Fried Chick’n

I’ve been vegan for a long time, but I was raised in the South by Southerners.  When I was growing up, I loved fried chicken.  My mom’s was the best, followed closely by my Granny C’s.  (Don’t ask about my Granny B.  She was always more of a gardener than a cook.)  Mom and Granny used a very traditional flour-, salt-, and pepper-only breading and got a very crispy crust on their pan-fried chicken.  I have not been able to replicate this with any veggie substitute.  If y’all have any breakthroughs on this score, please let me know!

I have a confession to make, though:  I really liked the Colonel’s chicken.  I think it was the herbs and spices that I liked the best — it made great cold chicken to take on a picnic.
The Southern-Fried Seitan recipe below is the closest thing I’ve found to that 11 herbs and spices blend (and we only needed 10 seasonings to get it).  It’s also great cold, so pack up a hamper to take to the park before the weather gets too hot.

While searching for the perfect vegan fried “chicken”,  I battered and fried tofu, tempeh, pre-made seitan, and homemade seitan.  White Wave “chicken-style” seitan made the most authentically chewy chicken substitute, with the homemade version coming in a close (and much cheaper) second.  I’ve included the recipe for homemade “chicken-y” seitan.  If you make it, be sure to follow the directions about using only cold water.  It makes a huge difference in the texture!

Battered and fried tofu and tempeh are both good, but the texture isn’t as “meaty” as the seitan.  For a lot of long-time veggies that might be a good thing.  Seitan grosses some people out with its very “meaty” texture.  The goal of this column, though, is to make the closest vegan substitute for the food some vegans are homesick for, and when you’re talking fried chicken, seitan is the closest by far.

Some notes about deep-frying:  Make sure your oil is hot enough (370 F).  Use a deep-fat thermometer or a deep-fryer with a thermostat.  If the oil is too cool, the results will be greasy.  If it’s too hot, it can burn (or even set fire to your kitchen!)  Watch the oil carefully and never leave hot oil unattended.

Eat lots of fiber-rich veggies with your seitan.  Make some delicious, tangy coleslaw, and eat it with a real fork.  Forget the Colonel and the spork and have a great Spring picnic season.

Southern Fried Seitan
Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients. Most of them are herbs.  The “chicken-flavor” seasoning is also called “chicken-flavor broth powder” and is available in bulk or in packages.  The gluten flour is available in bulk or in packages. You can substitute tempeh or tofu for the seitan, but the texture won’t be as much like chicken.

Recipe By Lisa T. Bennett, adapted from Friendly Foods by Ron Pickarski
Serves 4 unless one of them is my husband
Preparation Time: 45 minutes

1 pound seitan (see notes), with the cooking broth pressed out
2 tablespoons chicken-flavored seasoning (veggie)
1 1/4 cups unbleached flour, divided
2 tablespoons gluten flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (or more)
4 tablespoons spice blend (see below)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup water
2 cups peanut, sesame, or canola oil, for deep-frying

Spice Blend
Enough for about 5 batches Southern-Fried Seitan.  Store the mix in the dark, in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid.
2 teaspoons thyme
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspooons cracked or coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 tablespoons chicken-flavored seasoning (veggie)
4 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons savory
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried basil

Cut seitan into bite-sized pieces.

Stir together 1/2 cup of the unbleached flour and the “chicken” seasoning.  Set aside this breading mixture.

Mix the remaining 3/4 cup of the unbleached flour, gluten flour, salt, pepper, and 4 tablespoons of the Spice Blend.  Blend well so that the gluten flour doesn’t create lumps.  Stir in the water and 1 tablespoon of canola oil.  If the batter does lump, blend the mixture in a blender.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet or deep fryer set to 370 F.  Dip a piece of seitan into the breading mixture and coat it completely, then dip it into the batter, using prongs or long chopsticks.  Remove it and hold it above the batter for about 10 seconds, tapping it gently against the side of the bowl to release excess batter.  Then hold about one third of the piece of seitan in the hot oil for about 15 seconds to set the bottom so it won’t stick to the pan.   Release the seitan and let it completely submerge.  Repeat for the other pieces.  Deep-fry the seitan, a few pieces at a time, to a light brown.  (Don’t add too many pieces to the fryer at once or you will cool the oil down and make the seitan greasy.)  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels for 30 seconds.  You can place the seitan in the oven at 250 F for up to 15 minutes to retain crispness.

