It had been awhile since I'd made Chickwheat shreds, and I won't wait so long til next time. I've finally developed the definitive recipe and got the technique nailed, so couldn't wait to let you in on it. Shredded Chickwheat, aka faux chicken, in the freezer makes quick meals on the fly! Use it in soups, stir-fry, enchiladas, tacos, burritos, BBQ shredded chicken sandwiches, chicken salad.
What is Chickwheat? Basically, it's simply Seitan (pronounced SAY-tan) - a protein-rich meat substitute that's been around for centuries. Developed by Buddhist monks in Japan and China, Seitan is made from vital wheat gluten - with various herbs and spices, depending on cuisine - processed similarly to bread dough, formed, wrapped and steamed. Seitan is a culinary chameleon, as it can be tweaked to taste, and even look like beef, pork or chicken. For those who just can't learn to like tofu, Seitan faux 'meats' can be a game-changer when it comes to fully embracing the whole-food, plant-based way of eating.
For those who are looking to veganism for health reasons, Seitan could be your new favorite protein. It's higher in protein than tofu, with as much quality protein as a steak - only without the cholesterol and saturated fat. Oh, and without the calories. The only caveat here: Seitan and vital wheat gluten isn't for those with Celiac disease or people with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). Those folks should absolutely avoid the product. But, for the rest of us: Game On!
Vital wheat gluten (VWG) is an inexpensive, easily available ingredient, now found nearly everywhere. I dig into the bulk bins at my local Winco market for VWG, and keep it in the pantry all the time. Store your VWG just as you would any other flour. Dry. Cool-ish. Dark-ish. It keeps for months, unless you make as many different vegan proteins as I do: Seitan Lentil Steaks, Slice-able Seitan, and Gaz Oakley's Streaky Bacon and Vegan Brisket. I encourage you to try both of Gaz's recipes. I've made both and they're great!
Gaz Oakley's vegan Streaky Bacon, made with vital wheat gluten.
Gaz Oakley's Vegan Brisket, made with vital wheat gluten and brined Jackfruit.
Making Chickwheat isn't difficult, but it will require some specialized equipment: an Instant Pot for steaming the Chickwheat loaf, and ideally, a stand mixer with a dough hook. You can try simply steaming the dough over hot water, but it will take some careful monitoring to ensure that the water doesn't run dry. Others have recommended that if you're steaming over water, instead of one large loaf of Seitan dough, make two smaller, tightly wrapped dough packages.
If you don't have a stand mixer/dough hook, you can use a food processor with the plastic dough blade. It would make sense to process the dough in two smaller quantities for that as well. If you really enjoy making Seitan, then you might look around for a deal on a used KitchenAid stand mixer. That's what I did, picking up a used model for about $50. Instant Pots aren't that pricey new, and since you can use them for so many cooking tasks, they're a good value.
As with any recipe like this, set out your Mis-en-place ... all your ingredients out, measured and ready to use. Read the recipe a couple of times so that you are confident about the steps.
You can pretty much take all the ingredients - up to and including the vinegar - as shown below in the recipe, and toss them into the high speed blender. Whiz that up until nice and smooth.
I really, really do recommend you include the Nutritional Yeast ('Nooch') and the mushroom powder. They bring so much umami flavor to the party! Other recipes I'd tried from vegan websites were just 'lacking' in flavor, so this is where I'm coming from. I can't do 'bland'. Oh, and I really encourage you to include the ground flaxseed - especially if you're vegan and not eating fatty fish. We're all trying to get those healthful Omega-3 fatty acids into our diets, and flaxseed is a great way to get there.
Now, you can pour that 'wet' mixture into the dry vital wheat gluten. Use a BIG bowl, so that you can mix it up well. Let the well-mixed dough ball rest for about 15 minutes in order to fully hydrate.
Add the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer, if you're using one, fitted with the dough hook. On about Power Level 2 or 3, mix for about 15 minutes. You're angling for a dough that is warm-ish, stretchy, and smooth. It's now ready to form into a loaf. Depending upon if you're making one large loaf (in an Instant Pot) or two smaller ones (steamed over hot water), securely wrap the loaf/loaves in one layer of foil - tightly sealing the seam and ends. Then, do it again. Two layers of foil. Each sealed tightly.
Then, put the plastic steaming trivet in the Instant Pot, and pour two cups of water into the pot. Add the wrapped, sealed loaf on top of the trivet. Add the lid, lock and be sure to turn the steam vent valve to the closed position. Set the controls to High Pressure, and the timer to 120 minutes. Yes, you read that right. Two full hours.
Once the steaming time is finished, release the pressure, and carefully remove the loaf package. Set it aside to cool enough to handle it. Once cooled, open the package and remove the loaf.
Here's where the fun begins! Holding the loaf in both hands, pull it apart so that it 'breaks apart' down the middle. You can start pulling the 'shreds' with your fingers or a fork or both.
Once the loaf is shredded to your satisfaction, I recommend that you lay all the shredded Chickwheat out on a sheet pan and pop it into the freezer for about one hour. When the shreds are frozen, fling them into a sturdy freezer bag and tuck it back into the freezer. You'll have shreds that you can grab by the handful, as needed, and they won't be sticking together in a big frozen clump.
For soups: Just grab what you need for the amount of soup in question, and add it to the broth to simmer once the basic soup is cooked and ready. I suggest that the Chickwheat simmer for about 30 minutes so that it can absorb the flavors of your broth.
For BBQ/Sauced Chickwheat: Steam or microwave the Chickwheat, then sauce. This is a fast way to a delicious BBQ chicken sandwich or topper for rice or salad.
Sautéed/Stir-fry Chickwheat: Steam or microwave the necessary amount of Chickwheat. Add to a hot, non-stick pan and sauté. If adding to a stir-fry, I sauté the thawed Chickwheat first for just a few minutes, until it gets a bit brown-ish in places. Set aside, and add at the last to your stir-fry.
You might be surprised, but Chickwheat holds it's shape and texture in soups! Even when re-heating for leftovers. Use it in any dish that you'd add shredded rotisserie chicken.
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