making scallion pancakes . . .
I was very good in chemistry and almost majored in it in college, at least when I was a freshman. What I mean is that I can follow experimental directions and also have an intuitive sense about mixing things together to see how they will react. In large part, that’s the process by which I approach cooking most of the time. The rest of being a cook for me is also intuitive but more free form, the reason a dish will turn out slightly differently each time even though you are following the same basic steps.
My Dad’s primo cooking dish was making scallion pancakes. He was absolutely rigid about how to make them and that his way was the only way. I watched as he chopped the green onions and put them in a bowl, made the flour dough with hot water and let it rest, shape the dough into a long snake and cut up portions, then roll each one out, spread with soft lard, sprinkle with salt, then onions, roll them up, then make a snail from the rolled up pancake, flatten the snail out again. Then cook carefully in a skillet, pile the cooked ones one on top of the next and then with a large cleaver, cut through all of them to serve them as fragrant, warm, savory wedges of salted heaven.
Recently when family was visiting, I impulsively decided to make them. But I didn’t have Dad’s exact recipe with me so I was a little dubious. I found a recipe online that sounded about right. It didn’t have a leavener like baking powder, which I distinctly remembered was Dad’s “secret ingredient.” I also remembered the last time I had included it that the pancakes were a little spongey to roll out.
I decided to follow the online proportions for flour and water and then go with my instincts. Instead of spreading lard on the surface of the pancake, I warmed a little in the microwave with a dollop of sesame oil. Then I mixed the softened but not liquid lard and sesame oil, spreading it thinly on the pancake. I used sea salt from a grinder. The green onions were washed carefully, slit down the lengths and then chopped finely, the white and the green parts. The fragrance of the raw onions filled the small galley kitchen I was working in. The dough without baking powder was easier to work after resting.
Everyone agreed as we wolfed them down that these were the best ever, Dad’s sacrosanct recipe notwithstanding. I wonder what he would have thought about such delicious scallion pancakes made from a recipe available on the internet. I also wonder if they’ll ever come out as well as this batch the next time I make them. The photo tells the whole story.
If you would like to try the recipe, I will post it next. One word of caution though: don’t try to make them if you are averse to using fresh lard (manteca at any super market) because actually, that is the true secret ingredient! Let me know how they turn out for you.