Scallion Pancake Throwdown, and the winner is...

Okay - so there's no Bobby Flay involved here - but please don't leave the room. I've got important news on the chun yao bang front here...

What they are, are not and where to find them:

First, for the uninitiated - scallion pancakes are really more of a dough based fried bread, than a pancake. It's unlike the pancakes we eat for breakfast or the pancakes you'd see on a Korean menu, which are made from an egg batter and often contain oysters and vegetables. Korean pancakes have more in common with Japanese Okonomiyaki.

Chinese-style scallion pancakes are folded, repeatedly along the lines of a Law Student's Puff Pastry or even a Suprisingly Easy Croissant dough. But, they are not made from a yeast dough. I have a bunch of scallions to use, maybe I'll give it another shot. First attempt was not so fantastic. It's not such a difficult thing to make, but being so close to Chinatown it's just too easy to go buy them elsewhere; a huge disincentive to frying anything here. Chances are good a photo of my attempt will appear soon, nothing like deadlines to throw one into a fit of cooking inspiration!

Scallion pancakes are a Northern Chinese invention which explains why the Gourmet Dumpling version is best, their menu draws more from Northern China. For example, their XLB or xiu long bao - soup dumplings are superb, and another example of the Northern Chinese representation on the menu. The second place and third place finishers in the scallion pancake are Southern.

Because C'town is so close, it's often my default for good, quick, cheap eats. In the span of the last 72 hours or so, though unplanned, I had the opportunity to taste three versions of scallion pancakes, nearly back-to-back. Here is my recommendation: 

1. Gourmet Dumpling - light crisp layers, no oil on surface, good scallion distribution.

2. Hong Kong Eatery - this rendition was also light and not oily, but it may have been dry-fried, just not quite as crispy as Gourmet Dumpling's.

3. Taiwan Cafe - this version is inconsistent, unfortunately the most recent serving I had was a little too doughy and a bit oily. In fairness, another time it was quite good here, but still not as good as Gourmet Dumpling's consistently crispy and delightful rendering.

Fried Food Facts:

A couple of things can go wrong when frying anything. Not the least of which is a kitchen disaster, please fry safely. But in terms of fried food when dining out look for clean, non-oily food. 

  1. Oil must be clean and changed frequently. If it's not, your fried foods will taste heavy and possibly will taste of other things fried in it. If the restaurant is trying to cut corners you're in trouble. Old oil cannot be made to taste good.
  2. The second thing that can go wrong is the temperature of the oil. An unskilled fry cook will turn out greasy food when they've rushed the frying process. Too much oil will be absorbed, whereas if the oil is the proper temperature, very little will remain on or in the food. Even if the oil is fresh, it's not something you want pooling on your pancakes.
  3. Types of frying: there's deep frying - the food floats in oil, in a deep vessel like a dutch oven. Think french fries.
  4. Shallow-frying - a much smaller amount of oil is used in a skillet. Falls between a deep fry technique and a sauté.
  5. Pan frying - usually refers to something fried on the stove top in very little oil. Sautéing is pan-frying, more or less.
  6. Oven frying - this isn't really frying at all. It's meant to make health conscious folk feel better about the baked food they're substituting for the more desirable fried foods they really want and we all crave. It's like losing a competition but getting a ribbon for effort or something. Just don't call it frying, it's baking or roasting.

What type of oil you use and your technique will both go a long way to making delicious and healthy (okay, healthier) fried foods.

To read about other Gourmet Dumpling meals: