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Friday, January 08, 2010

January 4-7, 2010: Seitan from scratch

Impatient to use my slow cooker again, even in the heat, I thought I'd try my hand at seitan. Gluten flour has become increasingly accessible in the past few years and with this it's easy to make raw seitan. However the recipe in Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker takes the more traditional route; here you make a dough of flour and water, knead it under running water to rinse out the starch, and then simmer the glutinous dough in stock.

As a first-timer, it was the rinsing that was most nerve-wracking. Robertson merely instructs us to knead the dough in water until the water goes milky, then drain and replace the water, repeating until the water is clear. By the time I was up to my sixth rinse the water was as opaque as ever, my dough was getting slippery and difficult to handle, and I was losing small sludgy fragments of the dough down the sink.

I had better luck when I changed my technique. Transferring the dough to a colander, I set the tap at a trickle and got a little more aggressive with my kneading. Instead of my bread-making fold-and-turn I really dug my fingers into the dough, scrunching and probing it for starch. Meanwhile the milky water escaped through the colander, giving me a drier dough and better view of my progress. It takes a while and the dough shrinks a lot but this is as it should be. I might have been less concerned if I'd just read this site before beginning.

Once the dough had the texture of chewed gum (ewwww), I divided it into four blobs and plonked them into the slow cooking stock.

Six hours later, I assumed that my seitan was ready and scooped it out to dry. It smelled like roast chicken! Must be the bay leaves. The stock got bottled up and stashed it in the freezer for future meals.

I sliced and fried the first seitan blob for dinner; the rest followed the stock into the freezer for future enjoyment. While the straight-up seitan is soft and spongy, it didn't take much frying to achieve a crisp golden skin - pleasant to chew, though without further adornment its flavour is bland and bready. That spongy texture is just begging to slurp up some marinade so I'm looking forward to tinkering with the taste of these gluten globs.

Seitan from scratch
(recipe from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson)

1 carrot, chopped into large chunks
1 onion, quartered
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 bay leaves
~3L water
6 cups wholemeal flour

Place the carrot, onion, garlic, soy sauce, bay leaves and 2.25L of the water in a slow cooker set to High.

In a large bowl stir together the wholemeal flour and remaining 3 cups of water to make a dough. I thought mine was too dry and added another 1/2 cup of water but I'd discourage you from doing this unless absolutely necessary! The next step is to knead the dough on a flat surface for 10 minutes and this is difficult if the dough's too sticky. After kneading the dough, put it back in the bowl, cover it with warm water and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.

Once the dough has rested, shift the bowl to sit in your kitchen sink. Knead the dough until the water goes white. Drain the water and transfer the dough to a colander. Under a slow stream of running water, continue squishing the dough until it reduces in volume (I think mine halved, roughly) and becomes stretchy like chewing gum. Continue until the water draining through the colander is almost clear.

Divide the raw seitan into four balls and drop them into the slow cooking stock. Turn the setting down to Low and cook the seitan for 4-6 hours.

Scoop the seitan out and let it cool on a baking tray. To store the seitan, keep it in the fridge for a few days submerged in some of the stock or freeze it without the stock. Any leftover stock can be used for other recipes.


  1. A pox upon my mother's wheat allergy! Yet another recipe to add to the "once I've stopped travelling and also moved out" pile.

    Looks like you managed this seitan perfectly though - bravo!

  2. You can also use High gluten four from Asian grocer, in which case you get a much higher yield, I'll post that sometimes soon.

  3. wow impressive work - it looks very fascinating and just a wee bit frustrating

  4. That looks very tiring! I have to admit I've never heard of seitan - this may sound absolutely blasphemous, but is it like savoury bread??

  5. Thanks Hannah - it'll be worth the wait. :-)

    3 hungry tummies - I think the gluten flour I buy from health food shops is probably similar to your product. I'd love to see what you do with it!

    Johanna, it was a fascinating process. I probably won't repeat it very often but it's given me a new appreciation for gluten flour.

    Hi Vee! Although it's flour based, seitan is not really bread-like. It's used as a faux meat in vegetarian cooking. :-)

  6. I've tried making seitan twice now, once boiled, once baked, both times utterly vile - it's ended up in the bin! Yet everyone else seems to think it's delicious. Am I missing a trick?!

  7. Hi Abi! I find seitan quite variable and don't always like its texture or flavour. Have you been taking the painstaking wash-out-the-starch approach that I have here, or using high-gluten flour to make a dough? I think the high-gluten dough is more reliable, and you're better positioned to add some herbs and other flavourings you might like. Otherwise it's certainly possible that seitan just isn't your thing.

  8. OMG, I love Robin Robertson - I have her 1000 vegan recipes and vegan fire and spice.

    I did not even know she had a slow cooker book! I love my slow cooker, will have to get her book. :D

  9. Welcome, Kate! I'm looking forward to digging into this book more often now that winter's approaching. :-)