Chinese Cooking Experiment #1: Scallion Pancakes

Last night I delved into Chinese cooking experimentation (while Mrs. Chang’s advice is still fresh in my mind). First up – scallion pancakes!

True confession: I did not discover scallion pancakes until I went to Gourmet Dumpling House in Boston’s Chinatown last January. My boyfriend took me there on a date and ordered them for us. I sat there quite confused, imagining your typical Hungry Jack breakfast pancake with scallions. When the waiter brought the pancakes to our table, my eyes widened in surprise. With one bite you are immediately hit with fresh scallions warmed to perfection within the dough. I sometimes lose the flavor of scallions when I sauté them too much, and sometimes too many fresh scallions in a salad can make them too pungent. Scallions were just made to be put into a pancake like this (in my humble opinion). And the pancake magically has these doughy layers reminiscent of flaky biscuits, though it’s not exactly the same thing. Wondrous!

I know. It’s tragic how long I went without them.

So, if you have never had the immense pleasure of eating scallion pancakes, never fear! A recipe is here.

To remind you from my previous post, here is the picture of Mrs. Chang’s scallion pancake.

Mrs. Chang's version of scallion pancakes
Mrs. Chang’s Scallion Pancakes

Scallion Pancakes

  • 1 “loaf” of frozen bread dough
  • 1 bunch of scallions, washed and chopped
  • salt
  • pepper
  • sesame oil
  • black or white sesame seeds (optional)
  • 1 large pan with a cover (for cooking)

1. Thaw frozen bread dough according to the package’s instructions.

2. Cut the bread dough into thirds. One loaf of bread dough makes about three good sized pancakes.

3. On a wooden board or cutting board, roll out the first piece of dough until it resembles a round pancake, about one-quarter to one-half inch thick. It will help if you flour the surface on which you are rolling and flour the bread dough itself so that nothing sticks!

4. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and sesame oil (about the size of a nickel will do) on the pancake’s surface. Spread that sesame oil around so it covers the entire pancake.

5. Take your chopped scallions and sprinkle them on top as well. You can add as much or as little as you’d like. In my opinion, the more the better!

6. Now, roll up the pancake long ways as if you were making cinnamon buns. It should look like a thin log at this step.

7. Take both ends of the rolled up pancake and join them together to make a circle. The pancake is now going to look like a bagel without the large hole in the middle. The dough is going to want to separate here and be that log again, but you want it to be a pancake! With your fingers, smoosh the separated parts of the dough together so that the pancake stays round with no gaping holes.

8. If you want to add sesame seeds to the pancake, you will sprinkle them on top of the pancake at this point. Then, take your rolling pin and roll the pancake out again so that it’s about one-half inch thick.

9. Repeat the previous steps for the next two pancakes.

10. Put some olive oil (or the oil of your choice – canola, coconut, etc.) in the pan and turn the heat on high. Place the scallion pancakes in the pan.

11. Add water to the pan so that the pancakes are submerged about halfway.

12. Cover the pan and let the pancakes cook until the boiling water evaporates. Then turn down the heat to medium-low so that the pancakes have a chance to brown on both sides. Watch them carefully here! Once the pancakes are browned, they are ready to eat.

My First Attempt at Making Scallion Pancakes
My First Attempt at Making Scallion Pancakes

That’s it!

Things I Learned

1. I would turn the heat down a little bit before the water evaporates (around 1-2 minutes before, perhaps). I had a few pancakes start to brown before all the water evaporated, making some of the bottoms burn too much for my liking.

2. Adding sesame seeds to the dough adds another level of flavor that I’d like to try next time. This recipe is still tasty without them, though!

Stay tuned for my next experiment in Chinese cooking: steamed pork buns!

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Lessons in Chinese Cooking

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a restful, joyous holiday season full of delicious food. My immediate family resides in Ohio, so I was there for about 10 days delighting in family recipes. This holiday was different for me, however, as I met my boyfriend’s family for the first time! His parents are from Shanghai and have resided in Atlanta for a long time now. His mother has the reputation for being an amazing traditional Chinese chef, so I was even more elated with the opportunity to bond and learn a few things from her repertoire!

My flight was delayed four hours, but this did not deter me from missing lunch. Thank goodness.

