Farm-fresh chive pancakes


I’ve been buying Chinese chives at the farmers market from a vendor named Nancy. She has many unique vegetables, like pink celery for stir-fries, delicious edamame soybeans and Dutch-style tomatoes, but it’s the chives that keep me coming back to both the Tuesday and Saturday markets so I can have fresh chive pancakes every day.

Nancy told me how to make a pancake, as she called it, with egg, sesame oil and her scallion-sized chives. It took me a minute to get the hang of it, but now I can make this pancake at will. And I can make one disappear faster than my dog can polish off a piece of burger.

Chive pancakes are a popular item on many Asian menus. They’re usually made with some glutenous form of starch-like flour or pancake mix. But Nancy’s version, from northern China, has none. While technically more an omelet than a pancake, when it comes to Chinese chives, I do what Nancy says.

Chives have an earthy, tea-like flavor and a balance of sweetness and spiciness that joins magnificently with the other ingredients. The only problem is that the pancake is so large, fragile and floppy that a spatula alone can’t flip it.

I missed my chance to ask Nancy how she turns her pancakes. Before I knew it, I found myself with a sizzling yellow disc that I needed to flip, and I realized I had to take matters into my own wrists.

Until then, every round thing in a pan that I’d ever needed to invert was small or sturdy enough that I could do it with a spatula or two. The chive pancake is different: too big and delicate to turn, too important to screw up. I realized the time had finally come. There was no way around this moment but through it.

The next thing I knew, I was cackling with delight, holding a flipped chive pancake in my pan.

The trick to pancake flipping — and managing other falling objects in front of you — is to bend your knees and drop your elevation as necessary. Dropping down stops the clock for a moment, allowing you to keep the object in front of you and in reach as it plummets. It also allows you to wait for the pancake to rotate 180 degrees before you stick the landing in your non-stick pan.

While a perfectly flipped chive pancake is a beautiful, impressive sight to behold, the most important thing is simply catching the thing, even if it lands awkwardly on an edge, collapsing into a pile of chive scramble. Once you get the general feel, your pancakes will always be close to perfect. But you might want to clean the floor, just in case.

Chive pancake

To flip the pancake, you need a round, relatively light pan with gently curved sides — not to be confused with a cast-iron skillet. A non-stick omelet pan is the lightest option and makes it easy. My stainless-steel saucepan is almost as manageable.

Serves one

  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 bunch chives or scallions,
  • about the diameter of a quarter,
  • minced from the bottom up to the
  • point where the relatively thick
  • stem peters into flat leaves
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 or 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • Pinch of black pepper

Heat the oils in a pan on medium heat. Add the chopped chives and let them sizzle briefly, spreading them evenly around the pan with a spatula. Add half the butter to the middle of the pan. When it’s melted, turn the heat to high and wait 10 seconds, then pour in the egg and circle it out as evenly as possible to cover the pan. Don’t hold the egg bowl upside down very long. You will want to save a little beaten egg for a step I call “pancake repair.”

The egg should sizzle fiercely upon contact with the hot oil. Tilt the pan this way and that for even distribution and a sharp edge.

As we prepare to flip the pancake, it must be completely unstuck from the pan. Shake the pan in a circular motion. If you can’t break it free like that, use the spatula to pry at the edges or any sticky spots in the middle that are keeping it from sliding. If it breaks during this unsticking process, repair the damage with the leftover egg mix.

Once the pancake is loose, keep the pan moving underneath it in a swirling motion.

With the bottom loose and the top still soupy with a shallow layer of raw egg, sprinkle the soy sauce and black pepper evenly and place the rest of the butter in the middle of the pancake top, which is about to be the bottom. Keep moving the pan under the hot bottom to keep it from sticking. Turn off the stove, step away, get balanced and flip it.

Don’t launch the pancake into orbit. Two to 6 inches above the pan is fine, assuming you bend your knees, keep your back straight and watch the floating pancake slowly rotate 180 degrees.

Stick the landing, then quickly free any pieces of the edge that may be folded and tucked under. Repair any damage with the leftover egg mixture.

If you don’t have the confidence to try flipping it, use a spatula or two to fold it in half like a normal omelet and turn off the heat.

Put the pan back on the hot burner, but don’t turn it back on. The pancake is cooked. Give it 30 seconds to rest and set up, then slide it onto a plate. Serve with soy sauce.


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