Saturday, December 1, 2007

scallion pancakes, and why the fire alarm is not my friend

I have a confession to make: I set off the fire alarm at least twice a month when cooking at Matt and Nathaniel's. Their kitchen suffers from the rather unfortunate combination of an extremely sensitive fire alarm and a highly ineffective exhaust fan. On the one hand, we can be certain that they'll be safe if a real fire should ever occur, but on the other, dinner often comes with a side of ear-splitting, high-pitched beeping.

Still, the risk doesn't stop me from frying things over high heat. It's almost a given that if I crash on their futon on a Friday or Saturday night, there will be something fried for breakfast the next morning. Today it was scallion pancakes.

I made scallion pancakes last night to accompany yakisoba (which merits an entry of its own), and I had enough scallions left over that it only made sense to use them up by making another batch this morning.

The scallion pancakes I'm referring to are not the dainty, anemic little pancakes served with dipping sauce in American Chinese restaurants.* Scallion pancakes (cong you bing) are a subspecies of a larger class of pancakes (bing) found in Northern Chinese and Beijing cuisine.

A scallion pancake without the scallions is a lao bing. A pancake with filling is a xiar bing. "Pancake" is really a misnomer, because they're made from dough, not batter. "Flatbread" is a more accurate description. Still, whatever you call them, they're solid and hearty, and make for quite a satisfying breakfast.

Scallion Pancakes
(cong you bing)

Depending on your dietary preferences, you can make these with vegetable oil, butter, or lard. They can be eaten plain, or served up alongside fried eggs.

(Serves one hungry person. Makes two large pancakes.)

Grab a big mixing bowl. Dump in two cups of flour and a pinch of salt. Make a well in the center, and pour in one cup of hot water. (Not cold. This is important.) Stir with chopsticks until you have a soft dough. Add a little more water if the dough seems dry. Let it rest for half an hour.

Wash and dry a bunch of scallions, and chop them finely. (Use the leftovers for soup, or maybe yakisoba.) Divide your dough into two lumps. Cover one with a damp cloth. Take the other, and roll it out very thinly on a lightly floured surface. Brush the dough lightly with the oil of your choice. Take a bunch of scallions, and scatter them over the dough.

Roll the dough up into a tube, jelly roll-style. Take the tube and shape it into a coil. Squish the coil into a disk. Cover this disk in plastic wrap, and repeat the process with the other lump of dough.

When you're ready to fry the pancakes, roll out the disks to a 1/8th-inch (4mm) thickness. Heat oil in a skillet or a heavy-bottomed pan over high heat, and drop the pancake in. Fry on one side until crisp with golden brown spots, then flip it over and do the same to the other. Remove from heat; sprinkle with salt and cut into wedges. These are best eaten standing next to the stove - that's where you'll want to be when the fire alarm goes off, anyway.

*American Chinese restaurant, n. The province of crab rangoons, chop suey, and General Tso's chicken. Not to be confused or compared with "Chinese restaurant in America."


Ann said...


Exhaust vent? Who has an exhaust vent? I just open the window and hope for the best. And I have been known to deactivate the alarm now and again. :-)

Ann at Redacted Recipes

(blogger has disallowed the "other" option in commenting, so please forgive the self-link)

Hilary said...

When I lived in Mystic, our fire alarm also went off frequently, but it had a nifty was portable. Every time we fried things, we kept one of my housemates on standby to take the smoke detector down and bring it from the smoky house to the smoke-free outside. I was dismayed to discover that most fire alarms do not come with this feature.