First, I witnessed Mrs. Chang make scallion pancakes. Her version is a little puffier than you’ll find in Chinese restaurants, but the flavor is the best I’ve tasted. She uses bread dough, fresh scallions, black sesame seeds, and sesame oil to create this masterpiece. The pancakes are placed in a skillet with a little olive oil and water. The pan is then covered so that the pancakes steam until the water evaporates. The heat is then turned on low so that the pancakes have a chance to brown on both sides without getting burned. Note: I am going to attempt these recipes for myself and then provide the full recipe on the blog to be sure I convey the best tips and tricks.

Scallion pancakes
Scallion pancakes

Then I watched as she created steamed pork buns, or shengjian bao. She used the same dough for these as for the scallion pancakes. The dough was broken apart into small balls and rolled out to be round and flat, about the size of a typical sand dollar and about a quarter inch thick. The main ingredients for the filling include ground pork, ginger, garlic, scallion, sherry, one egg, salt, and pepper. From what she told me, I am going to recreate these myself and post the recipe with exact ingredients and measurements. She put a small amount of the ground pork filling in the middle, and then made folds upwards that met in the middle. The buns are cooked the same way as the scallion pancake, with oil and water until the water evaporates, and then the bottoms are browned on lower heat.

Steamed Pork Buns
Steamed Pork Buns

The next day she taught me how to fold wontons and make wonton soup. Mrs. Chang used Twin Marquis wonton wrappers from the Asian supermarket. These have the same filling as the steamed pork buns. You just put a little filling in the center of the wrapper. Take a little water and wet the top edge of the wrapper. Fold the bottom edge of the wrapper “hamburger style” up so that it meets the dampened edge. You then fold the top edge in towards you, and finally fold the two sides down so that they meet at the bottom. You wet one of the edges and then press them together. They kind of look like Italian tortellini! The wontons are then boiled in water until they float to the top. In the meantime, take your bowl and add salt, pepper, sesame oil, fresh scallion, and fresh ginger. When the wontons are done cooking, all you do is ladle the wontons with the hot water into your bowl. So easy!

Folded Wontons
Folded Wontons

Finally, one of the best lunches we had there included a roast chicken stuffed with fried rice. Oh my goodness gracious. The chicken was marinated overnight and came incredibly tender. The fried rice absorbed the flavorful juice from the chicken – need I say more? Again, once I gather exact measurements and ingredients, all will be revealed on how to make this!

Roasted Chicken with Fried Rice Stuffing
Roasted Chicken with Fried Rice Stuffing

What new things did you learn while cooking over the holidays? I hope these discoveries inspire some of your culinary adventures in this new year!

Restaurant Review: Mei Mei

Three words: scallion pancake sandwiches.

Say no more.

Boston Magazine’s “Boston’s Best Restaurants” series has become a sort of bible for me as I discover my city’s culinary stars. When I saw their entry for Mei Mei, my mouth immediately and involuntarily watered at the sight of scallion pancake sandwiches. The restaurant’s main location is on Park Dr. by the St. Mary’s T stop on the C-line. However, Mei Mei is best known as a food truck. Alton Brown was just here to try it, so I have additional proof that this place is the bomb (dot) com.

I went to Mei Mei’s Park Dr. location with a dear friend of mine for lunch. We are both Master’s students and are both in need of wholesome comfort food. Behold:

The Porco Rosso Sandwich with Sweet Corn Fritters
The Porco Rosso Sandwich with Sweet Corn Fritters

I ordered the porco rosso sandwich. A thin, yet perfectly dense scallion pancake is filled with applewood smoked ham, ginger-scallion ricotta, cranberry hoisin sauce, and fresh mixed greens. The tartness of the cranberry balances the richness of the ricotta. Add the smoky meat and the spicy kick of ginger in the ricotta, and you have yourself a one-of-a-kind combination of flavors with each bite. Be warned: the sandwich can be extremely messy while eating; but don’t worry, it is so worth it. The sandwich is light, yet filling enough to satisfy your hunger.

Now, about those sweet corn fritters. Imagine fried balls of the moistest cornbread imaginable (they use Four Star Farms cornmeal batter). Sweet yellow corn kernels are balanced by the savory flavor of the oil in which it was fried. The fritters are served with sriracha aioli and fresh chopped scallions. It’s sweet and spicy perfection.

If you are looking for an innovative twist to Chinese cuisine, look no further than Mei Mei. I will most certainly be back to taste more of their mouthwatering menu.