat substitutes, buy a package of seitan and give it a try. At worst, you'll end up ordering a pizza because you do indeed hate it. At best, you may have found a way to cut just a little bit of cholesterol and saturated fat out of your diet while giving yourself even more cooking options.

Comments

jen / March 31, 2008 10:45 AM

a question for you or naz - it wasn't mentioned in his recipe, but let's say you make your own seitan. how long can you keep it for, and how should it be stored?

peter / March 31, 2008 11:28 AM

Look forward to trying out the recipe. Any suggestions for a seitan "gyros" recipe?

Naz / March 31, 2008 11:43 AM

Jen -
Fresh seitan is best consumed in the first week. Due to your own home made boiling process to make it, as well as the lack of vacuum-sealing it, there's a level of moisture in fresh seitan that will make it easy to succumb to fungus (like bread) quickly. I'd say 7 days if you let it rest and drain post-boil.

Peter -
I'd say look for a recipe for making gyros meat and add those spices to the seitan and then once made, stir-fry it super hot for a good char/carmelization on the outside then cut thinly a la gyros.

Cinnamon / April 1, 2008 11:25 AM

I'm experimenting to see how well seitan freezes. I like the idea of making a large batch and then just dividing it into portions in the freezer. Stay tuned.

Peter, if you're extra geeky, you can try out this DIY gyro cooker. I bet you could form the seitan for roasting this way. And here is a basic list of ingredients I would add to 1 8oz. package of seitan.

2 Cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp of pepper
1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
1 tsp of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
(if you're making your own seitan, I'd add the rind from 1/2 a lemon, if you're using pre-made, I'd mix all these with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the juice of 1 lemon)

Pour everything into the skillet when you sautee it. As the seitan gets hots, it will soak up all the liquid and you may need to add more oil or a little vegetable broth.

Peter / April 1, 2008 6:47 PM

Quick question about the gyro recipe. Should I include those ingredients when making the actual Seitan dough? And also, i have never cooked using the rind of any fruit. What is the best way to use it? I would assume shredding it, but I honestly have no idea. Any suggestions would be helpful.

Nuke LaLoosh / April 2, 2008 12:22 PM

@ Peter:

You could probably use the ZEST of 1/2 lemon, which requires you to gently rub a lemon rind on a zester/grater to remove the yellow surface of the fruit(which contains all the great citrus oils) while avoiding (as much as possible) the white stuff underneath the peel.

The white stuff is called the "pith," and it is bitter and mealy.

If Cinnamon really meant "rind" rather than "zest," you could just remove long slices of peel from the lemon using a vegetable peeler or a VERY SHARP paring knife.

Again, try to avoid the pith as much as possible.

Mike Purvis / April 2, 2008 9:23 PM

I like to bard my Seitan.

Cinnamon / April 3, 2008 12:51 AM

Thanks, Nuke. I did mean zest. And yes, Peter add the dry ingredients to the dough when you make it. If you aren't making your own, create a marinade from them.

And if you're going to refrigerate the seitan for more than a day, I've read that placing it in a bowl or bag so it is completely covered by the cooking liquid should help it keep for 5-7 days. And I haven't proven it, but supposedly seitan can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

I'll have to look up this bard you speak of, Mike.

Kevin / April 3, 2008 9:56 AM

Thanks for re-posting the how to on seitan. It's something I'd always wanted to try, and had never got around to. I made it last night, and it turned out great. I did the minimum amount of boiling, so I think it might have turned out better had I done it longer.

It looked like brains in the boil pot.

We actually stored ours in some of the liquid that I was boiled in, given that the store bought stuff comes in liquid as well. Can anyone comment on why you wouldn't want to do it that way? I'd like to not poison myself and my wife if that's a concern.

Peter / April 3, 2008 4:43 PM

One more question. I went searching for Fenugreek around where I'm at (south side) and could not find it. Is it a specialty spice that is difficult to get, or should Whole Foods have it? Also, here is a link to another pretty great Seitan recipe I've tried out. It calls for baking rather than boiling and the best analogy I can make is a slightly "doughy" sausage. I liked it quite a bit and was my initial foray into making my own. Anyways, enjoy: http://www.postpunkkitchen.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=15959
The only problem is that I have not found a great way to eat it. Didn't care for it in fajitas, so I have found myself just snacking on it. Thanks for everyone's help.

Cinnamon / April 3, 2008 11:07 PM

Kevin, it should be safe to store it in the liquid for 5-7 days. It won't kill you, but it will begin to forment which will give you something between a bad taste in your mouth and horrible bathroom time. If you want to keep it longer than that, just freeze it with or without the liquid.

Peter, the spongy texture will probably make it great for marinating and then maybe grilling. Sliced thin on a bun with some sweet pickles and barbecue sauce might be a great summer meal.

About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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