Wash the Flour (WTF) Method
Don’t be daunted, the “Wash the Flour” method is both easy and versatile! Check out the video above or follow the simple step-by-step guide below to help you get going.
Mix 3 parts of your favorite all-purpose (AP) flour or bread flour (which has a slightly higher protein content and may yield a slight bit more gluten) with 1 part water. You can really use any type of wheat flour, but ideally you want it to have at least 11% protein content. Avoid anything under 10% entirely, like pastry flour. A good place to start is approximately 6 cups of flour to 2 cups of water, which should yield about 4-6 servings of seitan after washing. Knead this mixture enough to come together as a smooth ball of dough. If you find it’s really sticking to your fingers, add a little bit more flour. If you find it’s really tough and crumbly, add a bit more water.
Place the ball of dough in a bowl and cover it with cool water for at least 1 hour, but not longer than 8-10. Too short doesn’t give enough time for the gluten strands to come together. Too long and they start to fall apart and become mushy. It is fine even in the warmer months to leave it to rest out on your kitchen counter.
Start washing! At this point move the bowl to the sink and grab a colander. Discard the water covering the dough and fill the bowl again with cool, clean water. As the new water fills the bowl, begin stretching and kneading the dough. Keeping your hands and dough in the bowl of water, continue kneading and stretching until the water becomes very opaque.
Dump out your milky water, using a colander to catch the dough ball and any stray pieces. Or you can reserve your starch water to make all kinds of things, like this bacon! Cover your dough ball again, this time using luke-warm water, and continue to stretch and knead until the water becomes opaque again. Alternating cool and warm water affects how the dough breaks apart and comes back together again. The goal of this is to hopefully lessen the amount of times you need to wash. However, you can do all cool water and get the same result. It is not recommended to use water that is too warm or hot, because your dough can become stickier or more gluey and harder to work with.
Repeat steps 3 and 4, alternating between cool and luke-warm water or just using cool water. You will likely need to repeat this process at least few times. You will see the dough begin to look more stringy and feel a little “squeaky” between your fingers. The more starch you wash out, the more chewy your seitan will become, so the end result is up to you.
If you’re going for the not that washed (NTW) method, you will only want to wash until your water is water is still very opaque, like somewhere between milky-buttermilky. Check out this recipe for pastrami by Oncle Hu, the creator of the NTW method.
Wash until the water is at least a little bit cloudy. The cloudier you leave the water, the more “soft” the texture will be without adding in any extra ingredients. I personally prefer my seitan a little bit on the chewier side, so I wash it until the water is just a little hazy. Seitan resulting from totally clear water has often been described “rubbery,” but feel free to experiment!
Once you have finished washing to your desired level of water clarity, let the dough rest in the colander for at least 20 minutes. This is to both drain the excess water and let the strands begin to develop. If you are adding additional spices or proteins, proceed to step 8. If you are not, you should let it rest even longer until the gluten becomes very elastic and you are able to stretch it far without it breaking.
At this point you can add in any seasonings or proteins, or skip to step 9. A good rule of thumb if adding proteins or liquids is to only add about 2oz to this size dough ball so your seitan does not become too soft. I prefer just adding in dry spices to keep the texture chewier, but you can also add liquids such as soy sauce or liquid smoke to boost flavor, and/or additional proteins such as tofu or beans to soften the texture of your final result and also make your seitan a complete protein. My preferred method for incorporating them is to use a food processor, but you can also cut them into the dough or knead them in by hand. Then you will need to let the dough rest again until it starts to come back together and become more elastic and stretchy. You want it strong enough to knot, even if you do not intend to cook it that way. This usually takes about 20 minutes, but can take up to an hour or so depending on what you’ve added. You can also leave it sit overnight so the gluten continues to develop, but that is unnecessary.
How you prepare your gluten for cooking depends on how you’re looking to use it. For the shreds you see in the top image, I stretched and knotted the dough, then dropped it into a well-seasoned broth in a slow cooker. For my slow cooker, I had it set to high and this makes it easy to keep at a low simmer. The broth was already hot and I cooked the ball of dough for about 2 hours in the simmering broth. You can also cut the dough into cutlets and fry them to help them retain their shape, then simmer to fully cook. For the size of about 4-6 cutlets, you should only need to simmer them for about 45 minutes.
Let it rest in the fridge for at least 8 hours. For most of us, the waiting is the hardest part. While you can skip this step, the texture will not have had a chance to completely firm up. After letting it come to room temperature, I started shredding into chunks popped it in the fridge directly in the slow cooker with broth. To finish you can pan sear, grill, sauté, fry, add to a casserole, the possibilities are endless. Happy cooking!