Saturday, January 2, 2010

Seitan Fatback, or Happy New Year 2010!

As a good Southern girl, even if now residing in chilly New England, its pretty much required that I make a big pot of Hoppin' John on New Years' Day. That's black eyed peas and rice to y'all from north of the M-D, and traditionally, eating the dish on the first day of the year is supposed to ensure good luck and good fortune - and even more fortune if paired with greens. I didn't make any last year and 2009 certainly could have been a lot better, so I figured that I'd better not tempt fate for 2010.

The problem, though, is that I've never really liked black eyed peas. On New Year's Day at my parents' house, I'd eat the obligatory spoonful, hoping there was no correlation between the amount of peas ingested and the amount of luck received. They just always seemed so bland, like the dish was missing something. (Sorry, Mama.)

Non-vegetarian Southerners use fatback to flavor their Hoppin' John, but it isn't as if Morningstar Farms or LightLife are turning out veggie fatback alternatives. That's probably only slightly more likely than some veggie chittlins. (And if you don't know what those are, don't ask.) I did buy some veggie sausage, hoping that might suffice, but I couldn't bring myself to use it. Really, I thought, why should I? Wasn't that the whole point of these seitan experiments, to have not a passable substitute or filler, but something better? Damn it, I wanted seitan fatback - so I made it.

This recipe came about through experiment. Last week, I ran out of nutritional yeast, which I use in my seitan chicken recipes, so things just got tossed together. And much to my surprise, it tasted very ... well, hammy. So I made it again, this time leaving the seitan pieces to marinate while we took the dogs for a hike, and the result was seitan fatback - just as porky, salty and fatty-feeling as the real thing. Plus, when it was added to the Hoppin' John, it cooked up wonderfully, adding good texture and flavor.

While the peas cooked, I threw together some cornbread and collard greens, figuring that, if I still didn't like black eyed peas, I'd at least have something. But, luck was already on my side: the seitan fatback made all the difference. Now I see why folks love this dish so much. It must be true: (seitan) bacon makes everything better!


for seitan:
1/2 c vital wheat gluten
1/2 c water
several dashes liquid smoke
onion powder to taste
garlic powder to taste

boiling liquid:
2 c water
1 tsp Better than Bouillon vegetable paste
3 tsp browning liquid
2 tsp veggie Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Marmite
3 Tbsp ketchup

for marinade:
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c water
2 tsp sugar
2 T rice vinegar
2 T vegetable oil

Combine seitan ingredients and kneed for three to five minutes. Cut into four pieces. Combine boiling liquid ingredients in a pan with a lid; bring to a boil, add seitan pieces. Lower to a good simmer and cover. Stir every so often and, when its been on the stove for about twenty-five minutes, remove the lid and bring it back to a boil, stirring, until the liquid has reduced to about four tablespoons and is syrupy. If you're going to marinate the seitan, add it now, along with the remaining liquid, to the marinade.

Note: whether you cube or slice the seitan fatback for use in a stew, it will absorb more liquid and increase in size.

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