I had dinner the other day at a vegetarian Chinese restaurant in NYC and was very impressed with the imitation meat products. Not only were they tasty, but they also had a stringy texture which made it seem more like meat than flavored tofu or seitan.
Does anyone know how I can replicate this food at home?
Have you looked in your Asian grocery stores? Around here (Boston) they stock a wide range of imitation meat products made from soy and wheat protein. Some are ready to eat, others are the basic product which you can flavor to taste. They're normally in the frozen food section but separate from everything else.
I have seen some of the stuff that is sold, some are from Thailand, sold frozen. But some restaurants have claimed that they make some items themeselves, so I was curious if anyone knows the secret and is willing to share. I have never found anything sold commercially that had the stringy meat-grain texture either.
Do you have access to Irene Kuo's The Key to Chinese Cooking? There is a section on vegetarian cooking which includes instructions on how to make wheat gluten from unbleached flour. I've never tried this so have no idea what the result is, but in her directions she says that you knead and squeeze a flour/water mix under running water. At first the dough will separate into slippery stringy pieces. Then it becomes sticky and puffy. Eventually it forms a ball of elastic gum. Perhaps the restaurant stops the process at the "stringy pieces" stage?
I'm not sure what seitan you've consumed in the past, but vegetarian NYC Chinese restaurant 'meat' is 100% wheat protein, aka seitan. They make it by mixing a flour and water dough, kneading it to develop the protein, washing away the starch and then boiling what's left. The stringiness probably comes from stretching the gluten into long strands (like chinese noodles) and then oiling them to keep them from bonding back together too tightly. Or at least that's how I would they do it.
I think part of the reason you liked the seitan so much compared to previous times was the fact that it was done well. It's really easy to make crummy seitan.
Cheryl's recommendation to visit an Asian grocer is an excellent one. They have restaurant quality seitan at a much lower price. While you're there, I'd recommend tasting both the baked tofu and the smoked baked tofu. Both taste about 1000 times more meatlike than any other tofu you can buy.
I have made Seitan from scratch using flour, and the easy way, by using vital wheat gluten. In neither case does the seitan become stringy. I once was told that the stringiness was from mushroom stems, though I don't know hoe to replictae that, not do I know the quantity.
I have also played around with textures of tofu, having tried presing it, freezing it, and then pressing it again, for a very nice texture. More suitable for chicken though.
Soem imitation meat products are most certainly seitan based, others have that stringiness, and I would love to figure out how I could do that.
Imitation shrimp is another product that I wish I knew how to make from scratch. And I don't mean surimi, or fish based imitation crabmeat, but vegetarian shrimp.
The ones in cans at Asian grocers are much, much more like the stuff served in restaurants that the dried stuff or anything else I've had labeled seitan. Check the labels, though, because some have a huge amount of fat while others are reasonable. Thank you.
I have to be honest, I've never tried the canned stuff. The thought of canned faux meat never appealed to me.
I'm partial to the shrink wrapped stuff. The shrink wrapped seitan is as good as any of the restaurant stuff I've had, and I've eaten at most of the places in NYC.