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Seitan Diane Gone Awry

April 7, 2010

Yesterday was such a good day.  Except for dinnertime.

I woke up, dressed in comfy clothes, and delighted in the fact that that another Tuesday is upon us, and I’ve decided that Tuesday is Seitan Day ’round here.

Because seitan can have a chicken-y texture when prepared just so, I wanted to veganize an old chicken recipe my mom used to make back in the day: Chicken Diane.

Quite frankly–if I may write in a decidedly unvegan manner for a moment–Chicken Diane is the shit.  It’s chicken breast that is pan-fried in butter until golden brown, and then covered in a buttery Dijon mustard sauce with green onion, parsley, and a hint of lemon.  Sounds pretty simple, but I tell you what: any day my mama made Chicken Diane was the Best. Day. EVER.

Ma became a vegetarian for health reasons years before I went vegan, and though she would prepare turkey for me for the holidays, she never made Chicken Diane anymore.  She gave me many of her meat recipes, and I kept this one in a binder for years until the day I was ready to bring it back in a cruelty-free form.

For the seitan cutlets, I used a recipe from The Grit Cookbook, by Jessica Green and Todd Hafer, which I’d never used before.  Why?  Well, certain aspects of the recipe led me to believe that I would get awesome results.

First of all, it’s a restaurant cookbook, which automatically makes it loads more credible than something written by some goofball.  Doesn’t it?

I knew I didn’t want to wrap the seitan dough in foil and bake it as I did last time, because then it would have the shape and texture of lunchmeat.  I wanted it to look (and hopefully feel and taste) more like chicken breasts.

Boiling the seitan was, in my mind, the only way to go.  As I mentioned in my last post, I don’t like using that method because I’ve gotten spongy results in the past (due to my own carelessness), but The Grit’s recipe told me to do crazy, madcap things I’d never seen in a seitan recipe before.  Knead vigorously.  Boil for 15-20 minutes, then immediately place in cold water and keep it there for at least an hour.  Huh, that’s…different, I thought. Maybe this could work!

I used the Vegetarian ‘Beefsteak’ recipe from the book, changing the seasonings so that it would taste chicken-y.

3 quarts water for boiling
1 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cup faux chicken broth
A few drops of liquid smoke
A dash of white pepper
A sprinkle of garlic
2 1/2 cups wheat gluten powder

As the recipe directed, I placed the water and the salt in a stockpot to boil. Meanwhile, I combined the rest of the ingredients and kneaded the resulting ball of dough “for 2 to 4 minutes, as vigorously and thoroughly as possible.”

When I was done kneading, I sliced the dough and it looked like this:

…and had the stickiness of chewing gum.  If I let two slices touch each other even for a moment, they fused back together and only a serrated knife would separate them.  Oh crap. Did I knead too much?  Did I use too much liquid?  (I later mentioned the kneading on Twitter to YourDailyVegan, who seemed astounded.)

In my heart of hearts I knew this was a bad sign but I trusted the recipe so much that I was willing to press on and see what happened.  The water was rapidly boiling by this point, so I threw the dough in and boiled for 15 minutes.  Precisely 15 minutes later, I dunked the cutlets–which still looked like giant wads of gum but were now firm–into another pot filled with ice water and shoved the whole thing in the ‘fridge.

Then I got on with the rest of my day, which, as I mentioned, was lovely.

Breakfast was simple, yet divine: Toast with blackberry jam and Earth Balance, and dates stuffed with walnuts.

The day before yesterday, I’d FINALLY received the skates I ordered almost a month ago, and went downstairs to practice on the smooth concrete (and relative protection from embarrassment) in the garage.

Later, Andy and I went for a walk.  We found the most darling Mexican gift and home decor boutique, Artelexia, on Kettner Blvd.  The owners are incredibly nice and we chatted for a bit about our travels.

We came back home shortly after that and a couple hours later, I started making dinner.  Here is my version of the recipe:

Seitan Diane
Serves 2

2 chicken-flavored seitan cutlets (or whatever store-bought fake chicken you prefer)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. Earth Balance margarine
3 tbsp. green onions, chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp. chopped parsley
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup chicken-flavored broth

First, I heated 1 teaspoon each of the oil and Earth Balance in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  (In case you couldn’t tell, NO this recipe is not low-fat!)  Meanwhile, I put salt and pepper on the seitan.  Once the EB and oil started to sizzle, I added the seitan and let it cook for about 4 minutes on each side.  After that, I transferred the cutlets to a plate.

