Life without meat is easy-going but living without Wiener Schnitzel is something of a challenge, especially in the classical combination with a lukewarm potato salad, an Austro-German specialty, simple and delicious. The good news is that among all meat replacements in the supermarkt shelves, the vegan schnitzels are surprisingly good. But at the end of the day it is still a convenience product, a grab bag of mostly unknown constitution, nothing that you want to have on your table on a regular basis.
I started a little research project and tried to find out what options exist for frying meat that is not meat. Soy or Seitan or a mixture of the two are the constituents that basically make up meat replacements. Soy products and seitan have in common that they do not have a strong or specific taste of their own, a feature that they share with most meat fried in a pan. But the texture of the breadcrumb crust and the seasoning are key to success. The vegetarian or vegan variants have the additional benefit that the seasoning can be brought directly into the base substance, an effect that you can only partly achieve with marinating meat.
What to use for starters, soy or seitan? Soy is pretty much a synonym for tofu in this case, and tofu in Europe is realistically available only as a convenience product. At least unless I decide to find out how to produce home-made tofu.
Seitan - セイタン (Mianjin) in Japanese - is the contrary of gluten free diet. Seitan is pure gluten! Gluten? Gluten is the substance that makes yeast dough so incredibly sticky to fingers and bowls. But it is also a substance that contributes a lot to the delight caused by piece of a good white bread, for example Turkish Pide.
Where can you get Seitan? It is available as a convenience product, normally in glasses. If you invest just a little more time you can produce it from dried gluten and water. But neither seitan nor dried gluten are part of the standard supply of supermarkets. Short of other options it has to be home-made from regular wheat flour.
This is done by making a dough of flour and water that is subsequently kneaded under water until the starch - the main ingredient of flour - disperses out, a lengthy process that leaves you with an elastic network of proteins, less than 10 percent of the substances that constitute regular flour.
Contrary to common believe, washing out the starch is not difficult. It just takes a lot of time and patience. Nevertheless, under normal circumstances I would recommend to produce seitan at home from dried gluten powder.
First of all it takes an ecologically questionable amount of water until the starch disperses out of the dough and you flush more than 90 percent of the constituents of the flour, mostly starch and water-soluble proteins, into the kitchen sink. In industrial gluten production, the same affect can be achieved in a much more efficient manner and the dispersed starch can be sedimented and used for the nutrition of humans or animals.
Another big advantage is that the dried gluten can be seasoned so that the seitan is seasoned all-over and not just on the surface. Instead of water you can also use vegetable stock and/or soy sauce for the dough. On the other hand, seasoning traditionally made seitan is almost impossible. I wanted to use tomato paste for giving the seitan a little pink note, a plan that did not really work out because the tomato paste just like salt and pepper remained on the surface of the dough only.
Nonetheless, I describe the tradional approach here because I could not find dried gluten. Besides, it can satisfy an inquiring mind. If you want to make do with ready-made seitan or seitan made from dried gluten, you will know yourself where to deviate from the instructions below.
Serves four, prepares in 2-4 hours plus at least 3 hours needed for the dough to settle in the fridge.
- 1 kg wheat flour (type 405)
- 750 ml water
Lukewarm Potato Salad
- 1 carrot
- 1 leek
- 100 g celery
- 1 onion
- a little sugar
- 10 peppercorns
- 500 g waxy potatoes
- 1 onion
- 100 g pickled cucumbers
- 2 green onions
- 1 red hot pepper
- 2 radishes
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- 1 tbsp solution from pickled cucumbrers
- 2 tbsp oil or olive oil
- 1 level tsp mustard
- 1 bunch of chives
- 300 g seitan
- 1 level tsp tomato paste
- 4 sealable, heat-resistent freezer bags
- 1 unwaxed lemon
- 200 g flour
- 4 tbsp yeast flakes (vegan variant)
- 80 ml water (vegan variant)
- 2 eggs (vegetarian variant)
- 200 g grated dry white bread or ready-made breadcrumbs
- 60 g margarine (vegan variant)
- 60 g butter (vegetarian variant)
- 60 g olive oil
You can skip this step, when you use ready-made seitan. If you use dried gluten you mix about 200 g gluten powder with about 200 ml water or vegetable stock. You can also add salt or other seasoning to taste.
Knead dough from 1000 g flour and 750 ml water. There is no point in using whole grain flour. You will throw most of it away. The regular type 405 will do just fine.
Cover with cling foil and transfer to the fridge for at least three hours.The dough raises a little even without yeast.
Disperse out the starch: Add water to the bowl with the dough, knead it vigorously, regularly replacing the water until it is perfectly clear. That takes about one hour but the result of the kneading and washing and kneading and washing is an elastic and glossy network of mainly proteins and water.Hard to believe in the beginning that the water will ever become clear.
