Eggscellent

Eggscellent
Ari LeVaux - 10/15/2020

I’ve been buying Chinese chives at the farmers market from a vendor named Nancy. She has a lot of unique vegetables, like pink celery for stir-fries, delicious edamame soy beans, and Dutch-style tomatoes, individually priced with a piece of tape on each fruit. But it was the chives that kept me coming back.

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

Chive pancakes are a popular item on many Asian menus, from Bhutan to Beijing. They usually have 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 pancake, when it comes to Chinese chives, I do what Nancy says.

Chives have an earthy, tea-like flavor and a balance of sweet and spice that join magnificently with the other ingredients. The only problem is the thing is so large, fragile and all-around floppy that a spatula alone can’t flip it.

I forgot to ask Nancy how she turns her pancake. And before I knew it, I found myself with a sizzling yellow disc, and realized I had to take matters into my own wrists.

Theretofore, I’d never flipped a thing, except when wishing a “good day” to my fellow Bostonian drivers growing up. But flipping things in pans always seemed too risky, especially given the lack of any reward in my life before the chive pancake to even attempt such a feat of hubris. 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. Delicious enough to eat off the floor if you did. I realized that 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, with pancake flipping as well as 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, even as it accelerates toward Earth. It allows you to wait for the pancake to rotate a full 180 degrees, before you stick that landing in your non-stick pan.

In order 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 really easy. My stainless steel saucepan is almost as manageable.

While a perfectly flipped chive pancake is a beautiful, impressive sight, the most important thing is to simply catch the thing, even if it lands awkwardly on an edge, collapsing into a pile of chive scramble. Once you get the general feel, it will always be close to perfect. Chive pancakes are too quick, and too easy, not to be cooked every day. But you might want to clean the floor, just in case.

Chive Pancake

Serves one

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 little bunch chives (or scallions), about the diameter of a quarter, minced from the bottom up, until the point where the relatively thick stem peters into flat leaves.

2 teaspoons butter

1 or two eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon soy sauce Pinch of black pepper

Optional: two tablespoons of fresh corn (I know Nancy would approve.)

Heat the oils in the 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. When it’s melted, turn the heat to high, wait 10 seconds, pouring the egg right into the middle where the butter was, and then circling out as evenly as possible to cover the pan. Don’t hold the egg bowl upside down very long, because you will want to save a little beaten egg for a step I call “pancake repair.”

The beaten eggs 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 forward and back, left right left, trying to get it to slide loose under the pancake. If you can’t break it free like that, use the spatula to get the edges or any sticky spots in the middle that are keeping it from sliding. If it breaks at all during this unsticking process, repair the damage with leftover egg mix.

Once the pancake is loose, keep the pan moving underneath it, forward and back, left-right-left, in a swirling motion.

With the bottom loose and 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 – 2 to 6 inches above the pan is fine, assuming you bend your knees, keeping your back straight, watching the floating pancake slowly rotate 180 degrees.

Stick the landing, and then bleat a vigorous “Ha!” and quickly free any pieces of the edge that may be folded and tucked under and repair any damage with 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, and slide the finished pancake onto a plate. Serve with soy sauce. n

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