Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Magic Overnight Sausages (vegan)

So, how have you been spending your quarantine time? Safe and well, I hope! I've done a little of this, a little of that. One thing I've done is make seitan about once a week. I started out making meatballs, but the subsequent batches never turned out as good as the first batch, so I switched gears and began experimenting with different cook methods and went the sausage route.

If you're not familiar with seitan, it's a meat substitute that was invented by monks hundreds of years ago and became popular in the US on the West Coast in the 1970s. It sort of faded away for a bit except in those small clusters of off-grid vegans. Now we have so many store-bought meat substitutes (many of which are actually seitan), that homemade seitan seems to only show up in the kitchens of YouTubers looking for a new angle and in the kitchens of plant-based cooks who enjoy a real challenge.

What is seitan exactly? Seitan takes the gluten from the flour (Who just experienced a full-body shock and horror?), which is the elastic, stretchy part of dough, and turns it into essentially a dense and chewy bread that you've flavored with typical meat-dish flavorings. It is extremely versatile and the texture itself can be altered just with what you mix in with the flour.

This flour is called Vital Wheat Gluten and it's not too hard to find. Most Publix stores sells a little 8oz box of it along with all their baking stuff. It's about $3.50 for that 8oz box and you'll need 2, so that's not the best buy, but it might be the best way to try it for the first time without being stuck with a lot of VWG you won't use. You can go a lot cheaper by buying in through Amazon. Bob's Red Mill sells a box of 4 22oz bags for $20. Hoosier Hills Farms sells a 5lb bag for $22. There is also a 3lb bag on Amazon for $15 by Anthony's. I have tried all of these and I have not noticed any difference in the results. You may live where there's a Whole Foods or Sprouts or something. They probably have everything in those places.

Different people have different ideas of what seitan should be. And some people are willing to spend days on one recipe. I am not. But seitan done the wrong way is very likely the grossest thing in the world. It is spongy and stringy if underdone - even too spongy for tofu-lovers. It is hard and dry if overworked or overcooked. I have worked to find a seitan that is versatile in flavor, works up relatively quickly (30 minutes prep time), does not need to be kneaded (my hands are always sore from crocheting) and then cooks without me needing to worry about it or worry about needing new equipment or running up the power bill. It's got to be worth the trouble in the end, in my opinion. So this is not steak- or chicken-like seitan that some people do very well, but a nice dense sausage with both grain and bite to it.

True that Seitan isn't for everyone. Even I, who have no gluten sensitivities or superstitions, have rules about seitan. I don't eat it more than 2 days in a row - even when I have delicious sausages waiting! - and I always make sure to get in plenty of fiber and greens that same day if not the same meal - and definitely an extra glass or two of water. These are the same digestive rules I have for bread, though, so if you have to be careful with bread for reasons that don't have to do with an allergy, then you probably will want to not overdo it with the seitan, either.

I've made a lot of other people's seitan recipes and gotten mixed results. I've read about other methods that require equipment I don't want to buy and time I don't want to spare that would probably make amazing seitan. This is not that. This is simple. It's not banana bread simple, but if you've pressed and flavored and cooked tofu, this will be easy. If you've made cupcakes and icing from scratch, you can totally do this. The seitan you will get in the end will rival any store-bought wheat-based meat substitute. And I can't wait until this quarantine is over and I can take a few recipes of these to a vegan cookout with friends and family!

Basic Magic Sausage equipment:
Mixing Bowl
Measuring cups and spoons
Strong spoon for stirring
Handheld Potato masher
Aluminum foil
Wax paper
Crock Pot (see bottom for stove-top alternative)

A few notes before we get to the ingredients:

  1. This recipe uses 1 can of beans or 1 1/2 cups of cooked beans. 
  2. Any beans will work. Some beans have tougher husks than others (kidney beans for example) and these husks will be visible in your sausage and you may not like that. You can certainly use a food processor or blender to pulverize every molecule. I don't think it would effect the texture in any way.
  3. Some beans are going to make your sausages a little chalkier because they are just dryer beans (butter beans, for one). Chickpeas are a good texture, but you have to be careful about the brand or cook them from dry. Some canned chickpeas are not very soft and are a pain to mash up.
  4. Drain and rinse the can water from the beans UNLESS you are using chili beans. In that case, use the sauce in the beans to count toward some of your broth. (I drain it into the measuring cup I am going to use for the broth and set it aside until needed).
  5. Carton or canned broth is very convenient, though mixing your own from bullion from cubes, paste, or powder can be more versatile in flavor. Better than Bullion and Orrington Farms both make vegan meat-flavored bullion. Better than Bullion is a paste and Orrington Farms is a powder. I've tried some flavors of both but not all. They are quite good and a little disturbingly similar to the real thing at first- especially the chicken kind. I don't buy any of those regularly, however, because they aren't available locally, are more expensive online, and I really love the flavor of the Better than Bullion vegetable paste, which IS available locally. Usually.
  6.  Both the type of beans you choose and the type of broth you use will effect the overall color of the sausage. The very reddish sausages you see in some pictures were made with Chili beans and Better than Bullion. The lighter one were made with Northern beans and carton veggie broth. You might want to keep color in mind if you've decided to go with a faux meat-flavored vegan bullion. You can certainly add in more of any type of seasoning to effect color so that the end taste and the meat-look satisfies your prevegan memories.
  7. WAX PAPER alternatives. Wax paper is cheap and convenient, but it doesn't make as pretty a sausage as plastic does. You can use cling wrap instead, though I find it annoying as hell and it can still result in sausages with odd little lines and creases. The sausages you see here that are very pretty and uniform I made when I was out of wax paper and used ziploc freezer bags. 1 gallon size makes 4 casings and yes, you can wash and dry and store these to use again. I've only used mine twice so far, but they seem to be holding up. Just be careful to be sure any printing on the back is on the outside as the will come off onto your sausage.  Wrap them exactly the same as with wax paper. Any of these materials are safe to steam or boil or simmer as long as they are completely wrapped in foil.