Lukewarm Potato Salad
- Wash, prepare and cut into medium-sized pieces 1 carrot, about 100 g celery and 1 leek.
- Cut 1 red onion into two halves and press the cut surface into sugar. Caramelize the onions in a nonstick frying pan.
Transfer the vegatables, the onion and 10 peppercorns into one liter cold water and bring it to boil at medium temperature. Turn down the temperature when the water has come to boil and continue to let it simmer for one hour.Preparing the vegetable stock
- Cook 500 g waxy potatoes in their skin.
While the potatoes are boiling, cut 100 g pickled cucumbers, a bunch of chives, another onion, 2 spring onions (green onions), and 1 red hot pepper into little cubes. Cut two radishes into thin slices.
Peel the cooked potatoes and cut them into slices 5-10 mm thick.
- Heat 200 ml of the vegetable stock (you will have a considerable surplus left that can be kept in the fridge), add 2 tbsp oil, 1 tbsp solution from the pickles, 1 tbsp vinegar and 1 level tsp mustard. Transfer the potato slices, the onions, the spring onions, the hot pepper and the radishes into the stock and let it stand for 10 minutes. The radishes are missing on the photos because they were not available in Sofia at the time.
- Add the chives to the potato salad, when it is no longer steaming. Mix everything and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- And now the time has finally come for your cherry tomatoes. Cut them in halves and garnish the potato salad with them if you want some colorful spots.
- Add salt, pepper and tomato paste to the seitan, kneading it vigorously. Ready-made seitan is usually already seasoned, and when you have made it from dried gluten you rather would have seasoned the powder instead.
- Form four flat schnitzels from the seitan. Put them into sealable freezer bags, flattening them with a pan or pot. Squeeze out the air and seal them.
Let the schnitzels cook in the thoroughly sealed bags for at least one hour. Put the lid on the pot so that there is no reason to turn them around. The steam is hot enough.
- If you do not use all schnitzels at once, you can keep them in the fridge for several days, or for several months in the freezer at -18 °C.
- Prepare a breading street with two flat plates and a soup plate: Put 200 g breadcrumbs on the flat plate closest to the fire. Stir 4 tbsp yeast flakes with 80 ml water in the soup plate (or two eggs or other egg replacements, in doubt water). Cover the other flat plate with 200 g flour.
- Cut a lemon into halves. Cut one half in slices.
- Season the seitan schnitzels from both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle them with some lemon juice squeezed out of the other lemon half.
- Heat 60 g margarine (or 60 g butter) and 60 g olive oil in a pan. The schnitzels have to swim freely in the hot oil.
Dip one schnitzel into the flour and shake of the excess. Then dip it into the egg mixture (or whatever you are using) covering it completely, and finally dip it into the breadcrumbs to coat, again shaking off the excess.Beating the schnitzels makes no sense at all but gives an authentic soundscape and authentic holes in the schnitzels.
- Slide the schnitzel into the pan. The oil should subside, when it comes into contact with the breadcrumbs. Increase the temperature for a short moment so that the oil does not cool down too much. Move the pan, constantly pouring hot oil over the schnitzels to "souffle" the breadcrumb crust. I failed miserably with it although it usually works out well with veal. The next time I will spread a little oil on the schnitzels before breading them so that the crust sticks a little less.
- Repeat the procedure with the other schnitzels. If your pan is too small, fry the schnitzels in multiple turns. They have to swim freely in the pan without touching each other.
- Transfer the schnitzels onto some kitchen roll when they are golden brown and dry them from both sides. Garnish them with a slice of lemon and some parsley. Serve with the lukewarm potato salad. An alternative garnish is a roll of anchovis with some capers.
Depending on the details of the preparation, the schnitzels are vegetarian or evan vegan, and can be easily replaced with schnitzels made of veal. The recipe is a good candidate, when you want so serve something hearty while still taking different diets - vegan, vegetarian, or with meat - into due account. The necessary deviations are minimal, and all eaters will have more or less the same dish with individually selected ingredients.
And what about the taste compared to the product from the supermarket? Way better at home. However, the haptic, the texture of the convenience product is better due to the added vegetable fibres (for example pea fibres), giving them a look and feel that comes extremely close to meat. Not too important for myself. I found my schnitzels neither too soft nor rubber-like but rather conveniently firm to the bite.
The homemade variant is a little behind when it comes to color and texture. If that is an issue for you, go ahead with experimenting. I have stopped at this point because I was perfectly happy with the schnitzels that were way better then they looked on the photos.
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