This is an essential staple for any healthy vegan. Diversity is the key when looking for protein sources, so the more, the better! I usually make this massive amount of fikken at the same time as my nutritionally sneaky tomato sauce, since both require you to fret or watch over them as they cook. Might as well be as efficient as possible in the kitchen!
For those of you who are wondering what on earth fikken is, it’s my term for fake chicken — wheat gluten steaks are high in protein and can be used as a direct replacement for any meaty item. Depending on how you flavour the broth, you can make “fikken”, “facon”, “feef” and even “fish”. Wait… ok so that one doesn’t work as well, but you know what I mean. And this isn’t to say that this stuff actually tastes exactly like the meat it’s intended to replace — it sort of carries the meat’s essence, minus the fact that you had to go out and kill it. For example, fikken has a sort of oven-roasted flavour thanks to the sage, garlic and celery seeds, while facon would have a smoky taste to it. You’ll understand once you taste it, so stop judging and just make it already. I guarantee you’ll find it tasty (yes I’ve just made a rather bold statement, but I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t liked it yet, so I stand by my boldness).
For this recipe, you’ll need a handful of ingredients, listed below, and Basia Bulat’s soulful Oh My Darling album.
- 3 cups vital wheat gluten (you can also make gluten “steaks” from plain old flour, but it makes a hell of a mess and takes forever. That being said, I’ll post exactly how to do that sometime soon, because I think everyone should experience the utter joy of immersing their hands in hot floury water for an hour. But for now, just go out and buy vital wheat gluten – you should be able to find it at most of the larger grocery stores, or you can buy it online, which completely amazes me… Who’d a thunk Amazon would have gluten, let alone a FOUR-PACK?!)
- 3 cups water
- 7 cups water
- 1 cup nutritional yeast flakes, or 0.5 cups powdered (this is another must-have ingredient for any culinarily inclined vegan)
- 1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 2 tsp celery seeds
- 2 tsp dried sage, but you can also use oregano, thyme, and/or marjoram if you’re into that sort of thing
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
First, combine the wheat gluten with the 3 cups of water and knead for about 5 minutes, or until almost all the water has been absorbed and you’ve got a big blob of beige wibbly-wobbly matter that I suppose I’ll have to call “dough”.
Set it aside for a moment, while you combine the rest of the ingredients into a large stock pot. Stir and bring to a boil. Grab a chunk of “dough” and pat or roll it out on a cutting board so that it’s somewhat flat, then slice off “steaks”, “cutlets”, “strips” or “nibblets”, depending on what you’re going to use the gluten for. Whatever size you think you need, shrink it by at least half, since these suckers will grow like crazy as they suck up broth. I also don’t suggest cutting the entire “dough”-ball up before the broth is ready to receive the pieces, because they’ll just stick into a big blob and you’ll have to do it over again. One more tip: I’ve found that a pizza cutter is the best thing to use (thanks S!).
Gently drop the pieces into the broth until you’ve worked your way through the entire ball of “dough”. If you’re particular about how your food looks, you could always boil the “dough” in large flat pieces and then cut them into pretty pieces once they’ve finished cooking, but I wonder if the broth might not reach the center. Please let me know if you try it and it works well – or write in and tell me what a fiasco it was. Either way, write in and share with the world.
Oh, a final word of warning: this broth has otherworldly thermal inertia, which means that when it reaches a nice rolling boil, it’ll tend to keep going unless you catch it in time. I’ve lost count of the number of times my broth has boiled over and covered my stove with fikken juice and spices, so don’t feel bad if this happens to you. Make sure you scrape down the sides of your pot if this does happen, because that’s where all the spices end up.
Once the pieces are in and the broth is boiling away nicely at a medium-high heat, you can either cover it or not. I’ve started leaving the cover off since I had to be extra vigilant for boil-overs when I left the cover in place. Keep it at a nice boil for at least an hour, or until the broth is completely reduced or absorbed by the fikken. Invert the pieces every 10 minutes or so, ensuring that the pieces that are floating on top get shoved to the bottom. When almost all of the liquid is gone, turn off the heat and let the pieces cool down in whatever liquid is left before tossing them into containers and slapping them into the freezer. Fikken can keep in the fridge for about a week, though I really can’t attest to it because we always eat it well before then.
If you prefer a chewier, “meatier” texture, toss the pieces into the oven at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes.
Puzzled with what to do with it now that you’ve got it? No worries, I’ll be posting all sorts of goodies soon (like coc-au-lyme fikken and paella). For now, why don’t you try tossing a bunch of pieces in about 0.5 cups of cornmeal, a hefty sprinkling of Cajun spice (like my all-time fave made by Zatarain’s), salt and pepper? Once they’re coated, stick them into a frying pan with a little bit of oil. Sprinkle liberally with lemon juice and cook at medium heat until crispy. This is just delightful with garlicky green beans and oven-roasted potatoes…