Washed Flour Seitan [vegan]

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It’s never my intention for long stretches of time to take up residence between blog posts but – and there’s no way to say this in an original fashion – we’re roughly nine weeks into lockdown now and I am feeling flat. And here I need to vehemently reiterate that I’m pro-lockdown and pro-vaccination (and am delighted that all of us under our roof are doubly protected) but because I contain multitudes I’m also not happy with a lot of the decisions being made, and am doing my best not to spiral, and am constantly muttering “must I become prime minister” like it’s a protective mantra; perhaps it is. This is not a great environment in which to be creative, it’s not really a great environment to do much of anything except stew persistently like a slow-cooked Welsh cawl.

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Dredging up the energy to try out this washed flour seitan recipe – something I’ve been wanting to make for ages! – was a massive effort at every step of the way, but thank goodness I did, because it’s delicious and all said effort was immediately forgotten upon consumption. Not that you need me, specifically, to tell you about it! The recipe is not only well-documented online – I gratefully followed the detailed method on The Viet Vegan – it’s also one of the oldest methods on record of making seitan, something China has had a head start on over me by several centuries. But if I can be an extra voice of enthusiasm encouraging you to try it, then that will be enough.

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This recipe is very simple, but there are two things to get used to: it uses a lot of water, and it loses a lot of volume in the process of washing away all the starch from the dough. This doesn’t mean it’s inherently wasteful per se – there are ways to use less water and to re-use it – but it’s probably best avoided during high summer when the water tanks are low. All the effort in washing and kneading – and it’s not that much effort, really, it just requires concentration – rewards you with an incredibly versatile, delicious, and fantastically-textured protein. Its nearest analogue is chicken, though with a little commitment you could take it in whatever direction you want.

It’s hard to describe the appeal of this washed flour seitan without sounding like an alien in a trench coat trying to fit in with the humans – it’s an exemplary protein! It has a multifaceted mellowness! It has the cadence of chicken without being too unsettlingly similar to that which it imitates! But truly, as your fellow literal human, let me assure you: it’s so good!

As you can see there’s no salt or anything in the recipe itself, so – much like any protein, any food in fact – you need to have some kind of seasoning in mind. To test the prowess of this stuff I took two separate paths – first, shredded seitan, straight from the fridge, marinated in lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil and stirred together with avocado and torn flat-leaf parsley. Secondly, I thinly sliced the remaining seitan and marinated it in a bentonite-thick mixture of glutinous rice flour, cornflour, sugar, soy sauce, and water, and then fried these strips until crisp and browned. Both variations were delicious, outstandingly so, especially when considering their humble origins: just flour, and water.

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Washed Flour Seitan

Flour + water = chicken? Yes! I’ve done very little to this recipe on The Viet Vegan and I recommend you cross-reference with hers which has plenty of pictures and information. Where we differ is that I steamed my seitan rather than simmering it – it’s my preferred method for its resulting texture and speed – but other than that I have her to thank for this. This is a simple recipe but it does take some patience, and the results are worth it.

  • 400g flour
  • 250ml/1 cup water

1: Stir the water into the flour, then start kneading until it’s a cohesive ball that springs back confidently when you prod it. [This took me quite a while, somewhere between five and ten minutes of kneading – and there were points where I was like “this is probably fine” but I’m glad my conscience kicked in and I kept kneading some more.]

2: Cover the dough with water, place a plate on top (not a tea towel, as I found out, because it will immediately fall in the water) and set the dough aside for two hours – in the fridge if it’s a warm day.

3: Drain the water from the dough, fill the bowl with clean water, and knead/rinse the dough in the water, which will quickly turn an opaque white.

4: Repeat this step until you can see through the cloudy – and if you take your time kneading it, rather than changing the water the second it turns opaque, you can use a lot less. You can also save this water for your garden if you have one, or you can use it to make noodles or vegan bacon (I haven’t tried either of these recipes but next time I make this I’ll give them a go.) Drain the dough – which will have changed texture and shrunk somewhat – in a colander, letting it rest for about half an hour.

5: Stretch the dough out and knot it several times or split it in three and braid it – either way, you want to get some layers in it so that it will create that, well, chicken-y texture later on. At this stage, you’re welcome to simmer it for two hours in broth as per the original recipe, but instead I steamed it for about 25 minutes – if you don’t have a steamer, you can rest a metal colander on top of a pan of water and then cover it with the closest-fitting pot lid you have, sitting the seitan on a square of baking paper to make clean-up easier.

The seitan is now ready to eat, or you can store it in an airtight container in the fridge, where it will last for at least four days. Seitan is usually better for a rest before cooking anyway – even just a couple hours – and after all that kneading, you probably are too.

This – despite how much flour you start out with – makes one medium-sized ball of seitan, about the size of a chicken breast. Depending on how you use it this could stretch over two meals for sure. I significantly scaled down the quantities of the original recipe, just to see how it would work – to make more, simply double or triple the flour and water.

Notes: As you can see the seitan in the photos has had something done to it – the first is just shredded and marinated in lemon juice, wholegrain mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil, then served with sliced avocado and torn flat-leaf parsley. The second lot was thinly sliced and marinated in a mixture of glutinous rice flour, cornflour, soy sauce, sugar and water, then fried till crisp, in a sort of hastily thrown-together take on mochiko chicken. Both were extremely delicious!

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music lately:

Aslında, Galiba by Palmiyeler – as I mentioned in my last blog post we’ve been celebrating a different country that we’ve been to every day and when Turkey day came around I had to admit I wasn’t au fait with any of its music; I found this band by chance on Spotify and have been deeply enchanted with them ever since. It’s sunny, vaguely psychedelic beach-pop and while it all sort of blurs into one saltwater blur sonically, believe me when I say that I listened to their entire discography in one afternoon and every song is wonderful. This song is great but picked entirely at random because I just couldn’t decide between them all.

Penguins and Polar Bears by Millencolin – naturally, Sweden Day would’ve been nothing without these guys and this absolute classic!

Ladies Who Lunch from the 1995 revival of the 1970 Stephen Sondheim musical Company, performed here by Debra Monk. Of course, Elaine Stritch’s original is the alpha and omega but Debra Monk’s version does not receive nearly enough attention – yes, it’s perhaps arranged half a sluggish beat too slow, but the way she sings “aren’t they a geeeeem, I’ll drink tooOOO theeeeeeem” – I think about it so often! It is on my mind frequently!

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

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