Thinking of trying seitan but not sure what to do with it? Read through this simple guide to learn everything you need to know about cooking with seitan.
Years and years of developing vegan recipes have taught me that seitan dishes can be a hard sell, even with the vegan community. And I get it. Seitan is kind of weird and leaves folks scratching their heads as to what to do with it. It's easier to stick with trusted old favorites.
But not really. Seitan is some pretty awesome stuff, and today I hope to convince you to start cooking with it!
Seitan is delicious. It's super versatile and can be used in so many recipes. And between temeh, tofu and seitan, seitan is actually the easiest to work with, believe it or not! Tofu often needs to be pressed, and tempeh may require steaming, but seitan is always ready to go, requiring at most some chopping of slicing before cooking.
Let's talk about how you'd go about cooking with it.
What is Seitan?
Seitan is an ingredient that's typically used as a meat substitute. Of all the plant protein options out there, it's one of the closest to meat in terms of taste, texture and appearance. It's also quite high in protein, packing about twenty grams of protein into a single eight ounce serving.
One of the reasons seitan may not be so popular with some folks is due to the fact that it's primarily made from gluten. Gluten is the protein found in wheat and some other grains. It's one of the main ingredients in wheat flour. It's what gives structure to flour-based baked goods like cakes and breads, and it's what gives seitan its meaty texture.
Gluten had gotten a bit of a bad rap in recent years due to rising awareness of Celiac disease and gluten-sensitivity. Obviously if you have one of these conditions you'll want to pass on seitan, but if not, there's really no reason not to enjoy it. John's Hopkins Medicine confirms that gluten consumption is totally fine for those of us who can tolerate it.
In addition to gluten, wheat flour also contains starch and bran. If you remove those things and isolate the gluten, you'll end up with something that closely resembles meat in texture and appearance. But it'll be pretty flavorless.
Seitan is made by taking that gluten and adding savory flavors, so it tastes like meat. There are a few ways of doing this, such as by adding spices and baking them in, marinating them in, or, my favorite, simmering them in. My basic seitan recipe involves producing a dough out of vital wheat gluten, chickpea flour, and water, then simmering the seitan dough in a heavily seasoned broth to cook the seitan and infuse it with flavor.
Cooking with Seitan
Another thing that makes seitan super easy to work with is the fact that it's already cooked. Store-bought seitan can be eaten right out of the package, and it'll taste pretty good! This means you don't need to worry about hitting a certain temperature when you cook with it. And since it's pretty tasty to begin with, it's not all that difficult to successfully work it into a dish.
Start with a Recipe
The easiest way to get started cooking with seitan is pretty obvious: work from a recipe that calls for seitan. There are tons of delicious recipes out there for veganized versions of meat-based dishes featuring seitan. Try one of these delicious seitan recipes.
Substitute Seitan for Meat
Once you're ready for the next step, try substituting seitan in a meat-based recipe. This works for most recipes, whether they call for chicken, turkey, beef, pork or another type of meat.
Seitan can generally be substituted directly for meat by making a few simple tweaks to the recipe you're working with.
First off, remember that seitan is already cooked. This means it often doesn't need to be cooked as long as meat does. In some recipes that require prolonged cooking methods such as browning in order to cook a piece of meat through (for food safety purposes), seitan can be cooked much more briefly.
While not always required, you may want to adjust cook times or add seitan later in a recipe than you would if you were using meat. Most of the time this isn't critical, but in some instances cooking seitan too long could cause it to become overly dry and chewy.
One thing to pay attention to when substituting seitan for meat is the form of the meat in the recipe. While you have a lot of leeway as to the size and shape of a homemade seitan cut, you're a bit more limited when using store bought, which is typically available in small chunks and strips.
You may need to cut your seitan into smaller pieces. In recipes that call for ground meat, you can finely mince the seitan to make it work, using a process like the one called for in this vegan beef burrito recipe. In recipes where shredded meat is used, seitan can be grated using a box grater or shedder. Check out this vegan barbecue beef sandwich recipe for guidance on how to do that.
Recipes that call for larger cuts of meat can be a challenge, and they may not always work using store-bought seitan. For these types of recipes you're generally best using homemade seitan, or, better yet, finding a seitan-based recipe for the particular cut of meat you're looking to replace, like this vegan steak recipe or this vegan chicken tenders recipe.
Start to Improvise
Once you have a feel for seitan you can start to improvise by adding it to dishes where you want a little extra substance or protein, or even creating your very own seitan recipe.
Here are a few simple techniques to try:
- Brown seitan chunks, slices or strips in a lightly oiled frying pan over medium heat. Cook them for five to ten minutes, flipping them once or twice. Browned seitan can be added to stir-fries, curries, sandwiches, wraps, soups, and stews, among other types of dishes.
- Cut your seitan into appropriately sized pieces, then simmer them in a soup, stew, sauce or chili. They only need a few minutes of simmer time — just long enough to heat up completely.
- Add raw seitan to cool dishes. It can be piled in a salad or mixed into a sandwich filling like this vegan chicken salad.
- Dredge your seitan in a breading, such as flour or cornstarch, then fry it and douse it in flavorful sauce like in this vegan Mongolian beef recipe.
- Marinate your seitan before cooking it. You can use pretty much any marinade here, whether it's designed for meat or vegetables. Marinated seitan can then be baked, pan-fried in a bit of oil, or grilled like in this seitan kebab recipe.
How to Season Seitan
One thing to keep in mind when cooking with seitan, particularly if you're incorporating it into a recipe that calls for meat, is that it's already heavily seasoned. Part of the process of making seitan involves seasoning it to taste like meat. This may be done with sauces like soy sauce, liquid smoke, or vegan Worcestershire sauce, as well as salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, or other spices and herbs.
Because of this you could easily end up overseasoning your seitan when using it in a recipe. You might need to make some adjustments.
Taste-test your seitan before you add it to a recipe. Some seasonings, like salt, are easy to detect. Others might be more subtle. Think about whether you might want to reduce the amount of any seasonings in the recipe to compensate for what is already present in your seitan. This can be tricky at first, but once you get a feel for it it will become second nature!
How to Store Seitan
When storing store-bought seitan, always refer to the expiration date on the package. Store-bought seitan should be stored in the refrigerator, in its original packaging when possible, and disposed of before the expiration date. You can extend the shelf-life of unopened seitan by placing it in the freezer, right in its original packaging, where it will be good for at least three months.
Once opened, store your seitan in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days, or in the freezer for up to three months. If possible, store the seitan in the liquid that it was packaged in, which will help to keep it moist and flavorful.
The principles for storing homemade seitan are pretty much the same as for store-bought. If you cooked your seitan in broth, store it in that broth in an airtight container. It will keep for about five days in the refrigerator, or about three days in the freezer.