Lisa’s Notes:
You can use either homemade seitan (see recipe below) or White Wave chicken style pre-packaged seitan, which is available in the dairy case.  If you’d rather use tofu, get firm or extra-firm Chinese style (not silken), press out the excess water, and proceed.  If you’d rather use tempeh, the “Garden Veggie” flavor is especially delicious, but any variety is fine.

Serve hot with Brown Gravy or The Grit Yeast Gravy (see below), biscuits or rice, and LOTS of vegetables.  Southern Fried Seitan is also great served cold with coleslaw and potato salad.

If you’re in a hurry or don’t have an extensive collection of herbs, use 1 tablespoon of  pre-mixed poultry seasoning (a mix of herbs – usually mostly rosemary, sage, and marjoram), 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast, a pinch of unbleached sugar,  and 1 teaspoon of salt instead of the Spice Blend.

The Grit Yeast Gravy
Recipe from The Grit Cookbook, by Jessica Greene and Ted Hafer
Serves 8
Preparation Time:  20 minutes

1 cup vegan margarine (Earth Balance preferred)
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup flaked nutritional yeast flakes
2 cups regular (not reduced fat) soymilk (unsweetened is best)
1 1/2 cups soy sauce
1 3/4 cups hot water
2 tablespoons vegan Worcestershire sauce

In a large, heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat, melt margarine completely. Stir in flour and yeast until blended and continue to heat roux until mixture begins to bubble. Use only enough heat to maintain vigorous bubbling, whisking constantly for 4 minutes. This is the time required to cook the flour to smoothness, and vigorous whisking is important to avoid burning.

Continue rapid, thorough whisking and add soymilk gradually.  The mixture will quickly become thick and custard-like.  Combine soy sauce, water, and Worcestershire sauce and add to gravy gradually. Blend well after every addition and do not add liquid so rapidly that gravy is very thin. If gravy does become too thin from the addition of too much liquid, continued cooking will thicken it.

Note from the book: Truly a Grit favorite.  Our yeast gravy instills cravings in devotees who are denied it even briefly. People dig it! It lends stunningly un-vegetarian flavor to fellow Grit dishes such as our Collard Greens and Chicken Salad-Style Tofu. This recipe is easily halved.

Chicken-Flavored Homemade Seitan
Use this in the “chicken-fried seitan” or in just about any recipe that calls for chicken.

Recipe adapted from Vegan With a Vengeance, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Makes a little over 2 pounds of yummy chicken-y seitan
Preparation:  15 minutes prep, about 1 hour simmering, at least 30 minutes to cool

Traditionally wheat flour is washed and kneaded 3 times and over 2 days in order to make the wheat gluten, but this seitan is made quicker by using vital wheat gluten flour. The flavoring for this goes well with pretty much anything, but depending what you are using it for you can change the flavors up a bit by adding finely chopped herbs to the mixture, or if you’re making something Asian or Indian, some grated ginger wouldn’t hurt.

1 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes

1 1/2 cups very cold water
1 tablespoon chicken-flavor powder or veggie bullion powder
2 cloves garlic, pressed or grated on a microplane grater

Simmering Broth:
10 cups cold water
3 tablespoons chicken-flavor broth powder
1 stalk celery, cut into 3-4 chunks (optional)

In a large bowl, mix together vital wheat gluten flour and nutritional yeast flakes.

In a separate bowl, mix together remaining seitan ingredients.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and combine with a firm spatula.  Knead dough for about 3 minutes until a spongy, elastic dough is formed. Let dough rest for a couple of minutes and prepare your broth, but don’t heat the broth yet.

Roll your dough into a log shape about 8 inches long and cut into 3 equal sized pieces. Place the pieces in the broth. It is important that the water/broth be very cold when you add the dough — it helps with the texture and ensures that it doesn’t fall apart. Partially cover the pot (leave a little space for steam to escape) and bring to a gentle boil.

When the water has come to a boil set the heat to low and gently simmer for an hour, turning the pieces every now and again.

Now you’ve got “chicken-y” gluten. Let it cool in the simmering broth for at least a half an hour. It is best if it cools completely.

What you do next depends on the recipe you are using. If it calls for gluten use it as is. Or you can use it in any recipe that calls for chicken.  It’s pre-cooked, so it won’t need to cook as long.  If you want to store some of it for later use put it in the fridge in a sealable container covered in the simmering broth.