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Wheat Meat or Seitan

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Wheat gluten is the stretchy protein part of wheat flour. The rubbery strands you see when you knead dough to make bread is gluten. Pure wheat gluten is used as a meat substitute or as a tasty, high-protein food in it's own right. Traditionally it is called Seitan (Say-tan), which is a Japanese word. I can't really bring myself to call it this because to me it sounds too much like Satan, the biggest, meanest, bad guy in my religion. I have tried to call it Seitan, but every time I imagine my kids running through the house singing "Yay! Mommy made deep-fried Satan Nuggets for supper!" it sort of makes my skin crawl. In America, seitan is often referred to as Wheat-Meat. For religious reasons, this is what I prefer to call it.

I discovered wheat-meat in the mid '80's. I found a book at the library by Nina & Michael Shandler called "How to Make all the Meat You Eat Out of Wheat". I took that book home, read it from cover to cover and began my experimentations. I can honestly say that my early work with wheat-meat was barely edible. Creating wheat-meat was a complicated process that afforded me too many avenues of failure.

Back in the 80's the only way to get wheat gluten was by rinsing the starch and bran out of flour. This is a time consuming, but relatively easy process. Whole wheat flour and water are combined to form a stiff dough. Then the dough is allowed to rest for a bit. Finally it is kneaded under slow running water until all of the starch and bran wash away. Most methods recommend the starch and bran be saved and used to make crackers, ice cream, and bread. The stringy, rubbery gluten that is left is then simmered in a savory broth for an hour or two to make it firm and give it flavor. 

I always had trouble getting all of the starch and bran out of the gluten, and I was confused about how to cook it because all the books I read said it could be cooked so many different ways. There wasn't any consensus on which methods gave the best results. I tried one method after the other, from baking to steaming to frying and simmering. My results were inconsistent at best.
Then I discovered Wheat Gluten Flour, or Vital Wheat Gluten. Gluten flour has all of the starch and bran already removed. Only the pure protein of the gluten remains. Gluten flour may be combined with regular tap water and instantly, you have raw gluten. No more kneading or rinsing under cold water. No more frustration with spongy wheat-meat. Wheat-meat is easy and convenient to make all of a sudden, which paves the road for a great deal of rejoicing and gratitude.
I buy my gluten flour in bulk at my local Co-op. I've seen it in small boxes in the baking aisles of larger grocery stores, and natural food stores too. Since there is no rinsing and very little kneading involved, the likelihood of success is much greater.

The standard method with gluten flour is to combine 1 cup of Vital Wheat Gluten & 3/4 cup of water or flavorful broth. Stir the two together until they make a nice rubbery dough. There now you have raw wheat gluten. Boy, that was easy wasn't it? The traditional way of cooking gluten is to simmer it very gently in a liquid seasoned with soy sauce, Kombu (a sea vegetable), and a hunk of ginger. Slow simmering is a MUST. If the gluten boils then you will have spongy, bread-like wheat-meat instead of firm chewy wheat-meat. When you are pressed for time, Crock-pots and Slow Cookers offer the perfect environment for this type of cooking. 

Wheat-Meat has very little flavor of it's own, much like tofu. You must give it flavor by simmering and marinating it in a highly seasoned broth. The flavor of the broth is up to you. You can make your own seasoned broth using soy sauce or vegetarian flavored broth powders. Many are available including ham, chicken, vegetable and beef style flavors. 

Other ways of cooking gluten include baking it, steaming it and a two-step process where the raw gluten is deep-fried and then simmered. The most common, and easiest way to get reliable results is to simmer the gluten in a flavorful broth for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. If you cook it for a shorter time, the texture of the finished wheat-meat will not be as dense and chewy as it could be.

The term Seitan refers to cooked gluten. The term Wheat-Meat also refers to cooked gluten. Gluten refers to the raw or uncooked state of this product. Raw gluten is simmered or otherwise cooked to make Seitan or Wheat-Meat. A four-ounce serving of Wheat Meat contains 70 calories, 15 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat and zero cholesterol. It is an easy-to-make, delicious and versatile, vegetarian food. 

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