We’ve been back in the States (and breathing clean air) for five months now, and while we’re happy to be there, we miss the food from Beijing. You Po Mian, Milk Bread, and “Big Plate” Chicken with Noodles are just a few of the Beijing staples we’ve recreated in the kitchen to help with homesickness and withdrawal. The slightly crispy, chewy, delicious Chinese pancakes (shou zhua bing) sold at a tiny stall at our old neighborhood market are another thing I long for.
Essentially, these Chinese pancakes are meant to be pulled apart by hand instead of being cut into wedges. The layers allow for simple separation, and the chewy and crispy textures complement each other well.
The flavored roux infused with scallion, star anise, and Sichuan peppercorns is another feature that sets these Chinese pancakes apart from our scallion pancake recipe. The result is a subtle and remarkable flavor profile, setting these pancakes apart from the more traditional scallion pancakes.
One note before we begin: this shou zhua bing recipe calls for quite a bit of oil. Lard was once the fat of choice when preparing such dishes, but oil has since taken its place. In a nutshell, that fat is the secret ingredient. Alright, so let’s get going.
FOR THE ROUX:
- 3 tbsp. of oil
- 4 scallions (white parts only; whole, not chopped)
- 3 pcs. of star anise
- 1 tbsp. of Sichuan peppercorns
- 3 tbsp. of all-purpose flour
- 1/8 tsp. of five-spice powder
FOR THE DOUGH:
- 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. of salt
- 1/4 cup of boiling water
- 3/4 cup of cold water
- 1 1/2 tbsp. of sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup of finely chopped scallions (optional)
- Salt (to taste)
TO MAKE THE FLAVORED ROUX:
- Place the star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, and scallion pieces into the pot. Tend to the pan on low heat until the aroma is pleasing, perhaps 15 minutes. Separate all the spices, so you end up with a large quantity of spiced oil. Make a thin roux by incorporating the flour and five-spice powder. Put it aside and wait until it’s completely cooled.
MAKING THE DOUGH:
- Mix the flour and salt in a bowl to make the dough. Create a well in the flour and pour the hot water into it. Blend using a spoon, chopsticks, or fork. Slowly incorporate the cold water and knead until a cohesive ball of dough is formed. Rest for 30 minutes with the cover on.
- Pancakes can be made in various sizes by dividing the dough into 4-8 even portions before cooking. Apply a thin layer of oil to a fresh tabletop. Flatten each ball of dough by first rolling it into a long rope. Sprinkle the dough lightly with salt, scallions, and sesame seeds, then brush it with the roux.
- Make a log of the dough by rolling it up from one end. Hold the roll down firmly with your palm while it stands on end. The resulting disc should be thinly rolled out to about 1/4″ to 1/2″ for a pancake. A little unraveling at the edges is fine. Pancake after pancake, do it again.
- Cook them immediately, or freeze them later by wrapping each pancake in plastic wrap or wax paper and storing them in a freezer bag. When you’re ready to cook them, there’s no need to thaw them first.
COOKING THE PANCAKES:
- Preheat a frying pan over medium heat and add a few tablespoons of oil to cook the pancakes. Put the pancake onto the hot griddle. Add two teaspoons of water to the sides of the pan (don’t pour the water on the pancake) and immediately cover it with a lid once the bottom turns golden. Infuse for 3 minutes. Remove the lid and repeat the process with the other side of the pancake.
- Finally, remove the lid, increase the heat slightly, and brown both sides of the pancake while flipping it over every so often. If you want to see the layers when you pull the pancake apart by hand after it has browned, you can use chopsticks to gently squeeze and pinch it a few times to loosen the layers after cooking (this step is optional). The perfect cooked pancake texture is somewhere between crisp and chewy.