Why Do Chinese Scallion Pancakes Taste So Good? (Recipe)
Chinese scallion pancakes (also known as green onion pancakes or spring onion pancakes), are popular throughout China, but in China’s largest city, Shanghai, it’s a traditional street food enjoyed for breakfast.
According to Bill, patriarch of a family of four that blogs about Chinese cooking and culture at The Woks of Life, a scallion pancake from Shanghai is thick and moist, and jam-packed with scallions and pork fat.
A scallion pancake from Shanghai, says Bill, is more than just your average scallion pancake made from cooking oil.
It’s not just the pork fat, but that experience of getting street vendor food, that makes a Shanghai scallion pancake special.
Bill refers to street vendors as “cultural treasures in China” who are deserving of respect for preserving an “old way of life and quintessential local tastes.”
Take Mr. Wu’s story. It’s another fantastic example of how much people love porky scallion pancakes on the streets of Shanghai.
People used to line up down the street and around the corner for Wu’s scallion pancakes, which were filled with not only pork lard but also bits of salty pork.
According to Culinary Backstreets, Mr. Wu used to be the only street vendor in Shanghai who could coax hungry Chinese people to patiently wait in line for his pastries.
The author postulates that it must have been Mr. Wu’s unwillingness to skimp on quality (ahem … pork) as the secret to his success.
It would appear that pork and spectacular scallion pancakes are wedded in Shanghai. What about North America?
Do Chinese Scallion Pancakes Need Pork Fat to Taste Good?
Well, you can probably guess the answer to the pork question.
Pork fat isn’t so readily available in supermarkets here. Nor is it a common ingredient that people use nowadays.
Back on homesteads over 100 years ago when people raised pigs they did use a lot of pork fat for cooking, but those times are long gone.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised if you find Chinese scallion pancakes made with pork fat in Chinese restaurants here. You can ask the chef if you are unsure.
Anyways, the good news is that scallion pancakes don’t need pork fat to taste good.
They can taste just as good when they are made with vegetable oil.
I’ve even made a healthier version of Chinese scallion pancakes by using less oil than normal.
However, you can use as much as you want. If you want to try to match the decadence and crispiness of the Shanghai street vendors’ pastries, try using more.
You should also know that what really gives my scallion pancakes their refreshing savoury taste is the sesame oil, Chinese five-spice powder, and a liberal quantity of fresh scallions.
How to Make Chinese Scallion Pancakes: 4 Secrets
Making a scallion pancake is simple. You are sure to be successful at it as long as you keep in mind the following four secrets to success.
The first is to use hot water to make the dough!
The secret to a soft flatbread dough is to mix hot water with the flour and let it rest for a few minutes before kneading.
Hot water makes the dough softer and a pleasure to knead, and it also adds softness to the finished flatbread.
The second secret is to chop the scallions finely. It makes it easier to roll out the dough.
The third secret is to season liberally.
If you follow the recipe, you should be fine.
I call for Chinese five-spice powder, but if you don’t have this, substitute with black pepper, ground clove, or anise, and it will taste wonderful.
The fourth secret is to use a small rolling pin to shape the flatbread.
An Italian wooden rolling pin works really well. Trust me, this will be much easier than trying to roll out a tiny piece of dough with the giant rolling pin you may have on hand for pies.
Recipe for Chinese Scallion Pancakes
Servings: 4 pancakes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Resting Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 1/3 cup cold water
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil, (for brushing inside the pancake)
- 2 cups scallion greens, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
Prepare the Dough
- Mix flour and salt together in a medium mixing bowl. Dig a small hole in the center of the flour and add the boiling water. Wait for 10 minutes and stir in the cold water and vegetable oil. Use a wooden spoon to combine the dough into a shaggy mass. Cover with a clean, damp towel, and rest for 5 minutes.
- Transfer rested dough onto the counter, sprinkle with flour, and knead until very smooth (around 3-5 minutes ). If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in extra flour until you have a dough that doesn’t stick to your hands. You’ll know the dough is ready when it is well mixed and quite soft. Cover, and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
Make the Chinese Scallion Pancakes
- Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Roll the first piece into a large disk (about 8 inches in diameter). Brush some sesame oil onto the disk, and cover with half a cup of scallions, leaving about half an inch uncovered around the edges. Sprinkle on some Chinese five-spice powder.
- Start at one edge and roll the pancake up like a jelly roll, or fold it like a fan. Now spiral the length of dough together like a snail’s shell, starting tight from the middle and working outward. Gently smush the spiralled dough flat with the palm of your hand, sprinkle liberally with flour on both sides and roll the scallion pancake out again to an 8-inch diameter.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 for the remaining dough before moving onto the cooking part. Use parchment paper to separate the uncooked pancakes, or sprinkle each liberally with flour so they don’t stick to anything before you start cooking.
- Heat a nonstick skillet on medium heat. Spread about a teaspoon of cooking oil (or more) onto the pan and add the first scallion pancake. Cook about 2-3 minutes until the bottom is golden brown. Flip it, add extra oil, and cook the second side. If it looks like it is cooking unevenly, use a spatula to press the pancake down.
- Slide your perfectly cooked pancakes onto a cutting board and cut into wedges. Serve with Chinese hoisin sauce, or a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, and red chilli paste
Andrea Hayley-Sankaran is a passionate vegetarian chef and digestive health coach who helps people with sore tummies find relief through the self-healing wisdom of Ayurveda. Andrea founded her blog, Buttered Veg, to teach people how to use food as medicine to nourish both mind and body. You can find her @buttered.veg