Friday, March 16, 2012

Willy Wonka Approved Food!

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, we all decided to blog about something related to the holiday for the day before, the day of, and the day after. My post is about a quest. My sweet husband, currently relaxing after tonight's performance of Willy Wonka, is vegetarian, as am I. For YEARS I have heard him pine for a good vegetarian reuben sandwich. For those who may not know the reuben, it is a glorious amalgam of corned beef, sauerkraut, and swiss cheese, usually served on rye bread with Russian dressing. 

I have tried a few times before to create a vegetarian corned "beef" without much success. The closest I've come is with seitan -- a very chewy wheat protein. After mixing gluten with water, seitan gets simmered in stock for a long time, and in my last attempt, I made the broth with corning spices, hoping that would impart some corned beef flavor. It didn't entirely work. Once you combined it with swiss cheese and sauerkraut, it was ok, but not great.

Part of what was missing was some fat. Seitan is very close to fat-free, so adding a little bit of fat seemed like a good idea. I also needed to add some umami, that fifth flavor found in miso, soy sauce, anchovies, and other rich, salty foods. 

I started by steeping the water for the seitan with a vegetable bullion cube (not something I usually use, but I also don't usually try to recreate meat) and a couple tablespoons of corning spices. I strained it over the gluten flour to build a base of flavor. When I simmered the seitan slices, I added soy sauce, another bullion cube, and a tea ball of corning spices to the water. 

Then it was time to add some fat and umami. I made a marinade of olive oil, miso paste, a small amount of ketchup (in a vain attempt to give it an attractive color), and some mustard. My logic with the mustard was that maybe we just needed other "deli" flavors to fool our palates. I tossed the still-hot seitan with this marinade, and once it cooled, I let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours. Tonight, I slow-baked it at 275 for about an hour. Even by itself, it's the closest thing I've tasted to corned beef since 1985.

Enter Willy Wonka from stage left. Being funny for two hours in front of an audience makes a man hungry, so I suggested that a reuben was a possibility. His verdict? I believe his exact words were, "I would never stop eating this." It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, I know, but once he was finished, there were many mumblings of, "OH. That sandwich!!" I think I may have reached the end-zone of this quest. I see a few opportunities for improvement, but the basic technique is solid, I think.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!

(My apologies for the lack of photographs. Truly, seitan is not attractive. At one point, it looked like I had a dozen large, slightly off-color banana slugs lying on my cutting board. You didn't want to see that anyway.)

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