“One Christmas,” wrote Dylan Thomas in A Child’s Christmas in Wales, “was so much like another…I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” It’s that sudden, concentrated repetition which defines the season – the same songs, the same pine tree smell, everything squashing into one red and green fever dream until it’s over, and we put it away for another eleven months. It’s much the same with food – even Nigella Lawson, with every new cookbook she releases, still returns to that one brined turkey recipe every Christmas Day. If you’re vegan, however, there’s a decent chance you’re more amenable to trying new things at this time of resolutely clinging to old things, which is why, eleven days in to December of 2020, I confidently suggest my 24 Hour Party Seitan as your perfect new Christmas Day recipe. I’ve made seitan many, many times before, but this one is easily its ultimate iteration – I certainly wouldn’t suggest anything less for such an occasion.
Despite all this talk of Christmas I’ve given it the seitan a more secular title in case you (a) don’t do Christmas or (b) want to make this at any other time, because it is absolutely worthy of being wheeled out year-round. (I also just thought this name was kind of crack up.) Unfortunately I couldn’t resist taking photos festooned with the apricot-coloured eighties Mardi Gras beads from our decorations and the tree lights glowing in the background. The “24 Hour” part is quite literal – you rest the seitan overnight in the fridge – but this is entirely in its, and your, favour. First of all, it means you can just pull it from the fridge and briefly sear it on Christmas Day – or whenever you want to eat it – meaning minimal on-the-day toil for you. Resting it also significantly improves the flavour, and I assume, being largely made of gluten, it must do something for the texture as well.
(I actually initially intended this to be sixty hour seitan, imagining that the prolonged relaxation period would do wonderful things for the gluten. And so I rested the dough overnight three times – after kneading, after cooking, and after searing. Unfortunately the dough relaxed so hard that it was essentially sedated, positively tranquillised, and had a texture akin to partially solidified PVA glue. And yeah, I contritely ate it all before returning to the drawing board. Excess: sure! Wastefulness: no!)
Seitan is, more or less, a meat substitute made from gluten flour, which is, contrary to how it sounds, extremely high in protein. The gluten flour, when combined with some kind of lengthener – in our case, pureed cannellini beans – kneaded, and steamed or simmered, forms a chewy, dense, flavour-absorbing mass, with the kind of toothy bite and texture one might associate with the memory of meat. The longer I continue with this vegan thing, the less necessary it seems to describe food with its proximity to meat, but I realise it’s helpful to know what you’re getting into. Ultimately, to me, seitan is seitan: an ideal main ingredient and when done well, incredibly delicious. And although you could make various risottos or pastas or just eat the roast vegetables on Christmas Day, it’s sometimes nice to have something on offer which matches what everyone else is eating.
The size of the recipe may appear needlessly fiddly but it’s mostly because I like to really explain every step to make sure you’re okay with it, as opposed to the method itself actually being arduous. When you break it down, it’s just three steps: making the dough, steaming it, and then giving it a final caramelising sear. I’ve included finely shredded jackfruit to add even more fibrous texture, plus a proprietary, specific blend of spices and flavourings to make it taste the way it does: savoury, herby, perfectly salty, rich, pinging with umami, with a crisped, chewy crust. It looks fabulously celebratory sitting on a plate strewn with rosemary ready for carving – a Christmas offering you can be proud to call your own. I would strongly suggest a sauce alongside this – basil pesto, aioli with horseradish stirred in, cranberry sauce, mint sauce or, of course, plenty of gravy, would all be ideal. Even just wholegrain mustard would be excellent. And I can’t even tell you how good the leftovers taste, cold, the next day.
24 Hour Party Seitan
The very best seitan I’ve ever made, ready for Christmas Day dinner or any time you need to impress someone.
- 1 x 400g can jackfruit in brine
- 1 x 400g can cannellini beans
- 1 vegan chicken stock cube (I use and heartily recommend the Massel brand)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 teaspoon dried celery (or, a dash of celery salt)
- 1 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice powder
- 1 tablespoon ketchup/tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon Maggi seasoning/liquid aminos or soy sauce (Maggi is preferable)
- 1 tablespoon golden syrup, maple syrup or treacle
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
- 2 and 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- a pinch of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper
1: Drain the jackfruit. Remove any of the seeds (I just ate them.) Finely shred, with your fingers, the feathery softer parts of the jackfruit, and finely slice the more firm parts lengthwise. Set aside.
