Sunday, December 9, 2012

Delicious Seitan in a Balsamic-Wine Reduction


Seitan is one of those foods that I truly love but most non-vegetarians have never heard of or encountered. It's actually just made from gluten, which is the main protein of wheat. While I haven't yet endeavored to make it on my own (although I'd like to!), it is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch dissolves, leaving insoluble gluten as a sort of mass that is then cooked before being eaten (I know I'm making it sound delicious, right?). Depending on how you make it it can have a kind of chewy or stringy texture, although I prefer the type that less resembles meat, and is more of an open palette onto which I can project my own flavors. It was actually first developed in China, and is commonly used in other Asian nations, particularly for vegetarian cuisines (it's often used as imitation duck). When I go to a vegan restaurant I'm often drawn to the seitan dishes, and if I'm at a good place, I find they rarely disappoint. I love seitan piccata, and I've had a sort of wine-braised seitan at several restaurants that was just to die for. Typically, however, when I'm cooking, I just throw it in with a stir fry. It does have a bit of its own inherent flavor, and if you add a splash of soy sauce to that it can be quite good (see my entry on pak choi stir fry).

The other night though I was thinking to myself, why can't I prepare a seitan like the one I have in the restaurants? I didn't have much time to prepare dinner, but I thought the least I could do was make some sort of pseudo-wine-balsamic sauce and let the seitan cook in it a little. I came up with something so super-easy and delicious it blew my socks off!

So if you're feeling a bit adventurous, and you've never tried preparing seitan before--tonight could be your night! Some regular grocery stores carry it, but you'll probably have the best luck at Whole Foods, or a natural foods store. I usually buy the West Soy brand, simply because it's the most affordable and also very tasty. Other brands are a bit more pricey, but also have larger sort of "cutlets" that are probably nice if you want to do some preparation similar to a chicken breast or something. West Soy seitan comes in large chunks as well as strips. Anyway, here's my recipe--you won't believe how simple it is!

Seitan in a Balsamic-Wine Reduction

What You'll Need:
1 8 oz. package of West Soy seitan (in chunks)
1/4 cup red wine (I used an open Malbec-Syrah we had lying around)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar*
1/8 tsp fresh thyme (optional)
1/8 tsp dried rosemary
1/8 tsp dried thyme
freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste

What You'll Need to Do:

Cut the seitan chunks into smaller slices (about 1/4" thick). Place the red wine and balsamic vinegar in a  medium-size saute pan or sauce pan and heat them slowly (I find a pan with about 7" diameter works best, you want the sauce to slightly cover the seitan, but also have enough room so that the seitan is not overlapping in the pan). Raise the temperature to medium, add the seitan and cover. The sauce should be bubbling steadily with the lid closed, you may need to raise the heat to medium-high. Cook the seitan about four minutes on each side, it should begin to brown lightly. At the end of the eight minutes the balsamic-wine reduction will be almost completely reduced and cooked into the seitan. Add the herbs and mix while in the pot. Enjoy!

*using good-quality vinegar can make such a difference when cooking, particularly in a recipe like this! I like De Nigris.

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