Last August, a week after I moved to Truro and joined the Independent, I spent a day scouting out my grocery options. The Wellfleet Marketplace sometimes has baby bok choy, and Provincetown’s Stop & Shop is the place to go for napa cabbage. The latter also has oyster sauce, though in dinky 9-ounce bottles — nothing like the jumbo ones that were a fixture in my childhood fridge. I set a reminder to make bulk orders of sesame paste, Shaoxing rice wine, and Laoganma chili crisp to my P.O. box.
I’ve held steady out here, patching together a rough approximation of a Chinese-American kitchen, though I’ve struck out on finding fresh rice noodles and lotus root. These require a trip to an Asian supermarket near Boston.
Luckily, Outer Cape stores sell more or less everything I need to make one of my all-time favorite Chinese dishes: the crispy, fragrant scallion pancake.
Its flavor emerges from a simple blend of scallions, salt, and oil — served with a touch of deeply aromatic toasted sesame oil.
While other staples in my weekly lineup, like Taiwanese braised pork and General Tso’s chicken, involve layering on various seasonings (and, so, fetching a tower of packages from the post office), scallion pancakes rock when I’m in a pinch.
Having these ready on demand does require planning. That’s because the secret behind that chewy texture is chilling the dough overnight. But if you’re craving these asap, I guess you can get by with resting the dough for just an hour or two. Once the pancakes are rolled up and rolled out, I stash them in the freezer.
On deadline, I can splash some veggie oil into a skillet and fry up a frigid pancake until both sides get crispy-brown. Six-ish minutes later, lunch is served.
The chewy layers pair nicely with soy sauce mixed with a dash of sugar and dribbles of rice wine vinegar and roasted sesame oil — though, usually, I take the dish plain, letting the scallions claim the limelight.
Makes 8 pancakes
For the dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups cake flour
½ tsp. salt
1 cup boiled water
½ cup room-temperature water
A few spoonfuls of vegetable oil
For the filling:
1 cup chopped scallions
⅓ cup flour
½ cup vegetable oil
1½ tsp. salt
Mix the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt.
Slowly dribble in the boiled water, mixing the dough as you go. It should start to flake up. Give it a good knead once you’ve drained the cup, and then gradually pour in the additional half cup of room-temperature water, which will make the dough a bit sticky. Work it into a smooth-ish sphere, spread some vegetable oil over the top, and put it in a covered container in the fridge.
The next day, cut the dough into eight chunks. Roll each one into a rectangular shape, as thin as possible. That’ll give the pancakes more layers per bite.
Next, make a thick scallion paste for the filling. The cup of chopped scallions should be minced as fine as possible. Then add the flour, vegetable oil, and salt. Give this paste a good stir before brushing it across the dough sheets. Try to leave some room around the edges.
Shape each sheet into a long rope. Then, curl the rope into a cinnamon roll-esque spiral shape.
Take up the rolling pin once more and flatten the coil into a pancake. If you can do this without puncturing the dough and having the innards ooze out, kudos. Can’t say I’ve ever pulled it off.
Warm a generous amount of oil in a pan and fry the pancake over high heat. I keep an eye on it, pushing it around with a spatula to keep it from ending up charred. Once both sides are golden, you’re good to go. The other pancakes can go in the freezer, stacked with a sheet of parchment paper between them. Unless you find yourself firing up the stove again for seconds or thirds.