Scallion pancakes are a delicious appetizer and dim sum treat found in many Chinese restaurants. A kind of fried bread, they are crispy and flaky on the outside, tender and a bit chewy on the inside, with shreds of finely diced scallions between the savory layers of pancake. And surprisingly enough, they aren't that hard to make.
3 1/2 cups of flour
1 heaping teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups of boiling water
1 bunch of scallions (3 to 5 scallions)
Oil for frying
This is easiest with a stand mixer. If you don't have one, you can do the initial mixing and kneading by hand.
Put flour into the bowl of your mixer and add salt. Using the dough hook, turn the mixer on low speed and allow the salt to stir into the flour. Then drizzle in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Allow the mixer to incorporate the oil into the flour while you bring 1 1/4 cups of water to a boil.
Turn the mixer to medium speed and add the boiling water slowly. As the water is combined with the flour, turn the mixer speed up and let the dough hook do the work. You may have to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl a couple of times to get the water worked into the flour evenly.
When the dough holds together well, turn it out from the bowl and knead it a few times by hand on a lightly floured surface until you have a smooth, elastic dough. It will be very firm, appear silky, and not be sticky at all. Lightly oil a bowl with a little bit of sesame oil. Put the dough into the bowl and turn it a few times to coat the dough's surface and keep it from drying out. Cover with a damp towel and allow it to rest for at least twenty minutes. If you're going to do this step ahead, it's okay to let the dough rest longer - up to a couple of hours if you need to. Letting the dough rest allows the gluten in the flour to relax after the kneading, and there's no hurry.
While the dough is resting, trim the roots and nasty bits off a bunch of scallions and then chop them very finely into rings as thinly as you can manage. You'll need anywhere from three to five scallions, depending on how big they are. When they're all chopped, set them aside in a bowl.
After the dough has rested, roll it into a rough cylinder and divide that into eight equal segments. On a lightly floured surface, flatten each cylinder slightly with the palm of your hand and then roll it out to about an eighth of an inch thick. Sprinkle the pancake with flour lightly if you need to prevent sticking.
Rub a light coating of sesame oil all over the top surface of the pancake using your fingers. You don't need much; just a light glaze - enough to make the pancake shiny with oil. Then sprinkle it lightly all over with the finely chopped scallions. Don't use too many - just a tablespoon or so will do. If you put too many on, the pancakes won't cook well and the scallions will break through the flour and make a mess.
Carefully roll the pancake into a tight rope like a miniature jelly roll, making a scallion-filled dough stick. Then take that stick and form it into a coil, keeping the seams on the inside. Pinch the trailing end closed and tuck it under the coil to keep the scallions on the inside.
Gently press the top of the coil with the palm of your hand to flatten it a bit. It will look something like the picture on the left.
Dust the coil with a bit of flour on both sides to prevent sticking, and roll it out into a thin pancake. Try to get the thickness between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch. You'll see the scallion bits through the thin layers of pancake, and some of the scallions on the edge might break through a bit. Don't worry about them, that's OK. You should end up with about a 7- or 8-inch pancake when you're all done. After each pancake is rolled out, rub the top and bottom surfaces with a bit of sesame oil and stack them up between sheets of waxed paper. You can store the stack in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook them, and they can be made up to three days ahead of when you need them. If you wrap each pancake individually in waxed paper, you can even freeze them for later use.
To cook: Put less than half an inch of cooking oil in a skillet and heat it to about 350 F. Using tongs, carefully place a pancake into the oil and fry it until it is browned. As it fries, you may notice the center of the pancake lifting above the oil on the steam it generates. Use your tongs to slightly lift the edges and let the steam escape so the center browns, too. Turn the pancake over and brown the other side, too. As the pancakes cook, you'll see the trapped air bubbles in the pancakes expand and brown. The pancakes will be flaky, crisp, and all in layers. Drain on absorbent paper and serve hot, with a dipping sauce if you like. I make a simple dipping sauce of 1/4 cup soy sauce, a teaspoon of oyster sauce, 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar, a teaspoon of honey, some of the chopped scallions left over from making the pancakes, and some crushed red pepper.