Monday, November 9, 2009

Horizons' Seitan

Horizons in Philly is probably the best vegan restaurant on the east coast. Granted, there's not a whole lot of competition... but still, if you're a vegan and live within a day's drive, you owe it to yourself to make a pilgrimage... and even if you're not a vegan, and live nearby, you should check out what talented chefs can do with soybeans and wheat gluten. I guess they were the first vegan chefs at the James Beard House a couple of weeks ago, so they must be doing something right. Anna has always raved about the place... and being that her sister and mother are both vegans and live in Philly/Southern New Jersey, it's been her family's goto spot for fine dining for quite some time... but Saturday was my first trip there. We had a range of appetizers that we all shared, but the entrée choices were much more monotonous, as the experienced diners gravitated towards the grilled seitan.

Horizons' seitan is unlike any seitan you've ever had. Seriously. I've never been a huge fan of seitan... though I like it more than tempeh (whose flavor I find kind of odd)... but Horizons' seitan was exceptional. Store bought seitan (pictured above) seems to tend towards a rubbery texture, but Horizons' effort was quite soft but with a nice chew... I won't say it's "meat-like", but it really is quite nice and satisfying. While I've never really understood vegans' and vegetarians' obsession with fake meat products, I think nearly any naysayer would be favorably impressed with what Horizons' serves.

The problem is that their seitan recipe is a secret... this despite the fact that Horizons has released TWO cookbooks. Apparently they get a custom cut of Ray's Seitan, a brand that is only available in Philly (not shipped anywhere AFAICT). Anna says that she has never been able to duplicate the texture at home... though she suspects that the chewy texture comes from over kneading, but has yet to test this hypothesis. An interesting blog post, where the author went to a cooking demo by the chef Rich Landau, suggests that Landau likes the seitan recipes from Veganomicon (best cookbook name EVAH) and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (Bittman's)... so that might be where to start. I know we at least have Veganomicon, but I don't think we have Bittman's veggie book.

While I understand why Horizons and Ray's would want to keep a firm hold on their exceptional product, it seems a shame that vegans who don't live in Philly probably don't know how awesome seitan can really be. If Anna ever figures it out, I'll be sure to post it here.