Chinese pancakes with Crispy Mushrooms (vegan)
Who doesn’t love pancakes with crispy duck? I recently learned that the Chinese never eat crispy duck at home – it's best done at a restaurant. But they do make the pancakes at home and then stuff them with all sorts of delicious things. They really do make a wonderful lunch, and very attractive to kids and teenagers as they can build their own selection of flavours. The thin wheat pancakes can be used with meat, vegetables, scrambled egg, any sort of stir fry. The best filling is slightly crispy, tangy and salty, to give that burst of flavour as you bite through the soft wrapping. Here I’ve made a deep-fried mushroom filling – which goes perfectly with the traditional accompaniments for the crispy duck, so we can keep it easy – spring onions, cucumber and plum sauce. The pancakes are also a superb way of using up cold leftover meat – either just as it is, cut fine, or covered in a simple batter and fried up. They freeze well too, so it’s easy to make a double batch and use half later for a simple lunch. If you read the recipe and wonder why you make them in pairs: time and effort saving – you roll once for two pancakes, and also by doing this you get a steamed inside for the pocket formed from the two pancakes, which is what cooks the flour. Ingenious. Trying to repeat the delicious pancakes we ate in Hong Kong, I used Maggie’s recipe on omnivorescookbook.com as the basis - the mixture of hot and cold water dough seemed to give a good result. Thanks, Maggie!
The only thing is, you do get the kitchen full of hot vapour as the frying pan needs to be quite hot – never mind, it’s nice to be warm while you’re cooking!
Thin wheat pancakes
Makes about 40 pancakes, which is about 8 servings. Timings – about 90 minutes if you are making the whole batch from scratch.
Pour the boiling water into one bowl and mix thoroughly – you will get a cooked, sticky dough. Turn out onto a work surface. Pour the cold water into the other bowl of flour and mix thoroughly – you will get a much harder dough. Turn the cold water-dough onto the hot-water dough and knead the two together for about 5 minutes – this is really hard work as the dough is tough and springy. Keep going, turning, kneading, pulling – and in about 5 minutes you will have a smooth and elastic dough. Wrap it up and let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
In this time, assemble your fillings – chop the vegetables or meat into small pieces, get your spices together, whatever you are doing.
Take the dough out and knead again just briefly, put it back in the fridge for another 10 minutes.
You could, in this interval, deep fry your mushrooms or pieces of meat and keep them warm in an oven.
When ready to cook the pancakes, roll half the dough into a long sausage shape about 40cm long. Keep the other half wrapped in the fridge still. Take a knife and cut your sausage of dough into 20 equal pieces, each will be a squat cylinder. Now work with two at a time, keeping the rest under a tea towel to avoid drying them out. Take a piece of dough and flatten it with your thumb to a disc about 3cm across – brush this with oil. Take the next piece of dough and flatten it into a disc the same size and put both discs together, with the oiled side in between. Keeping the two pieces of dough together, put them on a work surface and use your rolling pin to roll them out to pancake sized flat pieces – about 12cm across if you can. It is quite hard work as the dough is resistant, but it won’t spring back once you’ve got it to the right size. Place your double pancake under a tea towel to keep moist. Keep on doing this until you’ve done all 20 pieces, so you now have 10 double pancakes.
Heat a medium sized frying pan without oil - it does need to be quite hot. Place one pancake into the pan and watch as the air between the layers puffs up into bubbles, and you can see how the inside pocket is all steamy. It takes less than a minute and you don’t want the cooked side to be anything more than very lightly brown. Flip the pancake over and cook the other side, you just want the texture to be dried, not griddled. Flip the pancake out of the pan onto a tea towel and peel apart the layers – you need to do this while the pancake is hot and steamy or you won’t get them apart. You should have two circles of thin wheat dough pancakes. Cover them in the tea towel to keep warm and not dry out while you cook the rest of the batch.
Once cooked, you can let them cool, wrap them in greaseproof paper and a freezer bag, and pop into the freezer for later – steam to de-frost, they don’t need more cooking. Cooled pancakes can be kept for a couple of days, ready to re-heat.
Of course, they are really best eaten fresh, so take them to the table and let the hungry horde assemble their own stuffed rolls.
Clean and slice up the mushrooms. Slide half of the slices into the batter and mix with your fingers while you heat up oil for the frying – you don’t need a deep fryer, just 1cm of oil in a deep frying pan will do. Drop the coated mushrooms into the hot oil and fry until cooked and golden – about 4 minutes, turning now and then. Scoop out that batch onto kitchen paper and cook the remaining half. As with all deep frying, you need to cook in batches to avoid the oil temperature dropping too much when you put it all in, as you’d then get a soggy mess instead of nice crisp batter.
Bring the deep-fried crispy mushrooms to the table along with some sliced spring onions, sliced cucumber and some hoi sin and plum sauce.
Roll ‘em up and enjoy!
A Hug from the Kitchen
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