Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, where…man, it has been a lot more Catastrophic than normal on my end of things. But after we touch on that, we’re going to be wrapping up Asian August with one last dish. And while it’s arguably a geographic repeat, I’m personally counting it as something else, which is another point we’ll have to talk about. Luckily, today’s dish is pretty simple, though it may FEEL intimidatingly complicated. So let’s talk about Scallion Pancakes. To jump the full discussion and get straight to the recipe, click HERE. For everyone else, let’s dig in.
Pained, Puking and Panicked: A Personal Pancake
In case you missed our delayed announcement, and/or the small novel I wrote on Facebook, a quick explanation for the delay of today’s post. As I believe I mentioned in the last post or two, I’m currently in Leavenworth, covering for a few weeks as site otaku Joe Seguin took a vacation from his job of running a comic book shop to return to his spiritual, if in-no-way-physical, homeland of Japan. Then, I was also attending a reunion of old college buddies this last weekend in Yakima. So it was already a tight window: I was going to be traveling WHILE traveling, and still get the post out on time.
As you can tell, I was WRACKED with concern.
A joke that gets BITTERLY Ironic after the next paragraph.
THEN, on Friday morning, I woke up with a kidney stone. A brief attempt to power through without medical assistance was quickly overpowered by pain and basic survival instinct, and a mid-morning trip to the ER (there’s no urgent care in Leavenworth) got me some meds to keep me sorted out while it passed. To me, that meant I couldn’t drink on my reunion trip, but I COULD still attend: I’d just be sitting on a couch laughing with friends and feeling a little nauseous from the meds rather than sitting home alone and laughing at YouTube while feeling a little nauseous. And that was true for MOST of the weekend, but there were a couple moments that turned out a little more stressful than anticipated: somehow, Saturday’s dinner (tacos) interacted with my meds in a way that cause me a LOT of pain, and ended up prompting me to make another ER visit (and…un-ingesting the tacos on the way); THEN, a relatively calm float down a local river turned terrifying when I jumped out of the tube at the end to discover I was in a much stronger current than I had thought, and couldn’t swim to shore, due to, you know, being on prescription pain-killers. A revelation I handled in ALMOST the worst ways possible, by trying to swim directly against the current, crying out, and generally leaning INTO the panic. Which, given my YEARS of swimming training, scuba diving, and my position as an EAGLE SCOUT, I was well aware were all stupid moves as I made them. Luckily, my friends were on-hand and able to help my panicking ass out enough for a jet-skier to come over and tow me to shore out of pity.
PItied. By a jet-ski user! I was pathetic. The lowest of the low.
(jokes aside, thank you so much random woman, I’m sorry I didn’t thank you much in the moment, I was still jacked up on panic.)
All of which left me absolutely BUSHED when I got back on Sunday, and then I spent Monday morning in pretty heavy mix of tired and nauseous, and spent Tuesday on the road, which is why this is coming to you Wednesday this week: I wasn’t human enough to START writing this until like, 9 PM Monday (editor’s note: The fact that this is NOT Wednesday may also serve as an example of the above. I was out of commission for most of Wednesday too)
My humanity restored, and my pain punched down by pills, let’s push on to the actual dish, and what I’m using it for today: to discuss just SOME of the complicated history of Taiwan and China.
No Man is an Island
Taiwan, in case you’re unaware, is an island between the East and South China Seas. And that’s maybe the only fact about it we can say without pissing SOMEONE off. Taiwan the ‘country’ refers to a somewhat amazing historical oddity. Technically speaking, there has been a Civil War going on in China for almost 100 years now. It’s just been quite a few years since it was legally a “war”.
“Fun” fact: if you search legal war on my go-to image site, the first like, 200 results are ALL of the Palestine Israel conflict. Which is its own can of worms.
If I start at the beginning, as an Austrian nun once suggested: the last dynasty of China was overthrown in the early 1900’s, and the people involved basically tried to start a new monarchy that did not pan out. The resulting chaotic government was then influenced by the newly created Soviet Union: one group, the Kuomintang (KMT) or “Nationalist Party of China” received Soviet training, funds, and weapons to push their claim for legitimacy. As did the Communist Party of China (CPC). The two factions overtook everyone else, established the “Republic of China” together…and then, somewhat predictably, turned on each other. The resulting war lasted for several decades, to the point where it was INTERRUPTED by World War 2: the two sides were literally bullied into putting aside their war to fight Japan by other countries.