Since I plan to develop more flavors over time, I am listing the seasonings used separately. First will be the basic sausage flavor. These taste very similar to Tofurkey's Italian Sausages.

Basic Sausages Seasoning:
1 can or 1 1/2 cups of beans
2 Tsp olive oil or other
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 heaping Tsp of minced garlic (or 2 cloves)
2 Tbsp of nutritional yeast
1 Tsp each of:
- garlic powder
- onion powder
- Italian seasoning
- hot sauce (mild or hot as preferred)
1 tsp each of:
- paprike
- cumin
- chili powder
- garlic pepper*
1/2 tsp each of:
- black pepper
- red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups of veggie broth
2 cups vital wheat gluten

* The particular brand I use is a very tasty blend of red bell peppers and garlic which is mostly good because it contains MSG. Leave out of substitute another source of MSG if you like.


  1. Drain and rinse your beans and mash with your potato masher as best you can.
  2. Add in all of your seasonings save the broth. mash and mix thoroughly. Here is where you should taste your mixture. It should be very salty and very intense because when you add the other ingredients, the flavor will be essentially halved. Adjust as needed.
  3. Add in your broth and mash and mix more. It will be easier to get those rogue beans mashed now that they're not sticking to each other. And you can always throw this in the blender now if you're not satisfied with the consistency. And love cleaning blenders.
  4. Measure in 2 cups of vital wheat gluten. Stir/fold in as best you can, though you will likely have to switch to using your hands. Just keep working it until it is all incorporated and cleaned off the sides.
  5. The consistency will be a very soggy dough. The gluten elasticity means it will hold its shape but it is definitely squishy and wet. 
  6. Divide your dough into 4 equal balls.
  7. Prepare 12 sheets of foil (8 inches of 12"-wide foil) and 6 sheets of wax paper (12 inches of 12"-wide paper). Cut your stack of wax papers in half to make 12 sheets.
  8. Divide each ball of dough into 3 smaller balls. Each of these balls is a sausage. You can now knead each individual balls a tad more as you shape it into a log/sausage shape. If you find any whole beans, give them a pinch and work them in. No bean left behind!
  9. Each sausage length will be first rolled up into wax paper. Shape it and stretch it out. It doesn't have to be perfectly even, but you do want it to be wrapped snug. The dough is going to swell and fill out the space while cooking, so wrapping it snugly will make it rise and become dense and meat-like rather than just big and porous. Fold these wax paper ends in. Note: Be sure that your sausages are not too long if you will need to stand them upright in your crockpot like I have to do mine. Soon I will invest in a larger crockpot!
  10. Now wrap the sausage up in the foil. Twist and fold in the ends. 
  11. Place all your sausages in your crockpot and fill with water up to 1 inch above the top. Cook on high for the first 4 hours.
  12. At four hours, turn your crockpot to low and cook another 4 hours. If your sausages are sticking out of the water as mine are, you will want to remove all of the sausages at the 4 hour mark and place them back into the crockpot the other end down. If you don't do this, the sausages will be cooked but that one end sticking out of the water will be strangely smaller than the rest of the sausage.
  13. Alternatively, if you've not needed to flip your sausages, you can cook for another 2 hours on high rather than the 4 on low. I would definitely cook the full time to avoid alien baby ends.
  14. When done, remove from the crockpot and allow to cool to room temperature before refrigerating. Refrigerate as is in the wrappers for up to a week. I have not tried freezing the cooked sausages, but have had success with putting frozen uncooked sausages directly into the crockpot. 
  15. You can cook your sausages again from here by frying or grilling or even air-frying or however you like to heat through or add more seasoning. They work well in a casserole. For chili or soups, I've always added them in near the end, so not sure how they'd stand up to long-time simmering. I think the texture would hold up though the flavor may weaken. I will also eat them cold in a bun with a little mustard when I'm too busy to think very hard about lunch.

You can simmer these on the stove for about 90 minutes and have a pretty good result. You will want to keep the pot covered and the water level and temperature consistent of the results might not be that great. To be honest, I have always been a little disappointed with the ones I cooked stovetop and that is why I tried them in the crockpot, but you should definitely try and compare if you are curious! 

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