I have loved these delectable pancakes since the first time I tasted them in an eclectic Japanese-Chinese fusion restaurant in Los Angeles about 25 years ago. Since then, I look for them on the menu every time I eat at a Chinese restaurant. Scallion pancakes can be a bit flighty, kind of like molé in a Mexican restaurant. Just because they should be on the menu doesn’t mean you’ll always find them. So, what do you do when you want these beauties on demand and can’t always find them? You make them at home. I’ve been making these for several years (I should have started making them 20 years ago!). I quickly learned there’s more finesse to the preparation than just making a dough and rolling it out.
The simple hot-water dough (flour, hot water, and a little salt) has to rest for a short time, unlike a cool /cold water dough (think pizza dough). A cold water dough is stretchy and springy, but the the gluten needs a long time to relax once it’s kneaded. With this hot water dough, the rolling process is much easier after a very short resting period. The final product is much more tender and delicate than a pizza-type dough.
The dough is then cut and rolled, and the layers are brushed with a little sesame oil, rolled up like a jellyroll, twisted into a spiral, then rolled out again. The next step is another brushing of sesame oil and a sprinkling of green onions (scallions) and a touch of coarse salt. Then comes the third and final spiral twist and rolling. All of these steps are crucial for the final product, so don’t try to save time by just rolling them once. The difference in texture will be evident. Finally, the pancakes are cooked in a small amount of oil and served with a delicious dipping sauce (recipe below).
Of interesting note: not all scallion pancake recipes use sesame oil. I like to use it because layering the dough with the oil then rolling it out several times gives it the laminated effect (think flaky layers in puff pastry or filo). The pancakes wouldn’t be nearly as flaky without the addition of the fat in the oil. I also happen to love the infusion of flavor it imparts, so I use it. Just remember: a little goes a long way. Also, I’ve seen some people sprinkle Chinese five-spice powder in the layers, but I like to keep it simply flavored with some coarse salt, along with the sesame oil and scallions. Besides, you’ll get a big shot of umami when you dip the final product in the flavorful sauce.
A quick note about the dipping sauce: the traditional vinegar to use is something called Chinkiang vinegar, which originated in Jiangsu Province in the city of Zhenjiang. It is a rice-based product, but it is black rice that is used to make this vinegar, which is akin to a Balsamic vinegar in that it is aged for a very long time – sometimes for generations – in wooden casks. It has a very complex flavor, and it adds amazing flavor to your dishes. I didn’t have any on hand at the time I made this sauce, so I just used rice vinegar. But I’m going to buy some Chinkiang vinegar soon. You can buy some here.
Also, if you don’t have a porcelain ginger grater, you can get one here. It is the easiest way to get the most flavor out of fresh ginger without biting into big chunks of the potent root.
Scallion pancakes are good any time of the day. I could eat these for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a late-night snack. The great thing about this recipe is that it uses things that most home cooks will already have on hand. I don’t make these as often as I used to. I have absolutely no willpower when good scallion pancakes are put in front of me, and it’s much harder to work these off than in previous years!
I’m envisioning you all making these on a weekend evening with a great stir-fry (I’ll post a recipe soon!) and a glass of something delicious to drink! Make these soon and let me know how they turned out! Remember, you can always comment below or send me a message with any questions. Happy cooking!