January 04, 2015
Cong You Bing: Chinese Scallion Pancakes (with bonus Scallion Pancake Duck Tostadas)
I learned about these lovely Chinese flatbreads while walking hurriedly through Vancouver's Chinatown, some years ago. The image of them being rolled out and fried, seen through a take-out restaurant window, stuck with me for quite a while and I regretted not stopping to try them. I eventually had to get some, of course, and became an immediate fan -- they were everything I wanted them to be: crisp, flaky, with a shimmer of sesame flavour and that satisfying mild green onion bite.
Here in my current location, a small city in Germany, good Chinese food is hard to come by. So, when the craving hit, I decided to learn how to make my own.
The first recipe I tried was for smaller, cocktail-sized ones, but had a dodgy methodology. They were tasty, but oddly fiddly and got oil everywhere. I ultimately decided to simply apply the proper technique for making the large ones, despite it meaning more work for me in terms of rolling, seasoning, coiling, and rolling again. While it did take a bit longer, the results were much better.
I'm sure that every fan of duck, and/or Chinese cuisines, is familiar with Peking Duck with Mandarin Pancakes. The pancakes in that case are soft crêpes, and comprise one of the traditional Peking duck courses. I enjoy them, but the overall dish is very soft, and often a little sweet for my taste. Instead, I imagined a version of Mexican Tostadas, but with duck and Chinese flavours, using the crispy, savoury, cocktail-sized Cong You Bing as a base. For the duck, I had leftover roasted duck meat, which we shredded and reheated - tossed with a combination of Hoisin sauce, sesame oil, golden mushroom sauce (you could use Oyster sauce instead) with a delicate hint of Sriracha (I would have preferred a Chinese-style chile oil, but had none to hand).
Top the freshly fried Cong You Bing with a little of the shredded duck, top with a bit more sliced scallion, and presto! Scallion Pancake Duck Tostadas. They were delicious, and they turned out exactly as I had pictured them (see photo below).
Cong You Bing
(Chinese Scallion Pancakes)
Makes: 2 large or 8 cocktail-sized pancakes
1 cup all-purpose flour (plus extra for rolling)
1/3 cup hot water
1-2 finely sliced scallions
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
coarse sea (or kosher) salt
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons peanut oil (for frying)
In a mixing bowl, add the hot water to the flour all at once, and stir rapidly with a wooden spoon until it turns into a soft, pliable dough (add more flour if necessary). Turn out onto a floured board/counter, and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and silky feeling. Place it back in the (now cleaned and lightly oiled) bowl, and cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let it rest for half an hour. It will not rise - there's no yeast - but it does need to fully hydrate the flour.
When the dough has rested, turn it out onto a floured work surface, and divide into either two or eight. The instructions after that are the same for either size. Yes, of course you could do four. Divide the dough as you will.
Shape the dough pieces into disks. Working with one at a time, roll a disk out as thin as you can. Roll it up into a tube, as though for a jelly roll or cinnamon buns, and coil the tube into a tight spiral, tucking the end under. Mash it flat with your hand, and then roll out very thinly again. Brush a little sesame oil over the rolled out surface, sprinkle with a bit of salt and a few sesame seeds, and scatter scallions over the surface. Roll up into a long tube again, coil it tightly again, tucking the end under, mash it with your hand again, and then roll out gently until it is a pancake thickness (about half the diameter of the thinly rolled dough you started with). For the smaller sized ones, that's about palm-of-my-hand sized. Do not worry if some of the green onions poke through - they totally will and that's okay. Transfer to a side board, and repeat until you have completed each pancake.
Technically, the first "empty" roll-out is not entirely necessary, but it does add a bit of flakiness to the final flatbread. If you're impatient, or pressed for time, you can skip that one, and go straight to filling them.
Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet until shimmering. Add one, or up to four small, pancake(s) and fry, turning frequently, until golden and crisp on each side. Remove to a paper towel to drain, and repeat until finished. For the larger ones, slice them into quarters to serve.
Serve with a soy-based dipping sauce (example below) or use as delicious tostadas.
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 small clove garlic, pressed
pinch freshly grated ginger
1 large pinch chile flakes (or cracked Szechwan peppercorns)
small pinch ground white pepper
Or any favourite Chinese dipping sauce you like.