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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Scallion Pancakes!

I really enjoyed living in San Francisco (albeit not as much as Ann Arbor, but that's a tale for a different blog), however, there was one aspect of life there that irked me day after day to the point of extreme agitation - I could not find any good scallion pancakes!

Attempts 2 and 3
For those of you who know what I'm talking about, I don't need to explain. For everyone else, suffice it to say that scallion pancakes are one of the most delicious dishes you can possibly eat, (when prepared properly).

Anyway, this week I decided to tackle the puzzle of learning to make them myself.

I found an article where the author talked about his experience attempting to make them on his own, trying out some recipes, then finally finding the real recipe while watching a cooking show, during which his mind was 'constantly being blown.' This sounded very promising.

After trying the recipe with unsatisfying results, I began experimenting. After about 8 iterations, I have landed on a passable recipe (read: delicious, although not necessarily the best I've ever had) for REAL scallion pancakes. (real to me is the flaky thin pancakes that are sometimes dough-y but super crispy on the outside with a lighter, sometimes spicy, but never normal tasting, soy sauce).

Here's what you need:

For the pancakes:
2+ cups regular flour
Boiling water
1+ cup vegetable oil (I used canola, but I plan to experiment with other types, perhaps palm)
1 bunch of scallions
2 eggs
Salt (do NOT overlook this last ingredient)
~30-40 minutes, although I believe the longer you let the dough sit the better, up to 24 hours (in the fridge)

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinkiang or rice wine vinegar (super important to use vinegar for this sauce)
1 tablespoon chopped scallions (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon duck sauce (optional)
1 teaspoon chili oil (optional)

The type of leavening used for scallion pancakes is not yeast or baking soda based, but rather achieved through lamination. What this means is to create the many flaky layers of the pancake, you basically create many layers of dough separated by oil.

Instructions:
-Boil ~2 cups of water
-Mix up your sauce ingredients to taste while you wait
-Pour the flour into a mixing bowl, then drizzle 3/4 cups boiling water into the bowl while stirring/food processing, until you get a very sticky, doughy texture. If there's too much flour, that's OK too
-Add the two raw eggs and mix well. Add/sprinkle flour as needed until you get a doughy, slightly sticky texture
-Work into a ball and let sit for a few minutes. If you can wait 30+ minutes, you will get better results. (Cover with a damp towel).
-Cut the ball into 4 equal segments. Each one will make a full pancake.
-Take a segment and roll it out into a ~8" in diameter circle. I use a floured surface to prevent the dough from sticking too much. The dough should be pretty dry at this point and very workable.
-Brush on a layer of oil (not a lot, just coat it), then sprinkle on salt and some chopped scallions
-Roll up like a fruit-roll-up // jelly roll, pretty tightly
-Now you're going to make a ball/circle of dough by coiling this snake around itself. Kind of like how a dog chases its tail. Take one end of the roll and have it be the center, then wrap the rest of the roll around itself, see photos.
-Roll this flat again into ~8" diameter pancake. Repeat the lamination with salt, oil, and scallions.
-Repeat the rolling & coiling, then flatten into a slightly smaller pancake. The wider it is, the thinner the end result. The thinner it is, the more dense your resulting pancake will be.
-Coat the bottom of a ~8" frying pan in oil, so that it is about 1/2 to 1 centimeter deep, and set it to medium-high heat (closer to medium)
-Slip the pancake in, and watch the edges until you see some golden-brown (about 2 minutes). You can peek at the bottom.
-Flip when you see the color you like, and let cook until the new side is golden-brown (about 1 minute this time).
-If you want an even texture, you can press down on the pancake or move it around in the pan. I prefer it the way you get it in restaurants- unevenly cooked.
-Remove from pan and eat!