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Oily Scallion Cakes

Oily Scallion Cakes

OILY SCALLION CAKES (congyou bing)

Around the corner from our first house in Taipei there was a tiny open-air restaurant, really no more than a covered shed with a few rough tables. In front of the restaurant stood a teen-aged boy who did nothing but make Oily Scallion Cakes all day long. He worked up the dough, kneaded it, sprinkled it with scallions and oil, twisted it into snail-shaped rolls, flattened them, and then fried each individual cake on a primitive iron grill. The sureness and economy of his motions marked him as a true virtuoso. The only thing better than his performance was his cakes-crisp, salty, and delicious.

Mrs. Chiang says nothing can rival the Oily Scallion Cakes her mother made with the fragrant flour from the family's own freshly harvested wheat, but those she made for us with regular American flour are magnificent. They are crisper and more delicious than the Oily Scallion Cakes we recall from Taiwan, and we have found our passion for them is universally shared. When we bring them out at the end of a big Szechwanese banquet our already overfed guests are inspired to eat still more; the pestering of our friends for Mrs. Chiang's recipe induced us to begin this cookbook. And our editor's enthusiasm for Oily Scallion Cakes enabled her to put up with all our subsequent delays.

Since Oily Scallion Cakes were originally a street food, they have no special place in a Szechwanese meal. We serve them either as the final, devastating course of a larger meal or else separately with drinks. They aren't hard to make, and require no special Oriental ingredients.

Leftover scallion cakes tend to become soggy; luckily, a few minutes in a moderate oven is all that is needed to resuscitate them.

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup water

10 to 15 scallions (depending on their size)

1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil, approximately

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons lard, at room temperature, or peanut oil (if you fear cholesterol)

(half the scallions)

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons lard

(remaining scallions)

3 tablespoons peanut oil, approximately

Mix the flour and the water together very well; you should get a very stiff dough. Set it aside for at least 30 minutes.

Trim the scallions, then chop them, both white part and green, into very fine pieces, about the size of a match head.

Since the dough for the scallion cakes has to be rolled out, you will need the same kind of a large flat surface that you use for making any other kind of pastry, a large wooden board or tabletop. Prepare the surface on which you are going to roll out the scallion cakes by sprinkling it with the sesame oil. (This serves the same purpose as flour in keeping the dough from sticking. )

Knead the dough for about a minute until it is easy to work with, then separate it into two balls. Take one ball and roll it out into a rectangle about 8 by 10 inches. (If you are using a rolling pin, make sure to rub it with some sesame oil so that the dough doesn't stick to it. You can also use your hands instead of a rolling pin to press the dough out.)

Sprinkle 1 teaspoonful of the salt over the rectangle of dough. Press the salt into the dough with your fingers.

Spread the lard generously over the dough.

(Although you can use a knife to spread the lard, it is easier, though less aesthetic, to do it with your fingers.) Sprinkle half of the chopped scallions over the rolled-out dough, then roll the dough up like a jelly roll. Pinch the ends of the roll together so the scallions don't fall out, then divide the roll into three sections, twisting the ends of each segment to keep the filling from falling out. Each piece should be roughly the size of a tennis ball.

Using more salt, lard, and the remaining scallions, do the same thing to the other half of the dough.

Just before you are ready to begin cooking the scallion cakes, take one of the balls and gently flatten it out into a circle about 8 inches in diameter. This is the trickiest part of making the scallion cakes, for it is very hard to keep them from breaking open slightly while you are flattening them and letting the scallions escape. (Even Mrs. Chiang has trouble keeping the scallion cakes from bursting while she is pressing them out. ) Luckily, it doesn't make too much difference if the cakes split slightly at this point. Make sure that the surface on which you are working is still well oiled.

While the first cake is cooking, you can press out the next. (You can't really flatten them all out in advance, because it is not a good idea to handle them very much before you cook them.)

Heat a regular flat frying pan over a moderate flame and fill it with 1/4 inch of oil.

When the oil is quite hot and has just begun to smoke, put in the first scallion cake. Let the cake fry for about 3 minutes on each side, until it has turned golden brown and become quite crisp.

Remove the fried cake from the hot oil and let it drain on paper towels.

Fry all the other scallion cakes in the same way.

Serve each scallion cake cut into 8 wedge- shaped pieces. (Since the cake is so crisp, it may be easier to cut with a cleaver than with a regular knife.) Note : Although there is plenty of salt inside the scallion cakes, they are especially delicious if you salt their after they have been fried .

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