Then the moment the war ended (basically) they went back to fighting. And it didn’t go so great for the KMT. The decades had built popular support for the CPC, and with more numbers and more direct support from the Soviets during the war, the CPC ended up driving the KMT out of mainland China entirely, and onto the island of Taiwan…At which point the Korean War kicked off, and the US and UK showed up and said “Hey, how about you cut that shit out until we’ve got these guys handled?” And if that sounds like it was something of a lucky break for the KMT, I applaud your innocence. This was 1950. The Nazis were dead, and now the world was about Capitalism versus Communism. The Korean War was an actively ongoing proxy war between the US and the Soviet Union and China. So the US and UK DEFINITELY intervened in order to buy the KMT some more time/weaken the CPC.
Why hello, China. What a lovely day to sail the sea, isn’t it? Hey, remember 5 years ago when we erased 2 Japanese cities from the earth? The blinding sun out here made me think of it for some reason. So, about that island you’re fighting…
At…that’s kind of where the story ends, in terms of the physical changes/movements. The People’s Republic of China, the new name for the nation under the Communist Party, was officially recognized as “China” by the United Nations, who had formed with the Republic of China as their “China” and had been continuing to deal with them due to the constantly cleared throats of the US. So, from the PRC’s perspective, they’re already legally ‘the real China’, so who cares whether this one crappy island doesn’t pay its taxes? They made a rule that you can’t diplomatically deal with them if you recognize the ROC’s sovereignty, and then became an absolute trade powerhouse. Taiwan, by contrast, does not have the numbers or the weapons to EVER beat mainland China in a true war, and is aware of the fact. In 1991, they announced that they were ending the “war” between the two nations. Neither side ever signed a treaty, or agreement. The War just…stopped.
Which is an amazing place to be: Taiwan is the last holdout of the previous government of China, that never legally ceded power or territory, while The People’s Republic occupies actual, you know, China, and has been internationally recognized as being China. It’s an amazing little historical kerfuffle that I can’t stop writing about because I’m on pain pills so historical minutiae sustains me.
The POINT of talking about all of that, as I long-since forgot, was to protect myself from people flipping shit at me because I’m counting this as a “Taiwanese” dish, while it could also be called a “Chinese” Dish, which would mean I did China twice for Asian August. Which bothered me more than it should, the idea that people would think I was short-changing other Asians cuisines to double up on China. Which we’ll get into more on Thursday, but Look, Taiwan and China are the same, AND different, and that’s why it’s cool that I’m doing this.
In China, to Make Toast, First you Must Stab Bing.
This is part 230 of our ongoing series “let’s make the title a pun you can’t understand until you read the section afterward”. Today’s twisted title pun: Scallion pancakes are called “cong you bing”, meaning “Scallion oil pancake”. But “bing” or “pancake” refers to a broader food group that it does in American. It’s better understood as “flatbread”. Like, Pizza is a type of “bing” in Chinese, as are crepes, tortillas, etc. Some contend (given the relative lack of Western style “bread” in most Chinese cuisines) that “bing” is straight up the Chinese word for “bread”, hence the title.
So you stab bread to make toast. Meaning Title Jon didn’t even understand the distinction between “stab” and “slice”. Dummy.
Now, This recipe is a huge study in contrasts, because it’s kind of long and complicated, and also kinda quick and easy. The dichotomy comes from the fact that this is A, technically 2 recipes (meaning that damn near every post this month was 2 recipes, a fine reflection of the hard-working nature of Asian cuisine) and B: an operation that feels more difficult/fraught than it is. See, Scallion pancakes have multiple layers in them, which means we’re going to have to be folding the dough: there’s only two ways to make layers in dough, and it’s either “create butter pockets that steam the layers apart” or “physically create layers by folding”. And this recipe is the latter. But first, we need to make the dough. Because unlike US pancakes, these “pancakes” use a straight-up DOUGH, rather than a batter. Specifically, this recipe uses what’s call a Hot-Water Dough, which is used as the basis for this dish and also for pot-sticker-style dumplings.
These recipes come from The Double Awesome Chinese Food cookbook, a cookbook written by the owners and runners of Mei Mei, a Boston-based Food Truck/Restaurant/Catering company, which means that this is a CONTINUATION of our ongoing Street Food obsession, which is great, since Scallion Pancakes are a street food. Anyway, the recipe for hot water dough is very complicated: you need flour, salt, and hot water. Like, “just finished boiling” water. Drizzle it into the flour and salt, stirring with a wooden spoon to get it all together. Once it’s cool enough, you can start working it with your hands, kneading it for 5 or so minutes. Once it’s smooth and elastic, you let it sit for an hour.