2: Drain, but don’t rinse the cannellini beans, and place them in a small mixing bowl along with the vegan stock cube and water. Puree until completely smooth using a stick blender. Alternatively, you can puree this in a blender or a high speed food processor, making sure you keep blending until it’s very smooth with no visible beans left. Stir in the celery, ketchup, Maggi seasoning, and golden syrup, and the shredded/finely chopped jackfruit. It’s important that you add the jackfruit at this point, rather than after the liquid has been added to the gluten, otherwise it will be incredibly difficult to mix it together.
3: In a larger mixing bowl (sorry about the extra dishes here) combine the rosemary, sage, vital wheat gluten and nutritional yeast. Tip in the bean and jackfruit mixture and carefully stir it together to form a ball, then briefly knead it, just until it is firm and springy and quite dry to the touch, and strings of gluten form when you break off a piece of the dough. If it’s a little damp and sticky still, sprinkle over a couple of tablespoons extra of the wheat gluten. It will look (and smell) very unlikely at this point, but bear with me.
4: Place a rack inside a steamer snugly fitted on top of a pan of water. If you don’t have a steamer basket, you could try to engineer one by placing a round metal cake rack inside a metal colander and finding a lid which will fit snugly on top of that. A large bamboo steamer will also work perfectly. Press the seitan dough into a vaguely pleasing shape about an inch or so thick (making sure it can fit inside the steamer.) Cut a piece of baking paper to about the same size as the seitan, lay the baking paper on the steamer rack, and the seitan on top of the paper, and top with the steamer lid. Let the water in the pan underneath come to the boil, and once it is – you’ll be able to hear it and see the steam forming on the underside of the lid – let it steam for a full half hour, without turning. Leave the seitan to cool in the steamer, then place in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight.
5: About half an hour before you plan to cook it, take the seitan out of the fridge. Heat up about a tablespoon of oil in a heavy pan and fry the seitan for five minutes on each side, turning carefully with the help of tongs and a flipper.
6: While it’s on its second side, mix the olive oil, rosemary, thyme, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Press about half into the exposed side of the seitan, carefully turn it over, and cook for another minute or so. Repeat on the newly exposed side with the remaining breadcrumb mixture. Some of it will fall off, which absolutely doesn’t matter. Transfer to a serving plate, and serve while hot.
Makes around 10-12 thick slices. Store any leftovers in the fridge and reheat in a hot pan as necessary.
- You can make this up to three days ahead, but I wouldn’t start it any later than Christmas Eve.
- Vital Wheat Gluten, sometimes labelled Wheat Gluten or Gluten Flour, should be available from most supermarkets, though if you’re near a Bin Inn I found it there in larger quantities for much cheaper than the supermarket.
- Some seitan recipes – including ones that I’ve written – call for simmering the seitan submerged in water rather than steaming it. I find the steaming here is better for the texture and flavour, and you don’t have to worry about the bits of jackfruit falling out. Unless it’s absolutely impossible to steam it, I would advise against simmering this particular recipe.
- This seitan can be used for pretty much anything once it’s steamed – you can stir-fry it, eat it cold, glaze it with various sauces, etc. Sometimes I make a glaze to brush on before searing – usually involving Maggi seasoning, oil, sugar, and Chinese Five-Spice powder.
- Don’t skip the step where you take it out of the fridge before searing – letting it come closer to room temperature means you can thoroughly brown it on both sides without worrying that the centre will still be ice cold.
I Enjoy Being A Girl, by Pat Suzuki, from the 1958 Broadway show Flower Drum Song. Unfortunately she wasn’t cast in the later film adaptation – instead the role went to Nancy Kwan who, while very beautiful, had the singing parts dubbed by another singer. Nonetheless, Suzuki’s rendition remains the definitive one, and her voice is incredible – easily enormous, so expressive, with that delicious growl.
Get Up Off Your Knees, by Ethel Waters. There’s something so reassuring yet sexy about her voice, and she had a number of songs from this era (the late 1920s) which were fantastically strident and sexy like this song about a trifling lover (and some songs which were near-outrightly raunchy, in the case of Do What You Did Last Night.)
Sweetness and Light by Lush. Fizzy, feathery, swoony, delicious, listening to this makes exciting things feel possible again.
Next time: Okay so I did make butter out of oats but it also might be time for my annual edible Christmas present round-up.
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