Chinese Scallion Pancakes
Scallion Pancakes are a regular offering in Dim Sum restaurants. In Chinese they are called 蔥油餅 (Pinyin: cōng yóu bing), which translates as ‘Scallion Oil Cake’. I often order them when I am dining out, but I also make them at home quite frequently.
The typical scallion cake is basically a simple hot water dough incorporating sliced green onions that is then rolled in layers with some sort of oil or fat to achieve a characteristic flakiness. Beyond that, the essential recipe really only varies by the thickness of the finished cake and the amount of fat used in the final cooking. Some are a centimeter or so in thickness and really quite oily, but I prefer mine rolled fairly thin and pan fried with just a little fat…
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (plus a little extra for rolling)
- 1 pinch Salt
- ½ cup boiling water (more or less)
- 1 Scallion sliced in very thin rings
- Sesame Oil
Put the flour and salt into your food processor and blend on high, adding the boiling water a little at a time. At first, the flour will take on a granular appearance and then, all of a sudden, it will form a tight ball that spins around in the processor bowl along with the blades. The very instant this happens, stop adding water.
Knead the dough vigorously for 3 or 4 minutes to develop elasticity, adding flour as necessary until there is no stickiness and you have a smooth, dry-surfaced ball. Set the ball aside to rest for at least 30 minutes.
Next, divide the dough into two equal balls and roll out the first of these into a rough circle about 8 to 10 inches across. Sprinkle the rolling surface and the dough with additional flour as necessary to prevent sticking.
Drizzle about a tablespoon or so of oil on the pancake you have created, spread it out with a pastry brush to cover the whole surface, and then scatter half of the scallion rings evenly over all.
Now, starting at one side of the disc, roll the dough, cigar fashion, into a long ‘snake’.
Twist the elongated ‘snake’ from one end into a spiral disc and tuck the end underneath.
Sprinkling more flour as necessary, roll the spiral out into a flat cake. Set it aside and repeat the entire process with the second ball of dough. At this point, you can either proceed to cooking the pancakes right away or else lightly oil them and stack them between sheets of foil or wax paper for later use.
When you are ready to cook, heat a pan over a medium flame and add your cooking fat. You can use vegetable oil if you wish, but I prefer to use rendered pork belly fat as this adds an additional depth of flavor. Fry the pancakes in turn, flipping them as necessary, until they are cooked through and nicely golden on each side. If desired, you can also just partly cook the cakes and save then in the fridge for a final cooking later. Otherwise, cut into wedges (or leave whole) and serve immediately while still nice and hot.
To be honest, it is pretty hard to mess these up and, once you have done it once or twice, you can probably just about make pancakes in your sleep. The process of making the ‘snake’ and the spiral can be repeated several times if you like (oiling the rolled out cake each time) and the more times you do it, the more layers will be created and the flakier the cake will be. Personally, I find that a single time does an acceptable job.
If you are preparing the pancakes as an appetizer or dim sum dish, then you may want to serve a dipping sauce alongside as in the first picture. For this experiment, I just mixed a little soy sauce with some vinegar and a little minced chili but you can play around with whatever additions suit your fancy. Normally, though, I make these pancakes as a starch accompaniment for other dishes and don’t generally bother with a sauce.
In a future post, I will be using the same dough ingredients to prepare an interesting and delicious variation on the basic theme …