The many recipes for easy, basic scallion pancakes originate from a time so long ago that no one is sure when they were first made. We know that the pancakes originated in China, and were taken to Italy by Marco Polo, but that seems to be about it for the history.
There are lots of variations with the ingredients of these pancakes and the sauces with which they are served. Some people add chopped fresh fennel greens and/or sesame seeds to the pancakes. Others add a tablespoon of sugar to the dough. I’ve only made them a few times and this simple version satisfies my household. These are great served as a snack, a side with Chinese cuisine or any other East Asian meal, or as a side with soup.
With so few ingredients in the recipe, the flavor of each ingredient truly matters. Because the flavor of the oil stands out in this recipe, everyone recommends using sesame oil on the pancake dough. You can buy a fairly small bottle of sesame oil, if you are afraid you won’t use it very often. In the pan, you will need an oil with a high smoke point, so canola, peanut or grapeseed oil work great. I’ve used both grapeseed and canola oils in the skillet and both worked fine. But most people recommend using peanut oil in the skillet, mainly for the additional good flavor.
You should knead the dough for three to four minutes for best results. You might hesitate to oil the surface you roll the dough out on, but remember that the oil isn’t used only so the dough won’t stick to the rolling surface, but to get oil in between the layers of the dough, too, for a flaky, layered pancake. When shaping the actual pancakes, use your hands and gently press the dough into thin pancakes. Flattening with a rolling pin will destroy the desirable, delicate flaky layers in the dough.
The recipe calls for warm water mixed with the flour, but some people use boiling water. I have only made them with warm water.
Don’t be tempted to omit the salt from this recipe! I made one batch without the salt (accidentally) and it was pretty bland. Adding the salt onto the cooking pancake doesn’t really work, either – the salt needs to be inside those layers. So, don’t forget the salt!
You might want to make four larger pancakes, by not cutting the dough “snake” in half before rolling into a swirl (think cinnamon roll). That way, instead of eight 6-inch pancakes, you can have four 10- to 12-inch pancakes, to cut into larger wedges. If you do make the larger sized pancakes, remember to cut a small slit, about 1/2 inches in length, in the center of the pancake before cooking, to help it cook evenly.
I highly recommend using a cast iron skillet to make these pancakes. If you only have a small cast iron skillet, that’ll work! Just make the smaller 6-inch pancakes and cook one at a time. While cooking the first pancake(s), you want the first side to brown in three minutes. If it doesn’t, just adjust the heat up a bit until you get the desired results. The skillet will hold heat, so you might need to adjust it down again after several minutes of cooking.
The uncooked dough can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for up to five days, as long as it’s oiled and covered. You can even roll out the dough and have the pancakes ready to cook, then stack them with wax paper between them, and cover with plastic wrap. Or make a few pancakes and keep the dough to make the rest later. The dough pancakes can also be kept for five days in the fridge.
This recipe is adapted from The Kitchn.
I have two favorite dipping sauces that pair well with these pancakes. Try one now and another later! Or if you don’t have these ingredients on hand, use plain soy sauce and/or toss in just one or two of the other ingredients.
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