Saturday, February 9, 2013

Slow Cooker Seitan Recipe

(Update August 18, 2013: Check out my New and Improved Slow Cooker Seitan Recipe posted here!)

Homemade seitan is easy to make, versatile, and way cheaper than buying it at the store. If you've made it before you probably baked, boiled, or steamed it but have you ever slow cooked it? Slow cooking seitan is my new favorite method; the flavors deepen while it simmers gently for hours. Plus, if you prep the seitan the night before, you can throw it all together in a couple minutes the next morning.

A note on some of the ingredients, 'cause I know that list looks pretty daunting. This recipe can be easily adapted to what you have in your kitchen or what you like. Don't like red pepper flakes? Leave 'em out. Want to dress up the broth with shallots, leeks, and ginger? Go for it. You can also adjust seasonings to suit specific recipes you have in mind. Like if you want seitan for nachos or burritos, use cumin and chili powder. You get my point.

Kombu can be hard to find. But while you're at the health food store stocking up on bulk nooch and wheat gluten, you really should grab a pack of kombu, it does wonderful things and one package will last a long time. Kombu is an edible kelp and is often used to make dashi and other soup stocks. It is rich in glutamic acid and iodine and is a natural flavor enhancer. It's great to add while cooking whole grains and beans, as it is said to make these staple foods more digestible.  Kombu is dehydrated and packaged in wide strips, and will nearly double in size when cooked. If you can't find it, don't worry but I highly recommend adding it to your pantry eventually.

This recipe is an amalgamation of five other recipes for various seitan creations I've made in the past. I recently went to a cooking demo at a vegan restaurant here in Chicago where I discovered you could make cute little seitan logs by cooking them in cheesecloth. I borrowed the slow cooking technique from Fresh from the Vegan Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson, and seasoning inspirations from 2 other cookbooks plus a recipe I found online for vegan sausage links.

For the Broth:
2 quarts water
2 whole garlic cloves
10 black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
1 piece kombu (about 3 x 3 inch square)
1 stick celery, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

For the Seitan:
2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder (or several fresh minced/pressed garlic cloves)
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup tamari
1/4 cup vegan Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon natural liquid smoke
an additional 1/4 cup water

Supplies: A standing mixer, slow cooker, cheesecloth, and natural cotton cooking twine but if you don't have these things, you can still make this recipe!

What to do:
Add all the ingredients for the broth in your slow cooker, and turn it on to High to warm up while you prepare the seitan. If you aren't using a slow cooker, heat all the ingredients in a large soup pot.

In a standing mixer, combine all the dry ingredients (wheat gluten through black pepper). In a two cup liquid measuring cup or small bowl, combine 1/2 cup water, soy sauce, tamari, Worcestershire sauce, and liquid smoke. While the mixer is on, slowly add the liquid to the dry ingredients. Mix until combined and add up to 1/4 cup of water, one tablespoon at a time if needed until the dough sticks together. Using a paddle or dough hook attachment, knead the dough in the mixer for 3 minutes. If you aren't using an electric mixer, just mix and knead by hand. The dough doesn't need to form a cohesive ball, but should feel like play dough. If there is excess water, squeeze it out.

Seitan dough: not too wet, a little crumbly, and sticks together when molded by hand

Cut the dough into two equal sections. Form into loaves or logs roughly 6 or 7 inches long. You don't want the loaves bigger than your slow cooker or soup pot. (note: I am intentionally leaving out all photos of this step, because the seitan logs don't look too appetizing at this point. . . you'll see what I mean.)

Tightly wrap the loaves in cheesecloth, twisting the ends to ensure the seitan is tightly bundled up. If you aren't using cheescloth, simply slice the seitan into 4 or 5 big, chunky slices. Wrapping the seitan does give it a nice, firm, and easily slice-able shape, but if you don't mind the free form look you can skip the cheesecloth.

Wrapped seitan loaf

Submerge seitan in the broth and cook on low for 6 hours, or until cooked through and firm. (If you are cooking on the stove top, simmer on low for about 45 minutes to an hour. Turn off the heat and let the seitan rest in the pot for another 20 minutes.)

After seitan is cooked, remove from broth and let sit at room temperature until warm, but handle-able. Unwrap the cheesecloth at this point, if you wait until it is fully cooled, it will stick. After cooking, the seitan will have expanded in the cheesecloth wrap. The seitan is now ready to fry up, marinate, slice for sandwiches or eat straight. You can grind it up in a food processor for great taco "meat," pasta sauces, or country gravy.

Store it in a covered container or plastic wrap in the fridge for about a week. It also freezes well, so you can keep one seitan loaf for now and another for next week. How convenient!