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The viral TikTok vegan “chicken” – Is it worth the hype?

TikTok has proven to be a key influencer for viral food trends, first with the impossible Dalgona whipped coffee fad and then with the infamous Feta Pasta mania.

As I’m on the older side of Gen-Z, I was pretty hesitant to download TikTok. I thought it was just another Instagram, or vine (how vintage), and never really got what all the fuss was about.

But then I downloaded it.

After a few days of feeling galvanised to start up my own crochet AND pottery business, and being persuaded by how Vinted is the new Depop, I found myself on the side of #VeganTok. I stumbled upon a video all about making the perfect chicken alternative with just two ingredients: flour and water!

Made viral by TikTok user @futurelettuce, the short video is already over 1.7 million views with heaps of other TikTokers jumping on board with the trend. But, before I tell you about my experience, I think it’s important to discuss the origins of this fake “chicken” or seitan and what it even is! Here’s the rundown:

Where does seitan come from ?

The word seitan (pronounced ‘say-tan’) is of Japanese origin, coined in the 1960’s by George Ohsawa, who is said to have brought seitan over to the Western world. However, it is believed that the process of making seitan dates back over 1,500 years ago when Buddhist monks first discovered the “wheat meat.”

What is seitan made from and why should you eat it?

It is a meat substitute, sometimes confused with soy-based tofu or tempeh, yet it is made entirely out of hydrated wheat gluten so, if you’re gluten-free – sorry, this one’s not for you!

Seitan is renowned for its weirdly identical texture to meat. Its versatility is incredible! It can be fried, roasted, grilled, baked, even microwaved (although I wouldn’t recommend that last one).

It is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch is removed and only the glutenous mass remains. Because of this, seitan is not only better for the environment and sustainability, but it is also an excellent source of protein and iron. And, as students, the only ingredients you need for it is plain flour and tap water – so it works out a lot cheaper than any branded Quorn or Linda McCartney meat alternatives!

If you are a meat-eater, or just a periodically lapsing vegan/vegetarian, seitan is a great way to help you transition into a more plant-based diet! Due to its uncanny resemblance to chicken, you can pretty much substitute it to recreate any dishes where you may have previously used animal meat. That can be anything from toppings on a pizza, an addition to a stir-fry, the star-performer of a roast dinner, fajita fillings, stirred into a curry, or made into a “chicken” sandwich – the list is endless.

Step 1: Kneading

I followed this recipe which called for 1200g of plain flour and 750ml of water to be mixed in a bowl and kneaded out until it formed a dough where, if prodded, it would spring back up. This means the gluten has been activated. Once I was happy with the consistency, I transferred the dough into a clean bowl, covered it with cold water, then wrapped the top in cling film, and left it for two hours.

Step 2: Washing

This is where it gets fun. Once your dough has rested for two hours, drain the it and pour in some new water. Start squeezing and rinsing the dough, washing away the starch so you’re just leaving behind the pure wheat gluten. I repeated this step until the water wasn’t completely opaque and more of a clearer liquid. Once achieved, strain the dough and let it rest in a colander for about half an hour.

Step 3: Seasoning

At this point, I was feeling like a pro and sort of stopped listening to the recipe. After letting the dough rest for about half an hour, I loaded up this gloopy mass with pretty much every seasoning which felt right. I kneaded in some cajun spice, cumin, chilli and lemon powder, mixed herbs, Aromat, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika and, obviously, salt and pepper.

(Disclaimer: there was no rhyme or reason with this part, I got carried away with my culinary confidence and just threw in whatever I had on my spice rack…).

Step 4: Braiding and Knotting

After seasoning, leave your dough to rest for another half hour. Now, this is the important part that will completely change the texture of your seitan. Transfer your dough to a clean surface and separate it into three strands, leaving the dough attached at one side, then braid those strands as if they were hair. After braiding, knot the dough into as many knots as you can. This is what will give your seitan that shredded, meaty texture.

Step 5: Cooking

Put some oil in a pan and fry the seitan knot on both sides until golden brown. Then, add some vegetable stock to the pan so it covers the seitan and leave it to simmer for about 45 minutes. Once cooked, you have a protein-packed and completely versatile hunk of vegan “chicken” which will have doubled in size.

Is it worth the hype?

I opted for transforming my once-doughy lump into a fried chicken-style vegan burger with a toasted bun, vegan-aise, tomatoes, pickles, lettuce, and hot sauce. I can confirm, it most definitely is worth the hype!

Seitan is healthy, cruelty-free, and super cheap so grab a bag of flour and try it out for yourself!

Head to package-free store Lentils and Lather in Withington to be even more environmentally conscious and support a small, ethical business to buy your ingredients and top up your spice rack.

All you need is a bag of flour, a jug of water, a bit of patience and you too could join the viral TikTok trend!

Tags: plant based, seitan, student, TikTok, vegan, viral

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