Like scallion pancakes? Here's how to make two very different savory Asian pancakes
Savory Asian pancakes aren't just a quick dinner or lunch. They can be a great way to use up those super fresh scallions you might be seeing at local farmers markets or something to serve alongside dumplings, rice or grilled proteins.
Throughout Asia, you'll find skillet-cooked dishes — including bánh xèo in Vietnam, cong you bing in China and the Japanese okonomiyaki — that generally fall under the umbrella of "pancake." None of them are really cakes, but they are all made in a pan. The Korean pajeon, a scallion pancake made with eggs, is so popular in the U.S. that you can find them in the freezer section of Trader Joe's.
Chinese scallion pancakes, which typically are made from a rolled dough that doesn't have any eggs, are a dim sum favorite, and the more frittata-like okonomiyaki can be found at some Japanese restaurants stateside. Both of these dishes are within reach for most home cooks, especially if you can get to an Asian store to find a couple of pantry staples that will enhance all kinds of other dishes you might be making as we move into our second year of the coronavirus pandemic.
The regional and personal variations on these dishes are endless, but here are two foundational recipes to start with, one from "Japanese Home Cooking" author Sonoko Sakai and another from America's Test Kitchen.
In her book, "Japanese Home Cooking," Sakai explains that okonomiyaki, which originates in the Kansai region of southern Japan, comes from the Japanese word for "as you like it," and it's meant to be a dish that can accommodate the ingredients you might have in the kitchen.
She suggests using thinly sliced chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or crab, which cook on the skillet after you've flipped the pancake for the first time. This is where you'll want to have Japanese mayo, tonkatsu sauce and bonito flakes on hand to finish it off right.
Chinese-style scallion pancakes aren't quite the fridge catch-all as okonomiyaki, but their crispy, flaky outside and tender center make these dim sum favorites a must-try at home.
Don't be intimidated by the method of using boiled water and flour as the base for the dough; after letting the dough rest, you can easily roll it out and add the filling ingredients. Roll into a cylinder and then make a spiral, which creates all those layers of sesame oil and scallions.
Although there is plenty of ingredient flexibility with savory pancakes, using fresh scallions, or green onions, is a key to success for almost all of them. Some people prefer larger slices of scallions, but if you're making the Chinese scallion pancakes, take this tip from Omnivore's Cookbook blogger Maggie Zhu: Slice the scallions in half, lengthwise, before thinly chopping. This creates lots of small pieces of scallions, which are easier to distribute evenly throughout the dough.
The Japanese version of a savory pancake is called okonomiyaki, which means “as you like it." It is made with fresh eggs, flour and water and seasoned with soy sauce and tonkatsu sauce. Shredded cabbage is also part of the equation; it gives the pancake its soft texture and subtly sweet flavor. Protein toppings include combinations of meat, shrimp and vegetables. When the pancake is cooked, it is topped with mayonnaise and tonkatsu sauce and garnished with bonito flakes and aonori (dried green seaweed flakes) or crumbled nori. Aonori is available at Japanese markets. I prefer the “naked” flavor of the okonomiyaki, so I usually skip the mayo and go easy on the tonkatsu sauce or eat it with soy sauce.
— Sonoko Sakai
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/4 cups whole milk or milk of your choice
8 ounces cabbage, thinly sliced
2 scallions, white and light green parts chopped
1/2 yellow, green or red bell pepper, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 ounces boneless chicken, shrimp, crab or thinly sliced beef or pork, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons Japanese mayonnaise (homemade or store-bought)
2 tablespoon or more tonkatsu sauce (homemade or store-bought)
1/2 cup bonito flakes
1/2 cup crumbled nori or aonori flakes
Pickled ginger (homemade or store-bought)
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg and milk. Add the flour mixture and mix until just blended. The batter should be quite thin. Add the chopped vegetables to the batter and mix well.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Pour one-fourth of the batter to make a pancake. Cook until medium brown, about 1 minute. Place 1/4 of the meat on top of the pancake and then flip the meat side down. Turn heat to low and cook until the bottom of the pancake is browned, the meat is thoroughly cooked, and the vegetables are tender — about 10 minutes. Repeat until the batter is used up.
To serve, brush the pancake with mayonnaise and tonkatsu sauce, or soy sauce. Sprinkle with the bonito flakes and crumbled nori. Eat while piping hot. Serve with pickled ginger on the side. Makes 4 pancakes.
— From "Japanese Home Cooking: Simple Meals, Authentic Flavors" by Sonoko Sakai (Roost Books, $40)
Scallion Pancakes with Dipping Sauce
For this recipe, we prefer the steady, even heat of a cast-iron skillet. A heavy stainless-steel skillet may be used, but you may have to increase the heat slightly.
— America's Test Kitchen
For the dipping sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 scallion, sliced thin
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Pinch red pepper flakes
For the pancakes:
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup boiling water
7 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 scallions, sliced thin
For the dipping sauce: Whisk all ingredients together in small bowl; set aside.
For the pancakes: Using wooden spoon or chopsticks, mix 1 1/2 cups flour and boiling water in bowl to form rough dough. When cool enough to handle, transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead until tacky (but not sticky) ball forms, about 4 minutes (dough will not be perfectly smooth). Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
While dough is resting, stir together 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, sesame oil and remaining 1 tablespoon flour. Set aside.
Place 10-inch cast-iron skillet over low heat to preheat. Divide dough in half. Cover 1 half of dough with plastic wrap and set aside. Roll remaining dough into 12-inch round on lightly floured counter. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil-flour mixture and use pastry brush to spread evenly over entire surface. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and half of scallions. Roll dough into cylinder. Coil cylinder into spiral, tuck end underneath, and flatten spiral with your palm. Cover with plastic and repeat with remaining dough, oil-flour mixture, salt and scallions.
Roll first spiral into 9-inch round. Cut 1/2-inch slit in center of pancake. Cover with plastic. Roll and cut slit in second pancake. Place 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in skillet and increase heat to medium-low. Place 1 pancake in skillet (oil should sizzle). Cover and cook, shaking skillet occasionally, until pancake is slightly puffy and golden brown on underside, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. (If underside is not browned after 1 minute, turn heat up slightly. If it is browning too quickly, turn heat down slightly.) Drizzle 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over pancake. Use pastry brush to distribute over entire surface. Carefully flip pancake. Cover and cook, shaking skillet occasionally, until second side is golden brown, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Uncover skillet and continue to cook until bottom is deep golden brown and crispy, 30 to 60 seconds longer. Flip and cook until deep golden brown and crispy, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer to wire rack. Repeat with remaining 3 tablespoons vegetable oil and remaining pancake.
Cut each pancake into 8 wedges and serve, passing dipping sauce separately. Serves 4 to 6.
— From America's Test Kitchen