Golden Nuggets (frikkin’ scrumptious fake chicken nuggets)

Humans like fried foods, right? Vegans and vegetarians should not be deprived of this delicious treat. This is my version of the tastiest damned fake meat chicken nuggets I’ve ever had. My friend Sarah took me to this awesome vegan restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. They have hearty diner food down to an art. Seriously yo. If you have a Loving Hut franchise in your area, run, don’t walk. It’s seriously good and carnivores will love it.

Note—Loving Hut is a total hippy transcendental freak cult, but the food is great and the staff don’t push it. How awful can a freakish vegan cult of non-violence be anyway? LH is presided over by this lady who calls herself supreme master Ching Hai who publishes books of herself ‘shopped with all manner of lap dogs. Just sayin’.

Ingredients
Seitan (see basic seitan recipe)
1 cup flour
1/3 cup bread crumbs (whole wheat are great)
1 tbsp garlic powder
½ tsp cayenne or other hot pepper
1 Shit-ton of ground black pepper (this is the key to a “fried chicken” style breading)
½ tsp salt

Technique
Cut your seitan into strips, chunks, cutlets, whatever. Dunk in buttermilk, or plain milk, or water, then coat thoroughly in breading. Buttermilk—or yogurt cut with milk or water—gives a nice tang, but it’s not essential if you don’t have it on hand. Really press the seitan down into the breading and make sure it’s thoroughly coated.

Allow seitan to air dry for at least 20 minutes. This is key to a good, consistent crust that doesn’t flake off or get greasy.

Bring several inches of oil to frying temperature in a saucepan. Proper temperature is hot enough to crisp food and brown the breading all over in about five minutes, but without sucking up excessive oil and without smoking. You don’t need a thermometer. Here’s how to know if your oil’s ready. Drop a small piece of seitan in. It should start to bubble, but not too vigorously. It ought to take about 30-45 seconds for the piece to start browning. If it’s too fast or slow, adjust accordingly. With practice on your own stove with your own pans, you’ll get it.

Fry in small-medium batches, turning seitan over during cooking. Remove and drain/blot well on paper towels. Serve with dipping sauce.

 

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Basic seitan (mock meat)

This stuff is the queen of fake meat, and it’s super cheap to make. Wheat gluten—often called “vital wheat gluten”—is the protein separated from wheat flour, in powder form. Find it at your health food or bulk food store.

A note on spices: This is the “chicken” version of seitan. The classic poultry/fowl spices are thyme, sage, and rosemary. Heavy on the thyme and sage. Build on variations of those to your taste or whatever’s in your cupboard. If you don’t have the exact ones on hand, improvise. No sage? Then substitute oregano for a more Italian flavor, etc. and so on. Few dishes will be RUINED if you ad lib a bit.

Use: This is best fried or sauteed to give it a crisp. Once you do so, you can use it in pasta sauces, sandwiches, cold salads (think seitan “chicken” salad), etc. Of course, you can fry it chicken-style and serve with mashed potatoes. Yum!

Ingredients

Dry:
1 and ½ cup gluten
3 tbsp veggie broth powder
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried sage
several grinds of black pepper
½ tsp MSG (Stop staring in horror. “MSG poisoning/headaches/toxicity” are not real. Really.)-sold as “Accent.”

Wet:
¾ cup water
2 tbsp tamari/shoyu/soy sauce
1 tbsp veggie broth powder stirred in
1 tbsp oil stirred in
Enough water in a pan to cover the seitan, with enough broth powder/stock in it to make a good salty broth.

Technique

Stir together dry ingredients in one bowl. Whisk together wet ingredients in another bowl. Stir in liquid into dry ingredients with a spoon into a loose ball. Turn onto a surface and knead the fuck out of it. Since this is pure gluten, it’ll be much stiffer and more rubbery than any bread dough you’ve worked. Just keep mashing it, folding it, turning it until it’s really elastic. Don’t worry about perfect technique cuz it doesn’t matter.

Let rest for 20 minutes.

Cut/shape into cutlets, stretching the seitan with your hands into the shape you want. Again, irregular shapes are just fine.

Two cooking options

Pot on the stove—bring salty broth (enough to cover the seitan, or about1.5 quarts in a 4-quart pan) to a simmer and add cutlets. Cover and cook for 1 and ½ hours, turning over occasionally. Remove from broth and let cool, draining liquid run off.

Pressure cooker—put broth and cutlets in cooker and bring to pressure. Cook 25 minutes and use any release method you like. Take cutlets out of broth and allow to cool.

One step to take food from blah to BRILLIANT… on a budget!

I’ve been considering some basic cooking “cheats” and this is my biggest one. This works for everyone from barely competent cooks looking to improve their food, to highly skilled cooks in a hurry or on a budget. One simple thing that opens up the door for more interesting meals? Find the Spanish/Latin/Ethnic section at your local grocery store. 

No, I don’t mean the Old El Paso taco and burrito kits. Get out of here and don’t come back! I mean at least the Goya stuff, which is the heart of what I think of as “home cooking” as a former kid from the Bronx. 

There’s two big benefits here. The first one is that you’re going to find big bold flavors that you’re maybe not used to, for really reasonable prices. Replace the salt with adobo and add a packet of sazón con culantro y achiote to your rice, and add a tablespoon of sofrito and/or recaito to a can of beans, and you’ve got a cheap and hearty dish with barely any prep time. Marinate your cheaper cuts of chicken or pork in some mojo criollo, then grill or broil it and serve over rice or on a hoagie roll… and one bottle is good for a couple of meals. You’re going to find a bunch of “weird” stuff in that section of the store, but it is all tasty and rarely excessively spicy.

Speaking of spicy, this is where the second benefit hits. Have you ever looked at a recipe that called for a spice you rarely use? And then you go to the store and look for it and find out that a tiny jar costs more than any other ingredient or sometimes as much as all the other ingredients? Well, before you give up you should check the “ethnic” aisle. Very often, they’ll have small packets of ground spices that are just enough for that one recipe, or larger containers for half as much as they cost in the spice aisle. You can save a lot of money and try a lot of different spices without having to commit to a larger container that’s going to sit in the cabinet for three years until you randomly need it again. 

So have fun, and cook something nummy!