Life

I Made TikTok’s Vegan ‘Chicken’ Using Flour and Water

TikTokers make it look easy but I say making fake meat from scratch is reserved for the dauntless.
March 23, 2021, 10:06am
Viral TikTok vegan chicken seitan recipe with flour and water
Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe

When you’re itching to experiment with new recipes but feeling less than confident about your culinary skills, fuss-free TikTok cooking tutorials may be your best bet. Since snowballing in popularity during the pandemic, TikTok has become an eternal fountain of innovative recipes and charismatic cooks. Remember this super wholesome TikTok grandma? What about Tabitha Brown’s snappy vegan tutorials? And of course, who could forget Dalgona coffee? Now, the latest TikTok food craze is vegan chicken made with two of the most ubiquitous kitchen ingredients: flour and water. 

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The trend appears to have started after a Feb. 20 video posted by TikTok user @futurelettuce.

The two-ingredient chicken recipe quickly shot to virality and has since amassed over 10 million views and 1.7 million likes. It also inspired many other TikTok users to try it out for themselves and add their own twist.

This seemingly simple recipe involves kneading a flour and water mixture before seasoning and frying it. The final product, meant to look and taste a lot like chicken, is actually wheat gluten called seitan, an Asian culinary staple popular among vegan cultures and communities. It’s usually used as a meat substitute and has been consumed by people in China and Japan for centuries. It remains a prominent component of Chinese cuisine today, readily found in Chinese supermarkets.

But instead of going to the store and buying myself a pack, I tried to make seitan myself. After all, if TikTok says it’s easy peasy, there’s no reason I couldn't do it … right?

Just mix flour and water, they say

The bread-making train has come and gone during quarantine but I, unfortunately, never jumped on that bandwagon. While I survived most of last year blissfully unbothered by the surging number of self-taught bread makers, I came face to face with my crippling dough-kneading incompetence in the first step of this vegan chicken recipe. How much water and flour does it take to make a smooth dough? Why is this so gooey? How much longer should I knead?

I tried the viral TikTok vegan chicken seitan recipe with flour and water.

I didn’t know it then, but this was way too much water. Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe

A kneading nightmare

Turns out, I had added way too much water. What started off as the first step of this two-ingredient recipe turned out to be a full hour of unadulterated kneading on the verge of tears, wondering: “Why is it still so fucking sticky?”

I tried the viral TikTok vegan chicken seitan recipe with flour and water.

Thus begins an hour of wrestling with this icky mess. Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe

At one point, I doubted, through the soreness of my goo-covered fingers, if I would ever feel my left hand again. But I pressed on, quite literally, kneading like a headless chicken while consistently adding more flour before dough finally started to take shape.

Let the sleeping dough lie

I tried the viral TikTok vegan chicken seitan recipe with flour and water.

When the mixture feels smooth and doughy, cover the bowl with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and let it sit for an hour. Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe

So I emerged, left hand mostly unscathed — save for terribly sore knuckles — with a neat blob of dough. While the dough rested for an hour covered by plastic wrap, I took the time to recover from the trauma of being elbow-deep in floury gloop. 

More kneading underwater

I tried the viral TikTok vegan chicken seitan recipe with flour and water.

Submerge the dough in cold water and start kneading. The water will immediately turn cloudy, but not to worry — keep kneading, replacing the water a few times until it’s clear-ish. Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe

Then another round of kneading. Thankfully, when the dough no longer clumped with a vengeance, the process was much easier. All it took was a few rounds of “washing” the dough — replacing the water until it’s no longer murky — to achieve the shredded-looking texture that resembles chicken meat. 

It’s seasoning time

I tried the viral TikTok vegan chicken seitan recipe with flour and water.

Season the “chicken” however you like; this is where you can get creative. Then let it sit for another hour. Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe

A quick browse on TikTok shows just how versatile this recipe can get with seasoning. Some go for the basic poultry seasoning, while others venture into KFC territory with bread crumbs. I’d argue that the type of seasoning one uses has the power to make or break this delicate recipe, since without seasoning, it’s quite literally just flour and water. Here’s where you can run absolutely wild, experimenting with different spices for different palates.

I took the liberty of putting my own spin, marinating it in a packet of gochujang sauce taken from a Korean instant noodle packet. It stained both the chicken and my hand murderously red, but it also smelled dangerously delicious. 

Out of the sauces and into the frying pan

I tried the viral TikTok vegan chicken seitan recipe with flour and water.

Twist the dough into a knot and fry in a pan. Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe

This is where the dough starts to look more like food. That golden brown crispiness really boosted my confidence, and I was excited to finally taste the two-ingredient chicken I had made from scratch. But there was one more step left in the journey.

Simmering it all down

I tried the viral TikTok vegan chicken seitan recipe with flour and water.

The TikTok recipe has the dough fritter simmering for 45 minutes, but I found that “chicken” pieces were already stuck to the pan after only 10. Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe

The final step to realizing the seitan dream was also where I encountered my second meltdown of the day. Between frantically pouring a bowl of stock into the sizzling pan and noticing that my crispy “chicken” pieces suddenly looked like a soggy pile of socks, I realized that I might have just ruined my seitan for good. And although the TikTok recipe indicated 45 minutes of simmering, I found my dough crisps glued to a brown base of dried-up stock after only 10 minutes. This surprise was just too much for my delicate culinary confidence to bear. I found myself cursing the damn TikTok recipe for its deceptive simplicity while scraping the “chicken” pieces that had basically melded with the pan.

The final product

OK, but this would all be worth it if my “chicken” tasted good, right? Well, despite having been mutilated by my impatient scraping, the seitan at least looked crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

I tried the viral TikTok vegan chicken seitan recipe with flour and water.

My seitan in its cursed final form. Collage: Photo: Koh Ewe

A nibble of the puffy chicken-wannabe found me holding back tears. Not out of joy, but sheer exasperation that I have just wasted half a bag of flour and half a day in the kitchen concocting the most disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten. My tastebuds were swirling in grease, residual flour, and spicy sauce — a combination of all the bad parts of sinful junk food. It tasted so horrid, I couldn’t even bring myself to swallow it.

Of course, it’s not seitan’s fault. After all, people have been eating this for centuries, in delicious stir-fries and vegan versions of classic recipes. Plenty of other TikTokers have also found success in their homemade “chicken.” My little experiment went completely south, but it’s still somewhat comforting to know that others have had better luck with this recipe. And, who knows, you might too — if you’re brave enough to make your own meatless chicken from scratch, and have three to four hours to spare.

I guess I just had to learn the hard way that, as neat and seamless as TikTok cooking tutorials are, they’re not as simple or quick as they seem. Maybe I didn’t let it simmer at the right temperature, or my dough just wasn’t dry enough, resulting in this hilarious flop. Should I have used dry seasoning instead? I need answers and am ready to be corrected. But for now, I think “store-bought is fine.”