Jack cooking by Olivia White

A taste of home away from home: scallion pancakes

The end of first year is a joyous time – prelims are over, the year’s work is done and you can leave the Oxford bubble. For some however, the end of first year is bittersweet, as they won’t see their friends again until third year, when they return from their year abroad.

For my flatmates and I, last summer saw the departure of one of our friends (now an illustrator for OxStu), Liv White, who left us for warmer climates: specifically Taiwan. Enticed by cheap flights and a whole Michaelmas of asking, a few friends visited to catch up, and tour the island’s sights, beaches, and most memorably, food.

Despite the range and diversity of cuisine offered by the small Asian island, one dish in particular embodied the simplicity and the fun of Taiwanese cooking. Scallion pancakes are quick to make, requiring few ingredients and even less skill, though they evoke memories of time well spent among friends in a home away from home. 

The only one of my flatmates with an ounce of culinary training (and my biggest writing asset), Jack, was up to the challenge, and did not disappoint. His recreation differed from the originals due to the lack of a deep fat fryer in a student kitchen (probably for the best), but were a nostalgic delight all the same. Warm, filling, and flavoursome, scallion (otherwise known as spring onion) pancakes probably deserve pride of place in any student kitchen, not least given the simple instructions I was given by a very eloquent Jack:

“get some pancake batter, add scallions, and boom.”

~ Jack Grivvell, resident chef, friend and overcooked enthusiast

Further questioning yielded the following:

Make a dough from 250g flour and 160ml boiling water – boiling to ensure you cook the protein in the flour when you pour it in. Briefly knead the dough and let it rest for 15 minutes before dividing into 4 pieces, shaping each in a ball. Oil the balls and let them rest, and in the meantime, slice the middle (light green and white) part of the scallions.

Once this is done, roll each ball into a roughly rectangular sheet, as thin as possible, which may prove difficult given the gluten content, but is important for the coming stages. The scallions should then be sprinkled over the dough in an even layer along with salt, pepper and cumin, before the dough in rolled “like a cigarette”, oiled again (excluding one ends), and the oblong coiled into a spiral. 

This process should produce the desired flakiness, though too much oil between the layers will make them break up in the pan. To avoid this the edges of the dough should be pressed together to ensure they are combined. Only when this is certain can the scallion spirals be rolled into circular pancakes.

The final step is to fry them in a lot of very hot oil, which should completely cover the pan in enough volume to also be spooned over the top of the pancakes to allow an even cooking of both sides. Flip halfway through and once a golden brown colour has been achieved, remove, allow to cool, and enjoy!