Scallion pancakes

If you have a professional life in food, it will happen to you, too. Along the way you’ll learn/create/take ownership of a recipe that never lets you down, sells like crazy (or just brings ‘em running as soon as it’s detected), and becomes something people associate with you.

 

After graduating from culinary school, the first job I took was at Lydia Shire’s restaurant Biba, situated on the Boston Common. My first position was on the bar food station, cranking out everything from a la carte Porgie pies to chicken wings to really, really good chowder made with Finnan Haddie, to pork and duck rillette to scallion pancakes with dipping sauce.

 

Scallion pancakes are fun to make, fun to cook, and damn near irresistible. They’re crispy, chewy, salty, aromatic, and sooooo satisfying. They also just happen to be vegan, but in the best possible way: meaning you don’t notice, because you’re too busy angling to get your next piece before they’re gone.

 

I’ve made these as a component of restaurant specials (they’re particularly good with duck, either confit or seared, sliced breasts), served them to students, friends, colleagues, family (at my wedding), and to Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue, who asked me to send the recipe to their private chef.

 

At Biba, I made huge batches in an 80-quart mixer, chopping up half a gallon of scallions at a time and pouring out peanut oil by the quart. I learned to do so by feel, not measuring anything. I’d shovel the flour into the mixer’s bowl with a giant scoop, then pour in warm water until the dough felt right. A quart or two of peanut oil on top of the dough kept it from drying out as I filled and shaped 100 at a time. I loved the “mud pie” factor – it was a messy job, but frankly my cuticles have never looked better ;-).

 

I also liked watching the product change as the batch aged. I’d sell about 20 a night, so by the time my prep was 3 or 4 days old the pancakes had started to ferment, getting puffier as I cooked them. Nowadays my batches are smaller, and frankly if I have them in the house it’s hard to make them last more than 3 days. I’ve made them for breakfast (they go surprisingly well with bacon and eggs), lunch, and dinner (perfectly suited next to anything teriyaki).

 

Which brings me to the dipping sauce, which is just as big a hero in its own way. I have had some in my refrigerator for pretty much my entire adult life. Need a quick marinade for chicken or pork? Just pour some over whatever you’re thinking about grilling an hour before you’re ready to cook. Want to make some fantabulous fried rice? A couple of tablespoons at the end of the cooking time will set you up nicely. It’s great mixed with some hoisin for a brush-on glaze, or mixed with some duck sauce or garlic chili paste for sweeter or more spicy versions. In general I don’t know how people live without it (kind of like my dry brine).

Scallion Pancakes

Yield: about 6 pancakes, 12 servings

 

1 1/4 cups (5 1/8 ounces, 145g) scallions, washed and cut on the bias

99g peanut oil

2 tablespoons (1 ounce, 28g) kosher salt

4 cups (17 ounces, 482g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1 1/2 to 2 cups water (12 to 16 ounces, 340g to 454g) warm water

scallion pancakes oil filling.jpg

In a medium bowl, combine the scallions, peanut oil, and kosher salt; set aside

 

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For the dough: Put the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. Start the mixer at medium speed, and pour in 1 1/2 cups of the water in a steady stream. Mix until evenly moistened; it will look a bit like oatmeal at first.

 

Continue mixing for another minute; stop the mixer and touch the dough. It shouldn’t be so wet that it can coat your finger, but you should be able to pull up a bit by pinching it. It will be sticky. If the dough seems tight, add more water. Continue mixing at low speed for another 5 minutes.

scallion pancakes oil on top of dough.jpg

 

As the dough develops, it will smooth out and become very stretchy. Pour enough peanut oil over the top of the dough to completely cover it and keep the surface from drying out.

 

To make the pancakes: Have a rimmed baking sheet and some fold-over sandwich bags on hand.

 Pour some of the excess oil from the scallions on the baking sheet into a 3” puddle.

After the dough sits a bit, it should look like this. Stretchy and silky.

After the dough sits a bit, it should look like this. Stretchy and silky.

