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The Scallion Pancake: From China to Denmark

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I’ve never liked scallion pancakes. Maybe it’s because the ones I’ve always had were as tough as rubber mats and as greasy as .99 cent pizza. Maybe because they’re usually just giant wedges of dough with some onion pieces floating around in them. Maybe because they always seems to be the blandest, safest choice at a Chinese restaurant. Maybe because they’re suffering from an identity crisis (Are they Chinese? Korean? Indian?). But then I had a dish at a Chinese restaurant that changed my mind, and one year later scallion pancakes appeared on my menu.

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Who invented the scallion pancake? They resemble paratha, the delicious Indian flatbread, and there’s been a case made that they were invented in Shanghai where Indian, Western, and Chinese influences came together. They’re also wildly popular in Korea where they’re called pajeon. But the scallion pancake that made me want to make scallion pancakes wasn’t a scallion pancake at all.

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About a year ago I took a trip to Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall and stopped off at Wang Zhen Qing Zhen Xiao Chi and tried their Chive Pie. It was a pocket of fried dough stuffed with more fried bread and chives and it opened my eyes to the fact that, done right, onions could be the center of a dish. Usually people think they’re too strong to be eaten alone, but this was a strong argument for making them the centerpiece. This idea floated around in my head for a while, and suddenly one day I started thinking about scallion pancakes, and I quickly realized that they’d never work.

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Scallion pancakes aren’t actually pancakes since they’re made with dough, not batter. Because of that, and because they’re made of laminated dough, which is the process bakers use to make croissants, alternating layers of dough with layers of fat, there was no way I could make them during service, and there was no way I wasn’t making my scallion pancakes to order. And that led me to Denmark.

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One of the coolest things Denmark has produced (besides Hamlet, Lars von Trier, and Lars Ulrich) is the ebelskiver, a fat little savory (or sweet) pancake they make for the holidays. Not only that, but they’re made in ebelskiver pans, and that’s something I could get my hands on. I ordered three differently shaped pans and after a few weeks of testing I realized that the key to scallion pancakes was the ebelskiver solution and I picked my pan.

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I’ve been obsessed with smoking ever since I learned that smoking brings out incredibly diverse tastes in vegetables. Smoked mushrooms have an earthier quality, whereas smoked scallions take on an astringent bite. I decided to stuff my ebelskivers with a filling made of smoked scallions and onions and they have a crunchy, chewy, savory taste.

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I wanted to add a fresh punch to the plate, and so a salad of rough chopped herbs and grilled onions appeared, and I topped it with a fermented black been dressing. Fermented black beans tied into the Chinese theme of the dish, but they also bring a very dense layered flavor to a plate which I think is perfect for a dressing.

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The salad is topped with pearl onion rings because, well, they’re fun!

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There’s also a spicy bite to the plate in a smear of Thai Basil Cream that you can dip the scallion pancakes into.

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The hardest part of this dish was cooking the pancakes exactly right and figuring out the salad. At first they went out too dry, and the salad didn’t have enough kick to it. I was making a salad that was too calm, too composed, too conservative, and I was cooking the pancakes too perfectly. And they were failing to get anyone excited (notably Pete Wells, the critic from the New York Times, who had them when he reviewed the restaurant the first week they were on the menu). Then, I loosened up. I realized that if the pancakes were slightly softer, slightly wetter, that people loved them so much more (especially since they kept cooking on their way to the table). And I also realized that the salad needed to be rougher and funkier. The result? It’s the most popular dish on the menu right now.

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menu


Menu

Snack

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Jalapeno Hush Puppies $6
served with maple butter
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Appetizers

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Mushroom $13
portobello mousse, truffled toast
pear & fennel compote

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Cucumber $12
roasted cucumber hot and sour soup,
black sesame, garlic chili oil, wood ear
mushroom, cucumber jelly

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Tomato $13
tomato cake with smoked feta,
yellow tomato leather, herb puree

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Potato $12
warm potato salad, crispy Japanese
yams, grilled sweet potato, olives,
bitter greens, apples

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Entrees

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Beets $20
salt-roasted beets, thai green curry,
beet gnocchi, whipped coconut galangal cream

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Pepper $18
fennel & pepper tofu,
parsley spaetzle, grilled
yellow pepper broth,
mustard crumbs

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Broccoli $21
smoked broccoli dogs,
broccoli kraut, salt &
vinegar broccoli rabe

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Corn $19
stone ground grits, corn cream,
pickled shiitakes, huitlacoche,
tempura poached egg

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- everything on the menu can be made vegan on request.

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Dessert

Rosemary Eggplant Tiramisu $12
grilled eggplant, rosemary cotton
candy, mascarpone

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Ice Cream Nanaimo Bar$11
sweet pea, mint, chocolate

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Popcorn Pudding$11
salted caramel corn

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Celery Cheesecake Roll$10
celeriac ice cream, peanut filling,

& candied grapes

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- vegan dessert selection changes regularly, please ask your server.

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Our wine list (and other beverages)

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Gift Certificates

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