Homemade Chinese Wheat Gluten Mian Jin 自製麵筋
By Ellen L. Published: 2016-09-16
I was super duper excited to try my hand at making Chinese Wheat Gluten Mian Jin, or 麵筋, because my dearest Grandma 奶奶 used to make it for us all the time when I was growing up. Gosh darnit if by the end of the day Grandma didn't have a huge pot full of her homemade wheat gluten, soaked through and through and juicy with fragrantly aromatic soy and spice based sauce with luscious bits of slippery cloud ear, chewy lily bud and fragrant mushroom snuggled in between. (See Grandma's recipe for Red Braised Wheat Gluten Kao Fu 紅燒烤麩) And we would eat and eat and eat and there still would be more for the next day and the next. I would sneak it straight out of the fridge when Grandma wasn't looking, savoring the chilled version just as much as the hot. (I love eating at the fridge. Weird but true.)
I've had it in the back of my mind for a long long time to try making the actual wheat gluten myself just like Grandma did and finally got around to it. I'm very pleased to report that making your own Homemade Chinese Wheat Gluten Mian Jin or 自製麵筋 is actually much easier than I thought it was going to be, verra verra tasty and you can make all kinds of mouth watering Chinese 'mock' meat vegetarian dishes with it. Definitely a must have skill in your repertoire if you are wanting to go for Vegetarian Domestic Goddess!
Start with flour. You can use any kind you want, I've tried it with wheat and all purpose flour. I think that strong flour or bread flour will give you a bit more gluten but it's usually more expensive so I just went with the regular flour. Wheat flour gives a rougher texture and of course will appear a bit darker. You can also use wheat gluten flour, again more expensive, but I think it would provide the most gluten for the least effort.
Add some water to your flour and knead a bit until it comes together as a dough. It will look raggedy but that's all right. Just cover your dough with a cloth and leave it for a bit to stretch out and relax.
Once the dough relaxes a wee bit you can knead it much easier. See how smooth and pretty the dough looks now. Once the dough is all smooth like this you can just leave it for an hour or so to relax the gluten.
Now comes the fun part. Well I thought it was pretty fun. Fill your bowl with water and squish the dough between your fingers. Squish, squash, wash. Change the water. Squish, squash, wash. Change the water. Repeat. Wash out all that starch!
After a while the dough starts to change to a more bumpy springy texture, with little gummy bits floating all over the water. Keep on squish, squash, wash. Change the water. Repeat.
At the final stage the gluten, for that is what is left in your bowl, will come together into a lump. The water will no longer be milky white, just only slightly cloudy. In the picture below you can see two colors. The beige is the wheat gluten. The bits of white are the last starchy bits which I easily removed with my fingers.
Once you have your wheat gluten washed you tear it into small pieces and either boil, steam or deep fry it. I think you can also bake it but I haven't tried that personally. Steaming creates a nice fluffy rise and good aeration of the gluten. Boiling also creates rise and seems to provide more of a squeak when you chew. Boiling and steaming both will make something you can use for Kao Fu 烤麸, that wonderfully aromatic oh so yummy Shanghainese vegetarian dish. (See Grandma's Red Braised Wheat Gluten Kao Fu recipe here.) Deep frying the wheat gluten creates Oil Fried Mian Jin 油麵筋, little golden puffs which have a much airier texture and a smooth tender texture when cooked again. The top photo of this post is the Kao Fu made after we boiled the wheat gluten.
And that's it. It's that easy, oh my dear readers, to make homemade wheat gluten. Much easier than I thought it was going to be. Easier and more straightforward. A bit of time is all, to squish, squash, wash. So if you like yummilicious vegetarian food, why not give it a try? The squish takes a bit of time but the results are just wonderful. You'll have a richly textured completely vegetarian product which absorbs whatever flavor you cook it in to become juicy and tender, deliciously chewy and sometimes squeaky. You can then make all kinds of vegetarian Chinese 'mock' meat dishes from your wheat gluten mian jin which, by the by, is chock full of protein. Really, what more could you ask for?
Homemade Chinese Wheat Gluten Mian Jin Recipe 自製麵筋
(makes about 24 small pieces of wheat gluten, adapted from recipe in The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo)
3.5 cups all purpose flour, 454g
1 1/8 cup lukewarm water
Mix flour and water together in bowl. Stir and knead until a rough mass of dough comes together. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let dough rest for 10 mins. Knead 10 times and then cover and rest dough for another 10 mins. Knead dough again, it should be quite smooth and elastic this time. Now cover and let rest for 1 hour.
Place bowl in sink and fill to cover dough with room temp water. Knead and squish the dough in the water in the bowl until the water turns milky white. Dump water out and refill with fresh water. Repeat until the water no longer turns milky white but is only slightly cloudy. The mass left in your bowl, the wheat gluten, will be a tan color with a springy elastic texture and should clump together in one lump. If you want at this point to keep the washed main jin for another day, submerge in cool water and keep in the fridge, changing the water everyday.
For the next stage of making wheat gluten main jin you can either boil, steam or deep fry it. Each method produces different to slightly different results in texture.
Boiled Mian Jin, also known as Kao Fu 烤麸, and is dense but springy with lots of small holes that absorb flavor and juice. To boil, heat a pot of water. Tear and twist apart the wheat gluten mian jin into approx 24 pieces, placing each piece onto a plate without touching. Take one mian jin in your fingers, stretch it and drop immediately into the water. Boil for 5-6 mins or until floating on top of water. Remove, drain and the wheat gluten mian jin is ready for braising or stir frying.
Steamed Mian Jin 蒸麵筋, often also known as Kao Fu 烤麸, and is dense but springy with lots of small holes that absorb flavor and juice. It seems to be slightly more springy in texture than the boiled gluten. To steam, place the whole washed mian jin on a plate in the steamer and steam for 20 mins. Do not open the steamer lid but allow to cool down for 45 mins before opening the lid. Take out and slice into cubes or slices as you prefer and it's ready for braising or stir frying.
Oil Fried Mian Jin 油麵筋 is really different in texture, soft, tender and slippery while still absorbent of flavors and juices. To deep fry, tear and twist off the mian jin into approx 24 small pieces, carefully squeezing all the water out and placing each piece on to a plate without touching. Deep fry until it puffs up to a ball and turns a golden brown color. Remove to drain on paper towels and it's ready for use in braised dishes or stir fries. Note that the Oil Fried Mian Jin will deflate when cooked again.
Once you have boiled, steamed or oil fried the mian jin, you can keep in air tight container in the fridge for a few days before using.
More Hearty Homemade Treats at The Hong Kong Cookery: