We’ve created this essential guide of what Seitan is, what it’s used for, how it tastes, and what you can do with it.
Seitan is fast becoming a staple ingredient for lots of people who prefer to avoid meat in their diet. Also known as ‘wheat-meat’, it is derived from the protein portion of wheat. It has a dense and chewy texture and is often used in place of roast beef. It is also used often in Chinese cooking-you may be familiar with the ingredient from eating ‘mock’ duck, chicken, beef or pork dishes in Chinese restaurants. This mock ‘meat’ is then used in a number of dishes, including stir-fries, sandwiches, and as a plant based ‘roast’ centrepiece. You may have already eaten seitan without knowing as it forms the base of a number of commercial mock meat products, for example, some Tofurky ‘meat’ slices.
Different types of Seitan
“If it’s made from wheat, is it bready? Is it very ‘carby’?”
In a word, no. It doesn’t have a soft bready texture. Also known as ‘wheat protein’, nutritionally, it is high in this macronutrient.
“Ok, but what does it taste like?”
Like tofu, in its original form, seitan is a bit bland. Some people say it has a mild ‘mushroomy’ taste. The beauty of seitan is not so much its inherent flavour (which is easy to manipulate using various flavourings and marinades), but in its texture. Because it has such a substantial, ‘meaty’ bite, lots of people think it is a better meat substitute than say, tofu or tempeh, in terms of its mouthfeel.
“Right, you’ve convinced me. How can I try it?”
This is where it gets a little bit more complicated. You can either buy it, or make it yourself-there are a few recipes.
One of the (many) great things about the burgeoning vegan population is the availability of previously elusive plant-based products. If you want to buy seitan, you can try Granovita’s Mock Duck, which is tinned and readily available from Holland and Barrett. You can also try Biona Organic Seitan Pieces, Wheaty Organic products (which include a ‘chorizo’-style sausage, as well as ‘meat’ slices and other ‘sausages’), and Tofurky slices, among others.
“I’ve bought seitan-now how do I prep it?”
This depends entirely on what you have purchased. With slices it’s a simple case of wedging them between bread to enjoy a delicious sandwich, or serving with leaves for a salad. When it comes to the pieces and tinned ‘mock meat’ you can be a bit more creative.
The seitan ‘duck’ works perfectly in pancakes-Chinese-style. You need to get yourself some spring onions, cucumber, plum sauce and pancakes, then panfry your ‘duck’ before rolling it all up together and enjoying.
The pieces work well in stir fries-simply add when you would generally add tofu. For seitan that comes in blocks, slicing and sautéing in a small amount of oil ensures your wheat-meat is heated through and ready to go on the side of your veggies.
“But I want to make it myself.”
Also possible. The appeal of making it at home is that you can flavour it however you want. An added bonus is that the range of recipes and methods means you can create a huge spectrum of flavours, textures, and dishes-from meatloaf-type plates to crispy ‘bacon’, soft dumplings, and roast ‘beef’.
To make seitan, it easiest if you use a specific, speciality-type of flour, called Vital Wheat Gluten Flour. This is generally fairly easy to find in health food shops, or from online retailers. To make wheat meat you basically need to create a dough by adding liquid to the flour, then kneading the dough before cooking.
Top tip: Unless you have a specific problem with gluten, leading plant based physician Dr Michael Greger says: “There is no reason healthy people should avoid gluten, and in fact studies have found gluten-free diets tend to be nutritionally inferior (though don’t necessarily need to be).”
Ideas for cooking seitan
Mexican seitan fajitas
Saute red onions and finely sliced peppers in a large frying pan. Shred your prepared seitan, and add to pan. Using a commercial fajita spice mix, season the seitan and veg. Stuff a fajita with shredded iceberg lettuce, salsa, mashed avocado, dairy-free sour cream, and shredded plant-based cheese.
Sweet n sour seitan
Cut your seitan into strips. Make a glaze by putting minced garlic, ginger, orange juice, tomato paste, sesame oil, soy sauce, agave nectar, and white wine vinegar in a sauce pan. Cook over a medium heat, adding a small amount of water if necessary to loosen mixture. Once it has become a thick sauce, coat your strips, then bake in a medium over for 20 minutes. Serve with rice.
Peppered seitan al ‘Milanese’
Take your seitan and cut into cutlet shapes. You don’t want the pieces to be too thick. Dredge in unsweetened soya milk, then through breadcrumbs which have a hearty grinding of fresh black pepper. Either bake, or shallow fry, before serving with mash, red wine gravy, and steamed kale.
Top tip: You can eat seitan after you have boiled it – but it is much tastier if you sautée it too. This will give it crispy edges and a better flavour. We like to lightly pan fry it in a dash of oil with a touch of garlic.
Recipes with Seitan
- Plant Based Grilled Bratwurst
- Seitan ‘Duck’ Pancakes with Hoi Sin Sauce
- Stuffed Seitan with Pine Nut Glaze