Wheatmeat usually involves a two step process. First you make and cook the basic gluten roast, then you use the prepared roast as a base for a cooking process. You may slice, dice, grind, or cube the gluten roast for any recipe.
I learned to make basic raw gluten from scratch from the original Farm vegetarian cookbook. It started with pounds of flour and involved a lot of kneading, then washing a doughy mass under running water for 20 or 30 minutes while fighting the certainty that it was never going to work and the whole mess would end up blocking the drain. Of course, it did work, and my faith
muscles got stronger along with my fingers. If you want to try it from scratch, you can go to my Raw gluten from scratch faqs for instructions.
This struggle is no longer necessary! Now you can mix up really tasty gluten roasts from "100% vital wheat gluten" a protein extract of wheat flour available in handy 1 pound boxes or in bulk at your favorite natural foods store. These steaks, chops, roasts, and nuggets have better flavor, better-balanced proteins, and a much wider variety of textyres and flavors. You can learn more about vital wheat gluten in my Vital Wheat Gluten faqs.
"High gluten flour" is bread making flour, only 12-14% gluten, NOT the same as vital wheat gluten, be careful shopping. One tablespoon of dry vital wheat gluten contains 3 grams of carbohydrate and 5-7 grams of protein.
The best wheatmeat/ gluten/ seitan cookbook I've reviewed lately is, "Simply Heavenly" by Abbot George Burke. Skip right
past the little monk with the halo and boil up a plate of unshrimp, or try tasty unbacon and tomato sandwiches. A great article for troubleshooting your gluten making is Nussinow's 1996
article on wheatmeat in Vegetarian Journal (Vol. XV, No. 2).
But just in case you don't have them handy, here is a bit of info about "rolling your own." All simmered gluten approximately triples in size. I had quite a mess the first time I tried oven-simmering in a not-large-enough Dutch oven!
Kneading well while mixing, resting, then kneading again and allowing to rest for at least 20 minutes (up to overnight) before cooking, gives a denser, more cohesive product.
From Temple Food to Tasty Alternative
In 7th century China, vegetarian Buddhist monks, unwilling to give up the flavors and textures of Chinese cuisine, searched for ways to make a substantial vegetarian protein. After developing tofu, they continued trying to develop something with a firmer texture and a more satisfying chew. Many parts of China grew wheat, so they began by making a simple dough from wheat flour and water. While kneading the dough in a tub full of cold water, they noticed the starch extracted into the water; as they kneaded, more and more starch clouded the water. What finally remained was a chewy substance that was 70%-80% pure protein or "gluten".
After simmering this protein-rich wheat dough in a flavored broth for a number of hours, they had a grain meat that had a firm texture. It could be ground and flavored like traditional Chinese sausage. It could also shaped and flavored like chicken, beef, ham, or shrimp, or sliced and stir-fried or grilled. Today, the Chinese call this grain meat "Mien Ching," or "Buddha's Food," after the vegetarian Buddhist monks that created the recipe. Chinese cuisine has always used gluten to create vegetarian editions of traditional meat-based Chinese dishes, including sausages, shrimps, ham, beef, etc.
The Japanese Connection
By way of the spread of Buddhism, Mien Ching traveled across the sea to Japan, where it was taken in a different direction by Japanese cooks. They took what the Chinese had developed and added their own culinary twist to it. The Japanese simmered the Mien Ching in a broth made from shoyu (soy sauce), kombu (sea vegetable), and ginger. The traditional Japanese name for wheat gluten is "fu". In the 1960's in Japan George Ohsawa, the founder of macrobiotics called it "Seitan," which means "wheat simmered in shoyu". This special broth added flavor and a savory base to this new and different grain meat. In the Japanese tradition, wheat meat is used more as a unique ingredient, rather than a replacement in meat recipes.
Mien Ching and Seitan Travel To The United States
As Chinese and Japanese people traveled across the Pacific Ocean to the America, they brought their great knowledge of foods. Mien Ching and Seitan were within the Chinese and Japanese cultures in the Americas. Today, in Chinese or Japanese food markets, you can find Mien Ching or Seitan, either frozen or in cans.
The Seventh Day Adventist community developed commercial vegetarian alternatives in the 1900's, and began canning and then freezing gluten products in a variety of textures and flavors as meat substitutes aimed for the Western market. Later, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) made wheat a basic food in their storage food program and members learned to make gluten-based meat substitutes as a protein source. During the Depression, recipes for gluten-based "meat" loaves were found in general cookbooks with names like "End of the Month Loaf".
New Age Vegetarians Go for Wheat Meat Recipes
During the 60's, knowledge of Seitan spread through an expanding movement of vegetarians. Japanese cuisine was a primary influence in the new vegetarian movement, partially through the influence of Misho Kushi's Macrobiotic diet program, which vigorously promoted Ohsawa's "seitan". Young Americans began to explore many different types of cuisine and food, and Seitan was one of them. Today, visiting any well-stocked natural food grocery, you can find wheat meat, gluten or Seitan on the shelves, either packaged fresh or frozen.
Improving Gluten Protein
Wheat gluten protein alone is not especially effective in supporting human bodies. Inspired by Lappe's "Diet For a Small Planet", cooks began adding soy products, legume flours and nut butters or pastes, dairy products, or small amounts of meat-based products to supplement and balance the wheat proteins. Both the texture and flavor of these new recipes improved, and usable protein increased. There was a culinary benefit as well: modern texture is fuller, more interesting, and less rubbery than the Eastern grain meats.
Gourmet Gluten; Chefs Begin to Experiment
By adding European flavors such as wine, mustard, garlic and herbs, as well as fresh vegetables, grains and legumes, chefs developed new variations. Grocery store refrigerator cases and freezers began filling with meat analogs ranging from mediocre to mighty good.
For example, while attempting to create a vegetarian teriyaki wrap, Seattle chef, David Lee searched for a vegetarian protein food that would have a firm resistance to the tooth, would "char" well, and take on the flavor of the flame. The family of grain meats from Asia known as Mien Ching and Seitan had the firmness he was looking for and they charred well under the flame, but they were plain in flavor and very rubbery. David began to experiment with different recipes and finally developed the prototype for "Field Roast", now commercially available.
In the 21st century, recipes have evolved and now home cooks can easily produce meaty seitan roasts that are better than many commercial products, such as Ellen's Best Unchuck Roast: a millenium recipe. With balanced proteins and carbohydrates and easily controlled top-quality fats, they fit easily into the modern diet.