“I’d go vegetarian, but I just love meat too much.” Heard this before? It might seem like an obvious dilemma, but it turns out that meat is actually quite a simple lump of stuff – it’s basically lots of water and lots of protein, with a little bit of fat and carbs thrown in for good measure.
This means it’s surprisingly easy to replicate its texture with plants and create healthy, high-protein foodstuffs, without the need for any steel rods to shoot out of any bolt guns and collide with any neurological matter. Just take a look at what revolutionary companies like Quorn, Fry’s Family Foods, or Gardein are doing. In fact, one such company, Beyond Meat, has even received investment from none other than the richest man yet to own a good pair of glasses, Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
But you don’t need any crazy sci-fi life forms like mycoprotein or Bill Gates to create great tasting, cruelty-free meat. Seitan (pronounced ‘say-tan’), or wheat gluten, has been around since the sixth century; despite the fire and brimstone its name invokes, it was popular with Chinese Buddhists in an effort to avoid consuming flesh. By removing the starch from wheat and making a dough from the remaining gluten, a high-protein, thick, chewy substance is produced, with a highly customisable texture dependant on the liquid content of the dough, and the time you spend baking it. By altering the herbs, spices, and sauces you put into your seitan pre-cooking, you can also customise the flavour as much as you like. It’s for this reason that people have developed recipes for seitan bacon, seitan chicken, and even seitan ribs, complete with bones for added oh-my-god-you’re-scary-points.
But, of course, you don’t have to stick to what already waddles about on this Earth – you could theoretically make a (de-feathered) seitan hippogriff wing, seitan unicorn with extra rainbow sprinkles, or even (for those radical vegans amongst you) seitan human…
But to start you off in this new chapter of your culinary journey, I’ve avoided replicating meat and instead devised a recipe that allows seitan to stand on its own two feet as an exciting and delicious product all on its own, and not just a ‘substitute’. The finished roast would be impossible to replicate with real meat, so make sure to document your family’s reaction the first time you serve it and their heads explode as they ponder how you apparently took an animal and made it into a savoury arctic roll.
This recipe is a template. If followed completely it will yield a tasty and simple end result, but feel free to customise it as much as you like with different herbs, spices, sauces and stuffing.
The finished product as cooked by yours truly.
250g wheat gluten flour, available at most good health food shops
30g bread flour
Recommended herbs spices
60ml soy sauce
Tablespoon of tomato paste/puree (or even ketchup)
Tablespoon of olive oil
2 tablespoons of tahini
Set the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
Mix all your dry ingredients together thoroughly.
In a separate bowl mix all your wet ingredients together thoroughly. Combine with dry ingredients.
Knead thoroughly until you get a very slightly moist dough with an even colouring. The seitan will start off very sticky (it’s gluten after all), but will eventually coalesce into one easy to manage ball. Add more flour if too wet, or more water if too dry. Set aside.
Make your stuffing.
Roll out your seitan into a square about 0.5cm thick. This may take some effort as it tends to spring back into a tight shape, but it will eventually remain flat. Spread the stuffing evenly over the seitan, leaving around a 1cm gap on all edges.
Starting at one edge, roll the seitan over onto itself, and continue all the way to the other edge. This should result in a spiral full of stuffing. If it hasn’t, you’ve done it wrong. Pinch the edges together to close off the interior.
Wrap your seitan log in tin foil, making sure there are no gaps. Make sure you can open the tin foil from the top of the seitan log, for later.
Fill a large oven-proof dish halfway with water, and place the tin foil-wrapped seitan into the water. When cooking, the water will heat up, cooking the seitan evenly on all sides.
Place dish in oven and cook for ninety minutes. The texture inside should be moist but not wet – if it’s still not cooked through, put it back in the oven until it’s done. Obviously.
When the seitan is cooked through, open the top of the tin foil and cook for a further ten minutes to brown the top.
Remove seitan from tin foil and serve in slices to show off the bad-ass spiralisation. Works well as a traditional roast with vegetables and gravy, but also works excellently sliced thin and served cold in sandwiches at 4AM in your underwear.