Tuesday, February 20, 2018

opening soon: my local branch of the Church of Seitan

The term seitan (pronounced \ˈseɪtæn\ or \seɪˈta:n\—pretty much any way except "Satan") refers to a meat substitute composed primarily of vital wheat gluten (this is what remains when you take wheat flour and remove all the starch). This makes seitan verboten for the gluten-intolerant, and with the carb content of vital wheat gluten at 14 g per 100 g, it's not the most Atkins-friendly diet choice out there. That said, I've always been fascinated by meat substitutes, and when seitan blipped onto my radar, I knew I'd have to make some.

Based on the videos I've seen of how to make seitan, the purpose of this meat substitute is to provide, as closely as possible, the experience of eating meat for vegans who have only recently become vegan, or for vegetarians who are suffering a rare craving for meat. Seitan makes no sense for dedicated vegans who are militantly anti-meat. On its own, the faux meat is neutral-tasting, so it needs to be flavored up if it's to simulate beef or pork or chicken in a given dish.

The first time I saw seitan was in this Sorted Food video in which Chef Ben Ebbers goes to a local veggie resto and orders a seitan dish or three. Chef Ben consistently mispronounces the food's name as "Satan," but the gaffe works within the corny context of the video (which also features Ben innocently using the queasy term "nut cheese"; he's known for what his friends call "Bennuendos"). Since watching Ben's video, I've watched a slew of how-to videos about ways to prepare seitan brisket, seitan gyros, seitan corned beef, and even seitan bulgogi cheesesteak. I'm most interested in making seitan gyros, which shouldn't be too hard to craft. If I do this right, I plan to make gyros for my office, half with real meat (the standard beef/lamb mixture used in Greek-American restos), and half with seitan.

Thanks to iHerb.com, I've ordered most of the ingredients I need to make a huge slab of seitan lamb (Lamb of God, Lamb of Seitan). I've got vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, and tamari (a weak, less salty soy sauce that adds umami). There's vegan beef stock on the way, and I still need to buy a bit of tomato paste to add some redness to the "meat." I already have all the herbs and spices I need to flavor everything up in a plausibly lamb-like way, so that's covered. Next, I need to look over all the recipes and get a general idea for the proper proportion for the main ingredients of the seitan. An initial glimpse shows that recipes vary wildly in their gluten:yeast ratios. I saw one recipe calling for two cups of gluten to a third of a cup of yeast; another recipe called for two pounds of gluten to a mere two tablespoons of yeast. Obviously, there's room to maneuver. Seitan prep methods also vary: some steam it; others braise or outright boil it; still others bake it or use some combination of methods.

So, yes: I'll be making artificial lamb sometime over the next few weeks. If the experiment goes well, I'll serve gyros to my boss and coworkers (plus any other potential victims) and see what they have to say. As all the YouTube commenters say: Hail, Seitan!

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