Do you watch How I Met Your Mother? If so then parts of this will make absolute sense to you, and for those of you who do not watch that show allow me to explain. The show suggests that nothing good ever happens after 2am. I only bring this up because it generally seems that it’s only after 2am that I talk to one of my very good friends, Bryan Teoh. Normally we talk about things of great importance like music, art, life, music, literature or… well music. Did I mention music? Anyways. A few nights ago the topic of food, and subsequently this blog, came up and in passing he suggested I try making seitan (pronounced say-tan) as a special treat for Abbie.
Seitan is a non-tofu meat replacement based mostly on vital wheat gluten. Since I’m, on occasion (read: always), a five year old I giggled at the name and promptly forgot about it.
That is until, out of nowhere, he leaves me a message on Facebook with a place to find not only the recipe but suggestions on how to make it. Nothing else; just a link.
As I scrolled through the website reading all of the possible uses for this magical super food it seemed as though everything I had made at this point for Abbie was meaningless. Seitan could be used to make… well… almost everything. The more I read about seitan the more I started having flashbacks to the long forgotten Zombo.com. The only limitation on seitan is my own imagination.
And so I picked an idea: Chicken tenders.
Abbie loves chicken tenders…erm… loved. I say loved because she would never, ever eat chicken tenders now that she’s a vegetarian. However, she does talk about them a lot with a certain longing in her voice. Enough of a longing to make me say to myself “Ah screw it. Why not?” when selecting a place to start an adventure with the seitan.
Now normally this is the part where I make a few jokes about how easy this is to make and we begin with the cooking. This is different. I’m not going to say this is the easiest thing to make from scratch because it’s not; it’s also not the most complicated thing you could make. It exists somewhere in that middle ground of ‘Where’s my Michelin Star?’ and ‘You mean you can’t just microwave it?”
First off, and let’s just get this out of the way right now: yes. You can go to a store and buy pre-packaged seitan and that’s cool if you want to do that. However it’s usually pre-seasoned and… well… at that point why bother? Just order a pizza. This is for people who want to have some fun and get a little dirty.
So let’s get all the things we need and then begin!
1 cup vital wheat gluten
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/3rd cup of water (I think I used closer to ½ a cup of water by the time I was done)
Now… here’s where it gets tricky because it’s all subjective now. If you mix the above and start kneading you’ll have a basic, boring and flavorless seitan. Easy peasy right? So let’s say, like me, you wanted to make something that tastes like chicken. Well then. You need to season this dough looking stuff like you would chicken, only with more than you’d think. Remember, it’s still dough so it’s going to fade away a bit (at least it did a bit for me.) What do I mean? Well here. Let’s continue.
Before the mixing and kneading I added this:
½ teaspoon of thyme
½ teaspoon of sage
½ teaspoon poultry seasoning (which I feel was redundant)
2 drops of liquid smoke (because I like the mesquite smell and flavor.)
Take a pot, pour in some vegetable stock and bring to a low boil then walk away…
It’s time to mix everything together (obviously not the vegetable stock. That would hurt – lots.) into a ball that strangely resembles bread dough! Aren’t you excited? Get a cutting board, sprinkle flour on it and plop down your not-meat/meat thing. Commence the kneading! Before your very eyes this squishy ball of goo will start to gain texture and become elastic. You’ll only want to knead for 2-3 minutes. You can go longer, but it gets chewy… I imagine if you kneaded long enough you could put it inside a fuzzy ball and go play tennis. Make sure, and this is important, that it doesn’t dry out. Quickly run it through some water if needed, but be quick. Don’t let it suck up all the water.
Now then, once you’ve gotten the right texture for you (don’t panic if you mess up the first time. I’ve made this just once and it was a tad bit chewy because I got carried away.) cut the seitan into chicken-tender looking pieces then roll each one in flour mixed with more seasonings, and carefully place the newly formed not-chicken tenders into the vegetable stock. After doing all of the above you should start to see the finish line forming… I kid I kid. You’re nowhere near done yet.
Once all of the tenders are placed into the stock set a timer for 15 minutes and again, walk away. Take this time to catch up on Facebook, read a book, or watch commercials for cheese on YouTube. When the timer goes off be excited! Only not really, it’s just time to stir the tenders and reset the timer before going back to whatever it is you were doing. Abbie and I spent that time awed by the texture and admitting that we were both terrified of what was in that pot. Anyways do that a grand total of 4 times. Meaning you’re going to be dealing with these things for an hour. Fun right?
Now that your hour is up, fish the tenders out of the stock and place them on a drying rack for, yep you guessed it, 15-20 minutes.
Still not done yet! You see… we’ve created chicken…tender…things now but let’s get one thing straight right now. Chicken tenders are, more often than not, a fried dish and these were obviously not fried. This cannot stand.
Take the tenders off the drying rack and roll them in flour mixed with some basic salt and pepper (like you would real chicken for frying). Once coated, drop the tenders into a skillet with some vegetable oil and fry until the breading turns a nice golden brown (or slightly burned.) As soon as you’re done with this part (maybe 10 minutes at most) take a moment to congratulate yourself on a job well done. You’ve earned it.
I feel that I really should have a prize waiting for you about now or at least an apology. Normally you can make anything I post on here in less than an hour and this whole process takes just shy of two hours.
I tossed these on a plate with some noodles and steamed Brussel sprouts and served but… well maybe that’s your reward. Pair them with whatever you want. Do remember to have a bowl of your favorite dipping sauce at hand and maybe something to reattach your jaw. If made correctly, these tenders really do taste and feel like the real deal.
So maybe How I Met Your Mother was wrong. Maybe some of the best things in life happen after 2am, like a suggested food from an awesome friend.