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.
*It’s been quite some time since I published this step-by-step and created the video. I’ve learned a lot of tips and tricks for getting results that are just as great, but in a shorter time and with less water. So if you’re new to washing flour, you can still use the video as a visual guide, but you’ll find a newer, faster, and easier method in the steps below and I’ll be updating the video as soon as I can!
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. Knead this mixture just enough to come together as a ball of dough. It doesn’t have to be perfectly uniform, just make sure all the flour and water are mixed together. 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. Let it rest like this for about 15 minutes or more.
The dough ball should now be well rested and very easy to knead into a cohesive ball. This should only take about a minute. Place it 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.
*You don’t have to cover it with cool water, you can simply cover it with a damp cloth. I prefer using the water because I find it easier to wash if none of it has been able to dry out, and I’d prefer not doing another piece of laundry. Plus, you can do your first wash in the water used to cover it so you don’t waste it.
Start washing! At this point move the bowl to the sink and grab a colander. Begin stretching and kneading the dough. If you can massage, knead and stretch it while keeping your hands under the water, you’ll avoid extra splashing. Go like this until the water becomes very opaque and thick, almost like buttermilk.
Dump out your thick, milky water, using the colander to catch the dough ball and any stray pieces. You can reserve that thick starch water to make all kinds of things, like this bacon! Cover your dough ball again, and continue to stretch and knead until the water becomes opaque again. You can cool-ish water or “luke warm” if you prefer. (I use cool in the summer and a little warmer in the winter.) Just don’t let it get too hot or you can wash away gluten.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 as much as you need to. Doing longer washes without dumping the water saves a little time and a lot of water, so you’ll need to keep an eye on your dough in order to make sure you’re washing out your desired amount of starch. The starchy bits look smoother and more plump, while the gluten is more stringy and brain-like. Another good way to tell is the gluten will feel a little “squeaky” and rubbery between your fingers, while the starch will feel softer. 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 keep plenty of starch in and your water will still be very opaque, like somewhere between milky-buttermilky. Check out this recipe for pastrami by Oncle Hu, the creator of the NTW method.
You can also go by how the water looks if you’re not sure about the look and feel of the gluten, but that will require more washes. The whiter/milkier you leave the water, the more starch is remaining and will yield a softer seitan. I personally prefer my end result a little bit on the chewier side, and if going by water color I wash until it is just a little cloudy/hazy. Washing all the starch out until the water runs totally clear has often been described “rubbery,” but feel free to experiment!
Once you have finished washing to your desired level of water clarity or gluten feel/look, 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.
Check out all of these recipes using washed flour gluten for different ways to cook and season it.
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!