I threw the green onion, lemon juice, parsley and mustard into the still-hot skillet and whisked it around with a fork until the parsley wilted…the sharp, tangy aroma of the mustard and onion filled the kitchen and made my mouth water.  After pouring the faux-chicken broth in and watching the mixture sputter and bubble for a moment, I slid the seitan cutlets back in, lowered the heat and let it simmer for 3-4 minutes.

That’s it!  I slapped together some lemon-parsley orzo pasta and roasted some asparagus while the seitan was cooking, and the whole thing looked like BAM!!

It looked just as good as a restaurant meal…but unlike in a restaurant, I didn’t have to wear any clothing on the lower half of my body.

Andy and I sat down with our plates and dug in.  The seitan reached our waiting mouths, the Dijon-mustard sauce tantalized our tastebuds, its flavor carried by all the fat (that’s pseudo-French cuisine for ya) and heightened by the lemon juice… and we chewed.

And chewed.

And chewed.

Oh no.

“Okay, look,” Andy said, putting down his fork, “I’ve tried it, I’ve fulfilled my obligation.  But I just can’t finish this!”

My fears from this morning were confirmed–I had created rubber chicken.  Inedible, impossible.  The rest of our entrees went to the trash and I was mortified.

Did I mention the sauce was wonderful?  Just like my mother’s.  Except if I remember correctly, she probably used yellow mustard instead of Dijon–I remember her version was more, well, golden.  She was too frugal to have two kinds of mustard lying around.  But so what?  You could put that stuff on a shoe no matter what color it is.

The side dishes I made were excellent, too.  The asparagus was really fresh and I didn’t cook it very long so it stayed crisp.  The orzo pasta was well-seasoned–lemon juice, parsley, a little garlic powder…

But AGGGHHH!!  My fake chickennnnnn!

I fucked it up.

Somewhere in my sad tale lies a valuable lesson, folks: trust your gut.  Sometimes recipes are written poorly.  Sometimes I might make a mistake halfway through and have to start over–so be it.  Better to start over than serve a giant pan-fried pencil eraser to your significant other, right?

There’s always next Tuesday.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2010 6:54 pm

    A great post and a great lesson! I’ve never succeeded making seitan at home either :(

    • April 9, 2010 6:43 pm

      Hey thanks VeggieBelly! I’ll get it right next time, it just sucks because the rest of the bad seitan is still in its cold bath in the refrigerator, and I can’t bring myself to throw it out yet. But every time I open the ‘frige (which is far too often) those rubbery cutlets are staring up at me… waaahhhhh

  2. Lars permalink
    April 9, 2010 6:20 pm

    I sit here wondering: Why would you want to make veggies look, feel and taste like meat, if you don’t like meat? Am I missing something? Are you?
    Vegetables are wonderful in their own right. When I quit smoking I won’t be chewing on a pencil to remember what I miss.
    Thanks for the recipee on Chicken Diane. I’m sorry I didn’t see it earlier today, when I prepared … chicken. It sounds lovely and I’ll think of you and your Mom, when I make it.

    This message was not intended to come out grumpy-like. I really enjoy your blog, I’m just wondering about the meat look-feel-taste alike.

    Hugs to both of you.

    • April 9, 2010 7:49 pm

      Lars!! No offense taken. :) You make a valid point and at times like this I wonder why I go through the trouble… Vegetables are so good on their own and I don’t need all the meat-substitutes. I have to blame Andrew a little bit, he raved so much about last week’s effort and requested that I make seitan more often. Can you believe THAT?? Though the every-Tuesday thing was my idea, if I were cooking for just myself I’d probably be eating a lot more artichokes–and only artichokes–for dinner. Ahhh…

      When you say I don’t like meat, do you mean I don’t like the taste? That’s not true. Although the thought of eating a real chicken turns my stomach now, that’s not because of the taste, it’s because I couldn’t eat meat without thinking of what the animal went through. But judging purely by taste, I’ll say it again: my mom’s Chicken Diane was the shit.

      So I guess the real reason I obsess over seitan is because it’s just so much fun! :) (To me, anyway… but you’ve read enough to see how weird I am.) It’s a challenge to get it to turn out the way you want. Makes me feel like Iron Chef. It’s never going to taste exactly like meat–I know that–but it’s fun to see how close I can get. I’m not ever going to cook chicken again, but I wanted something I could cut up with a knife and that would feel about the same as chicken when I chew it. If you quit smoking, you’d probably want a substitute that would give you roughly the same satisfaction/feelings/memories that smoking gives you, without all the bad stuff. Pencils are yucky, and they won’t make you look cool.

      Giant hugs to you and Helle and thank you for reading! :) Andy says hi.


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