We first had these when we visited Taipei on a trip eating our way around Taiwan. The queue around Tian Jin’s open air stall on Yongkang Street in the trendy Da’an District is a signature that these things are worth waiting for, whilst they fly out in record speed. Very simply fluffy, puffed, flaky scallion (spring onion) pancakes, served in a couple of ways, but original is best.
Scallion pancakes are a Chinese street food staple and, though seemingly simple, their draw is that unique texture in that its pleasingly chewy but not dense, a little flaky but also elastic. These are unleavened (no yeast) and unlike other pancakes it’s a firm, sticky bread dough rather than a wet batter.
These pancakes are great on their own, still warm from the pan, or bulked out into a proper meal with some crunchy pickled vegetables, smashed cucumber salad and a drizzle of the homemade chilli crisp. That chilli crisp is going to be your new FAVOURITE condiment! Make an extra large batch of it and store it in a sealed jar for a few weeks, you’ll find excuses to put it in on everything!
For the pancakes
- 400g plain flour
- 285g warm water (body temperature or slightly above; this is 72% hydration of the flour content, you can increase this but it will get stickier)
- 2 tsp salt
- Flour for rolling
- Vegetable oil, for brushing and frying
- Several scallions (spring onions), green bit finely sliced
- Add the flour and water together in a mixing bowl and stir to combine. When all the water is incorporated, cover with a damp tea towel and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
- Return to the dough and work it in the bowl a little to ensure there’s no flour left in clumps, then flour a work surface and tip the dough out, kneading for 10-15 minutes. You could alternatively (and less messily) do this using a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment for 10 minutes. This dough is sticky, but not unworkable, and you’ll know it’s done when it feels very elastic and still only a little sticky.
- Lightly oil a clean mixing bowl and the dough itself, and allow to sit in the oiled bowl, covered, to prove for 30-45 minutes.
- Split the dough evenly into eight pieces (we got around 85g for each ball) and roll out as thin as possible without tearing, to a couple of mm thick. Lightly brush the dough’s top and then roll up tightly, and then encouraging it to lengthen using the ends of the roll until you get quite a long, elastic roll-up cylinder. Coax it around itself in a circular motion, like a snail shell or a snake, tucking the last piece under itself and then using your palm lightly flatten on both sides so it’s back to a similar size as when you started, repeat with all pieces, keeping them on a baking sheet under a damp cloth whilst working away.
- When the last one is rolled and flattened, it’s time to focus attention back to the first piece of dough. Repeat the same process again, except this time when you oil the dough add a small handful of the chopped scallions before you roll up. Repeat in the snail/snake round shape and flatten again before removing to the same baking sheet, covered with a damp cloth. Repeat on all pieces.
- Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat and on a very lightly floured surface, roll out the pieces one-by-one until a couple of mm thick (or as thin as you can make them without the scallions breaking through or tearing) and fry on both sides until golden. Repeat with each one, keeping the cooked ones warm in a clean, damp tea towel to make them slightly soft.
For the Smashed Cucumbers
- 1 large cucumber (optional: skin peeled, if you prefer)
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp runny honey
- 1-2 tsp sesame oil (depending on your tolerance
- 1 tsp shaoxing rice wine/rice vinegar
- A handful of sesame seeds
- 1/2 red chilli, finely sliced
- Thumb-sized piece of ginger, skin removed and minced/grated
- 1 clove garlic, minced/grated
- Using a heavy cleaver or a rolling pin, keep the cucumber whole and give it a good smash along its length to soften and encourage it to break apart, turn it 90º and repeat, turning again if necessary. The key is to encourage the cucumber to ‘smash’ itself and muddle its uniform texture so it can absorb the dressing as best as possible.
- Once the cucumber has semi-smashed into chunks you can further chop into the size you want.
- In a mixing bowl, add all the dressing ingredients (except the sesame seeds and chilli) and stir to combine. Introduce the cucumber pieces, and the sesame and chilli then stir everything to combine. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving.
For the pickled vegetables
Slice or mandolin whatever seasonal vegetables you have to hand – courgette, carrot, turnip/swede, cabbage, radish – and sit in a pickling vinegar mixture with a little sugar and a little salt. Squelch and squeeze the vegetables together for a minute or two to help encourage the vinegar to soften, then allow to sit for 15-30 minutes before draining and serving.
For the Chilli Crisp
- 250ml vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic, halved with skin removed
- 1 tsp sichuan peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
- Thumb-sized piece of ginger, thickly sliced
- The white parts from the scallions used for the pancakes, halved or quartered (depending on size)
- 1 tsp each black mustard seeds and fennel seeds
- 2 star anise
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp chilli flakes
- 3 cardamom pods, crushed/cracked just to open but kept whole
- (reserve all following until the end) — 1 tbsp chilli flakes, 2 tbsp red chilli pepper powder, 1 tbsp flaky salt and 1 tbsp each of black sesame seeds and white sesame seeds
- For the fragrant oil, combine all the ingredients – except the reserved chilli elements for the end – with the oil in a pot on a medium heat. Encourage everything around the oil every so often but allow it to heat through gradually and creep up to a light boil. The ginger, garlic and scallions will turn golden brown and that’s the point you need to take off the heat.
- Drain the oil into a heatproof bowl or separate pot through a sieve and discard the ingredients used to flavour it.
- Immediately add the reserved ingredients to the oil and stir to combine. Allow to cool and then decant into a jar or receptacle and enjoy as the flavour improves over the coming days and weeks. Best left for 12-24 hours before using, but if you can’t help yourself that’s fine!