Bye bye, bouncy bing ball.
The hot water minimizes gluten formation, and the long rest allows the gluten that did form in the kneading process to relax, creating a dough that has a distinct texture and elasticity. Once you’ve made the dough, the process to make the pancakes out of it feels elaborate and scary, but is actually pretty simple.,,which is good, because I was busy DOING it to take any pictures
First, you roll out the dough into 8 inch circles, nice and thin. Then, you cover the circle with sesame oil and chopped scallions. Just brush it with the oil, and sprinkle a LOT of scallions.
Then, roll it up. Just roll the circle into a tube. Take the edge closest to you, flip it over, and roll up the whole thing. Then, you’re going to do a weird thing, you’re going to roll it up the OTHER way. By which I mean, “curl the tube into a spiral”. Make it look like a weird cinnamon roll. (Seriously, I thought I took pictures of this, I’m so sorry I didn’t.) Tuck the outside end underneath, so it won’t squeeze out in the next step.
Once it’s double-rolled, roll it out! THIS ‘roll’ means “flatten it with a rolling pin”. You’re trying to get it thinner and flatter, without squishing out the scallions. This will push the rolled layers closer and tighter together. And at the end, you won’t even be able to see you started with a spiral-tube!
Now, if you want to be super hard-core, like my mother, you can then roll up THIS, spiral it, and roll it out again, for double layers. I have big clumsy ham-hands, so I stuck with just the one-time through. And once you’ve done that, you just fry the pancakes. I’ve seen a variety of recipes for this, some low and slow, some high and hot. This one veers more toward the latter, which means once you’ve rolled the pancakes, your next step is just waiting as bread cooks in hot oil. 3 minutes per side to brown up and get crunchy, and they end up looking like this
Flavor wise, I’d say these are pretty good. They weren’t mind-blowing, but for a first attempt on a recipe with so many steps, “good but not great” isn’t a bad ending point. You can dip these in the same sauce you use for pot-stickers, you can use them to serve up sandwiches as they do at Mei Mei, they’re kinda chewy, crunchy, and very versatile. As far as breads go, it’s a pretty simple dough, and a fun thing to try. I hope you check it out.
FRIDAY: WE SPEND A LITTLE MORE TIME IN TAIWAN, BREAKING DOWN HALF OF A TELEVISION SHOW, BECAUSE THE WORLD IS COMPLICATED.
MONDAY: I DON’T KNOW. I HAD A PLAN, BUT I DON’T KNOW IF I’LL PULL IT OFF. LET ME GET BACK TO YOU.
I don't apologize for the
Makes 4 pancakes
1 recipe Hot-Water Dough
1 1/3 cup chopped scallions
¼ cup toasted sesame oil
Vegetable oil for frying
Whatever you want to top it with or dip it in
Take your batch of Hot Water Dough, and divide it into 4 equal portions. While working with a given chunk, store the others under plastic wrap or a moist towel.
Roll the chunk into an 8-inch (20 cm) circle. Brush with 1 tbsp of toasted sesame oil, and top with 1/3 cup of scallions. (The “cunning” will now notice that this means there’s exactly enough sesame oil and scallions to do this process 4 times.)
Roll up the topped circle, and twist the newly-formed tube into a spiral/snail-shell shape, tucking the outside edge underneath the rings.
Roll out to an 8” circle again, and repeat the roll-and-twist if desired. Try not to force scallions through the dough, but some will pop out anyway. Once sufficiently flattened, you can repeat with the remaining chunks, scallions, and oil.
Add a “healthy” (read, unhealthy) amount of oil to the bottom of a large skillet, to cover the bottom. Heat to medium-high, and add pancakes, frying for 3 minutes per side, until golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and allow to slightly cool on paper towels, before serving warm.
Hot Water Dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
1 cup boiling water, allowed to cool for 1 minute.
In a large bowl, mix the salt and flour. Slowly stir in ¾ cup of hot water with a wooden spoon, until a ball is formed using all the flour. If some flour is remaining dry/stuck to the bowl, add water a little at a time to bring together.
Once all the flour is one, move the ball to a non-stick or floured surface, and knead with your hands (wait if flour ball is still hot) 3-5 minutes, until elastic and smooth. Place back in the bowl, and all to sit, covered, for 60 minutes to relax.