Scallion Pancake Week (May 1-5, 2006)
The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking (Barbara Tropp)
China Moon Cookbook (Barbara Tropp)
China Express (Nina Simonds) I first had Scallion Pancakes in the late 1970s at an otherwise undistinguished strip-mall Chinese restaurant in San Jose, in the days when you ate Chinese and went for ice cream — yet another of the sound culinary traditions that has been tromped by our troublesome obsession with cholesterol. My Mother – not a fan of frivolous food – was quite fond of them.
Fast forward to 2006, and time to revisit Scallion Pancakes in a most interesting week in May:
Monday: As written, Tropp’s China Moon pancakes are inedible. She describes them as a “gussied up” version of the scallion pancakes in her first exemplary cookbook, The Modern Art of Chinese Cookery. Not in my kitchen – they were tough and poisonously salty.
Wednesday: Simonds’ China Express pancakes are delicious, but far too complicated to be a “fun” food for entertaining. She does, however, use cake flour, which makes an incredibly tender pancake.
Thursday: Go to the source. Although it requires making a cold and a hot dough, the Tropp’s Modern Art pancakes are simple (five steps, puffy, tender and delicious. She gives helpful instructions for freezing so that they can be a handy appetizer.
FOR 2 seven-inch pancakes:
Food processor, silicon mat (optional but excellent) or parchment, rolling pin
Cold water dough 1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup cold water
Boiling water dough 1 cup all purpose flour (or ½ cup all purpose and ½ cup cake flour)
1/2 tsp kosher salt (or 2 tsp table salt)
1/3 cup boiling water
For the dough bowl & filling 1 T plus 2-3 tsp sesame oil or hot chili oil*
2-3 whole scallions, sliced into very thin rings
1. Make the dough: Cold dough: Put the flour and the baking powder into the food processor. Slowly add the water and process just until the dough forms a ball. Remove it from the bowl and reserve. Hot dough: Put the flour and salt into the food processor. Slowly add the boiling water and process just until it forms a ball. Add the cold dough to the hot dough in the work bowl and process for 15 seconds.
2. Form the ball: Remove the ball and knead until smooth on a silicone mat for about 2 minutes. If it starts to stick, add some flour. Coat the inside of a small bowl with a tablespoon of sesame oil. Roll the dough in the oil and cover the bowl with a towel for 30-45 minutes.
3. Make the pancakes: Turn the dough out onto the mat. Knead until smooth (1-2 minutes), adding flour if it gets sticky. Cut the dough in half, leaving one piece in the oiled bowl. Roll the dough to about a 1/8-inch thickness and don’t worry if it isn’t perfectly round. Brush lightly with sesame or chili oil and sprinkle the scallions all over. The scallions should look like a moderate case of zitz, not like a wall-to-wall carpet.
4. Roll and coil: Roll the dough up like a cigar (not too tightly), and then coil into a spiral. Press the ends together. Flatten the spiral with your hands or a rolling pin to about 7” in diameter. Cook immediately or cover with a towel for about half an hour for a more tender pancake.
5. Cook (fry and steam) the pancake: Heat a heavy skillet on high. Add a small amount of oil (to about 1/8”) and heat until a scallion ring sizzles. Add the pancake, reduce the heat and cover for 2-5 minutes. Watch it carefully so that it doesn’t scorch. Flip it, reduce the heat and cook for 3-5 minutes more, checking every 30 seconds to keep it from burning. Serve immediately.
Freezing option: Freeze flat, uncovered at the end of Step 4. When completely frozen, wrap tightly. Partially defrost in the refrigerator and cook as in #5, but on slightly lower heat.
* In China Moon (page 10), Tropp has an excellent recipe for Chili Oil with chili flakes, dried black beans, fresh ginger and garlic, which, if used in Step 5, makes a very zingy pancake.