Take a handful of dough about the size of a baseball (roughly 4 ounces), and place it in the puddle. Grease your hands and spread the dough in all directions until it’s as thin as you can make it without tearing; you should almost be able to see through it.

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Scoop up 2 tablespoons of the scallions and spread them evenly over the dough.

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Working from the edge furthest from you, roll the dough up to enclose the scallions and form a log.

Hang on to one end and coil the log into a spiral, pinching the ends together. Put the pancake in the sandwich bag.

scallion pancakes coil.jpg

 

Repeat until all the dough is used. Refrigerate the pancakes until you’re ready to cook them.

 

Ok, I know this isn’t on the heat, but who can resist the window reflection????

Ok, I know this isn’t on the heat, but who can resist the window reflection????

To cook the pancakes: In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, pour enough peanut oil to coat the bottom of the pan to a depth of 1/4”. On a greased plate, spread the pancake out until it’s 3/8” thick and about 6” in diameter.

 

Once the pancake is in the pan you’ll need to tease it into a round shape before it sets.

Once the pancake is in the pan you’ll need to tease it into a round shape before it sets.

Now the tricky part: pick up the pancake with 2 hands and carefully place it into the oil. Cook for about 3 minutes, until the first side is golden brown.

Once the edges look set and dry, you can take a peek to see if the first side is browned.

Once the edges look set and dry, you can take a peek to see if the first side is browned.


Using tongs, turn the pancake and cook for another 3 minutes, until golden brown.

This one is worthy of a few more minutes on the first side for a little more color.

This one is worthy of a few more minutes on the first side for a little more color.

After draining, cut the pancake into wedges.

After draining, cut the pancake into wedges.

 

Remove the pancake from the pan and place on a cutting board lined with a couple layers of absorbent paper; turn it over to drain the second side. Repeat with the remaining pancakes. Hold the pancakes in a 250°F oven until ready to serve. Cut each pancake into 8 wedges, and serve with dipping sauce.

 

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Dipping Sauce

Yield: about 1 quart

Deftly balancing salt, sweet, aromatics and spice, this sauce is excellent as a marinade for chicken wings or skewers. Add a little hoisin sauce and it turns into a great barbecue sauce. It lasts indefinitely in the refrigerator, and is perfect for dipping scallion pancakes, of course, but also tempura vegetables or grilled shrimp.

 

2 cups (16 ounces, 454g) light soy sauce

1 cup (8 ounces, 226g) rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup (4 ounces, 113g) mirin or simple syrup

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1/2 cup (2 ounces, 56g) grated fresh ginger

1/4 cup (1 ounce, 28g) minced garlic

1 1/2 cups (2 bunches) scallions, white and green parts, sliced very thin on the bias

2 teaspoons chili garlic paste (optional)

2 tablespoons sesame seeds for garnish

 

Combine all of the ingredients except the sesame seeds and store, refrigerated, until needed. Stir before serving.

Good things to know

Look familiar? Don’t let your fresh ginger get all shriveled and moldy. Buy the fattest fresh ginger you can, peel it with a spoon, and store it in a jar covered with either dry sherry or some rice wine vinegar. It will keep indefinitely this way, and the liquid will take on great flavor to use for other sauces and marinades.

Look familiar? Don’t let your fresh ginger get all shriveled and moldy. Buy the fattest fresh ginger you can, peel it with a spoon, and store it in a jar covered with either dry sherry or some rice wine vinegar. It will keep indefinitely this way, and the liquid will take on great flavor to use for other sauces and marinades.

Scallions will tell you right away if your knife is sharp. If they have fuzzy edges, like the one on the left, it’s time to sharpen your blade. If they make a popping sound as you cut them, sharpen your blade. Dull knife, left, sharp knife, right.

Scallions will tell you right away if your knife is sharp. If they have fuzzy edges, like the one on the left, it’s time to sharpen your blade. If they make a popping sound as you cut them, sharpen your blade. Dull knife, left, sharp knife, right.