Irish seitan stew and colcannon
When I first moved to Brighton, England I would often tell people I met that I was 25% Irish and 25% Scottish.
I was trying to let them know that we had something in common and that I wasn’t as alien as I might seem. Few people were impressed or had much to say about this at all. Then one day at my local pub, and old man said to me, “Son, it’s pretty clear to me that you are 110% American. You might want to try saying ‘my ancestors came from Ireland and Scotland’ instead.” As he took a sip of his pint, I thanked him, and said I needed to use the bathroom, which brought a raucous roar of “Why? Are you going to take a bath?! Har har har!” from a couple of merry, eavesdropping patrons sitting nearby.
A lot of Irish food is plain, simple and honest food. There’s nothing overly fancy about a hardy stew, but it sticks to your ribs and warms you from the inside. The whole reason for making stew came from the need to turn tougher, cheaper cuts of beef into tender, moist chunks, through slow cooking in some kind of liquid. That’s not necessary with seitan, but it does have a way of fusing together all the wonderful flavors and components.
Oh, I suppose I’d better introduce seitan. Who? No, no, not who, what. Even folks that have heard of it or know what it is, have only seen it written, and never actually heard anyone say the word. It’s tricky, because if you’re not careful, people will think you’re speaking about devil the himself. You might feel uncertain when asking about it, and saying something like “Do you have satan here?” or “I’m looking for satan.” is not going to make things any better.
Satan, is pronounced /ˈseɪt-ən/ while this amazing, meat-like substance, seitan, is pronunced /seɪ-tan/. Hmm, so you’re not big on phonetics, huh? Ok, well think of how most Americans would say greaten or straighten. Got it? That’s NOT how you want to say seitan. Look at the two phonetic pronunciations again and find the little “-“. That separates the syllables. When you say seitan, you split the syllables into “sei” and “tan”, and actually pronounce the /t/, so you get Say-Tan. You with me now? Great!
Seitan is made of textured wheat protein, or gluten, and it has a chewy consistency very much like meat, so it works perfectly in a stew. I know, I know, some people are already screaming “Gluten?!?!” Yes, ok, it is 100% gluten, but here’s a little info for you. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation themselves, only 1% of the population has celiac disease. They themselves say “Some people need to ditch gluten, others just want to. But for most people, it’s not necessary.” I’m no doctor, and many people claim that a whole lot of people have the disease but have not been diagnosed, but for me, the bottom line is: if you aren’t gluten-allergic, you don’t need to avoid gluten. Also, this isn’t something that I eat every day, this is a special treat. And we all need to treat ourselves to something as yummy as this once in a while!
There’s another secret ingredient in this stew – beer! That’s right, a dark, robust porter with a malty flavor and hints of chocolate, dried fruit , bitter orange, maple syrup and dark bread. Mmm, is your mouth-watering yet? I know you’re thinking that Guinness sounds like the ideal choice for this stew, but unfortunately, Guinness isn’t vegan-friendly, yet! Hopefully by the end of the year they’ll stop using fish bladder to clear their beers with, but for now, we need to go with something else, which is preferably a little less bitter as well.
So how about that other tricky word, “colcannon” – what the heck is that? Colcannon is just a fancy word, for a much less fancy variety of mashed potatoes – mashed potatoes and cabbage that is! Colcannon is a traditional Irish potato dish that contains either cabbage or kale, sometimes bacon and some kind of onion. My version has a little bit of everything in it, and once again I use my go-to secret ingredient of smoked tofu marinated in tamari and liquid smoke.
St. Patrick’s Day is one week away, and if you want to join in the celebration, invite some vegan friends over for dinner, or just pretend that you’re 25% Irish for a day, I can’t think of anything better to eat than Irish seitan stew and colcannon! Sláinte!
- 1½ pounds (ca 700 kg) - seitan, cubed
- 3 Tbsp (45 ml) - olive oil
- ¾ cup (1.8 dl) - flour
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 1 cup (2.4 dl) - frozen peas
- 1 large or 2 smaller onions, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 8 fl oz (ca 25 cl) - dark, vegan-friendly beer, porter or stout, but not too bitter. I used Sierra Nevada Porter.*
- ca ¼-½ cup water, if needed to adjust amount of liquid
- 1½ Tbsp (22.5 ml) - vegan Worcestershire sauce (normal contains anchovies)
- 1 Tbsp agave syrup (Due to the bitterness of the beer, you’ll want to add some kind of sweetness. Alter this amount based on the bitterness of your chosen beer. I actually used a caramel flavored agave which really added a nice, “beefy” flavor!)
- 2 tsp (10 ml) - vegetable stock
- 1 tsp (5 ml) - dried thyme
- ½ tsp (2.5 ml) - paprika
- 2 bay leaves
- a pinch of ground cloves Colcannon
- 4 oz (100 g) - smoked tofu, chopped into fairly small pieces
- 2 tsp (10 ml) - liquid smoke
- 1 Tbsp (15 ml) - tamari/soy sauce
- 1½ pounds (ca 700 kg) – potatoes, peel and chopped
- ⅔ cup / 8 oz (ca 225 g) - shredded cabbage
- ⅓ cup (1.2 dl) - plant milk, warmed
- 2 Tbsp (30 ml) - vegan margarine
- 2-4 scallions - chopped
- 2 Tbsp (30 ml) - fresh parsley, chopped
- a pinch of grated nutmeg
- The first thing you should do is to marinade the chopped smoked tofu in the tamari/soy and liquid smoke. The longer you do this beforehand, the more flavor it will have. Stew
- Pour a splash of olive oil into a kitchen freezer bag, add the cut seitan pieces and shake. Add the flour, salt and pepper, and shake again to coat all the pieces.
- Heat some olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat and brown the seitan so they get some color on all sides.**
- Reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in carrots, peas, onion, garlic, dark beer, Worcestershire sauce, your sweetener of choice, vegetable stock, thyme, paprika, bay leaves and cloves. Cover and let simmer until the carrots are tender, about 30 – 45 minutes. Stir and check the amount of liquid, adding a little water if the stew thickens too much. Colcannon
- Boil the potatoes until tender – roughly 20 minutes
- Remove the smoked tofu from the marinade and fry until it gets some color and is crispy. Scoop the tofu out of the pan, set aside, and wipe pan clean.
- Shred or slice the cabbage thinly (I used a mandolin) and sauté it in vegan margarine or oil, just until it softens a bit. (By now everything else should be just about ready.)
- Drain the potatoes, add the warm milk and vegan margarine to the pot and mash. Stir in the cabbage, crispy tofu bits, scallions and parsley.
- Serve by placing the colcannon mash on a plate or a bowl with a slight indentation in the middle. Using a ladle, pour a helping of stew onto the mash.
*Guinness (and many Irish/UK beers in general) is not vegan friendly, and is also very bitter. Try using another stout and porter, and pairing the meal with the same beer as well.
**Because seitan does not need to be cooked as long as typical stew meat, you can, if desired, remove the seitan from the pot and add it back in again after the other stew ingredients have simmered for about 20 minutes.