When I stopped eating meat about fifteen years ago I relied, like many new vegetarians, on processed meat substitutes: frozen soy burgers, fake “riblets,” and “chik” nuggets in brightly colored packages. For many people these products ease the transition to a new way of eating, but using them can also become an additive-laden crutch. Over the years I’ve transformed my own diet and, I have abandoned the freezer section for the kitchen with delicious, simple, unprocessed results.
The meat substitute I make most often is a batch of spicy black bean burgers, so tasty my omnivorous husband requests them regularly. But he also enjoys (and has even made) seitan.
Seitan. Mock duck. Wheat meat. Whatever you call it, seitan originated in Asia where vegetarian Buddhists used it in place of meat for centuries. Its spread in popularity is credited to the macrobiotic food movement which began in Japan. The word is not actually Japanese, but based in it, which is why I pronounce it “say-TAHN,” not “Satan.”
What is seitan?
Seitan is simply wheat gluten, spiced and simmered. My previous method used store-bought vital wheat gluten as a shortcut, but Andrew learned that the process to make vital wheat gluten is not replicable at home. Undeterred and not without a little spite, I set out to make it from scratch: Flour and water, here I come! After reading mopey stories about how time-consuming the process was, I was pleasantly surprised that the actual hands-on time was little more than the “shortcut” method, and I enjoyed the end product more than previous batches.
Gluten is the protein found in wheat which, when mixed with water, forms into long stretchy strings that give bread its structure. When you develop those strands, rinse off the starch, and cook the gluten bits, you get seitan. The chewy texture is quite similar to meat — I’ve definitely had seitan-based dishes that I’ve had to double-check that they were actually meat-free.
How to make seitan at home from whole wheat flour
The process is simple, but does take some time. Make a large batch and freeze the extra.
Mix whole wheat flour and water into a stiff dough to develop the gluten. I used my stand mixer.
Cover with cold water and let soak for a few hours or overnight. This both allows the gluten to develop and the starch to “loosen up.”
Knead the dough and rinse with cold water until the water runs clear. It takes about 10 minutes. I used a mesh sieve to help.
You’ll be left with only the gluten, which is considerably smaller in volume than your starting mass of flour. This was a smaller batch than the recipe lists, and 12 ounces of flour yielded just over 5 ounces of seitan.
Those stringy strands are exactly what we want.
Form the gluten into a ball; squeeze out as much water and air as possible. The smaller you can shape the piece of gluten, the firmer texture your finished seitan will have. Cut the gluten into pieces using a bench scraper or sharp knife.
Bring a pot of broth to a boil and drop in the pieces of gluten. Simmer the gluten for about half an hour until the broth is almost gone.
I like to sauté my seitan before using it, or you can store it refrigerated, covered in the broth (add more water if needed) for about a week.
This is a very basic recipe, but you can add spices to the dough when mixing, or play with your broth ingredients to add flavor components at any stage.
My favorite ways to eat seitan are on BBQ mock duck pizza, curried mock duck banh mi, in stir fries and fajitas. Leave the packaged “strips” on the shelf and with just a little effort, make your own unprocessed seitan.
Homemade Seitan from Whole Wheat Flour
This is a very basic recipe. Add spices to the flour before mixing, or change-up the broth for different flavors. You can use homemade or store-bought vegetable stock, or mix up the quick broth outlined below.
- 6 cups whole wheat flour 24 ounces / 900 grams
- 2 cups cold water
- 4 cups water
- 1/4 cup soy sauce or Braggs liquid aminos
- 1/2 onion chopped
- 1 tablespoon miso paste
- 1 medium tomato cut in quarters
- 2 cloves garlic
Combine flour and water. Mix until a stiff-but-cohesive dough is formed. Use a dough hook and a stand mixer if possible.
Form dough into a ball, place in a bowl, and cover with cold water. Cover and let stand 4-8 hours.
Knead the dough and rinse until water runs clear, about 10 minutes. Squeeze dough and press out as much liquid and air as possible. Use a sharp knife or a bench scraper to cut the gluten into bite-sized pieces.
Combine ingredients for broth (or use your preferred vegetable stock) and bring to a boil. Drop gluten pieces into boiling broth and return to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, turning gluten pieces occasionally, until the broth is mostly absorbed and reduced, about 30 minutes. Discard onion and tomato pieces.
To use seitan right away, drain and sauté in a little oil. To store, cover with broth and keep refrigerated up to a week, or frozen. Thicken and reduce broth as a gravy if desired.
About the Author
Stacy Spensley is a healthy life coach who supports overwhelmed men and women to integrate sustainable, step-by-step diet, mindset, and lifestyle changes so they can feel awesome and kick ass at life. She is professionally bossy and an ardent supporter of the Oxford comma, and you’ll easily find her on Twitter and Facebook. She co-wrote the Official Guide to October Unprocessed, and if this post resonates with you, try Stacy’s free 5-day jumpstart e-course.
This recipe came out great! I was intimidated since the technique isn’t familiar to me, but I just followed your directions exactly and the seitan came out just as you said. It wasn’t difficult to make, and it tasted and behaved just as I’ve experienced when I purchased it in a package. I used King Arthur organic whole wheat flour. Online recipes don’t always come out, but this worked beautifully, thank you so much! This is perfect!
You make this look so easy… thank you!
I am attempting this today. I am experimenting with adding the herbs and spices to the dough mixer so they are incorporated into the gluten during kneading and setting. We’ll see how that works out. I added a couple TBSP of coconut aminos to the water added to the mixer as well. The dough ball formed nicely. It’s soaking in cold water in the fridge now.
thank you very much for this recipe! i’ve posted it on twitter too!
I need to use distilled water, not tap water to rinse the seitan. Can you estimate about how much water in gallons is needed?
When I looked at Saitan recipe, it brought childhood memories.
My uncle used to make wheat dough, rest it overnight and make small (meat balls)
Then put in lentil curry- yum yum.
My friend Nishitha is Gujarati and her mom makes awesome Saitan curry.
After reading on line I started to rinse the dough to make meat balls!!
Turned out great, thanks.
Can you do am update on this? I am really interested in more detail on seasoning. I tried a canned version of this called vgetarian mock chicken from an asian grocer… never heard of seitan before that. I love how the canned on was so convincingly like chicken… but welll… canned so i wanted heathier. I loved the flavour so i would like to repro that if possible. I tried in my first batch with your recipe… adding hoisin to the broth but it all ended up too salty. I rinsed after boiling which helped the salt prob but what i found was that the other seasonings seemed to separate so some stuck to the seitan and some did not so you didn’t get the “composition” just individual notes if that makes sense. What should i use to get that teriyaki sort of flavour to the seitan without the excessive… Read more »
How did you calculate the calories for the seitan? I just want to know if homemade seitan made from flour has protein?
Nice simple dish, but I believe this is a Japanese dish, not American