Monday, June 18, 2018

Crunchy taro scallion breads


It’s hard to improve on perfection, but sometimes you just have to try. 

Case in point: Taiwan’s fried scallion breads. I’ve covered those classic snacks before, in All Under Heaven, plus a pumpkin variation here on the blog, but today I’m here with a very fine variation, one that I’m sure you’ll love, too.

Three things make this recipe unique. 

First, I took a clue from the big raised scallion breads of the North (dàbĭng 大餅) and used yeasty bread dough instead of plain flour and water. This puffs up the pastries and makes them super light. Now, this is important because of factor two:

A really good taro root
The taro in here. It’s no secret. I love taro. There’s something about its sweet warmth that equals total food comfort to me. 

And so, whenever I find an especially good taro root, I peel it, cube it, and freeze it so that I can satisfy my cravings quickly and with little fuss. 

To make the mashed taro, just steam the taro until it’s soft all the way through, which should not take more than 15 minutes. Mash the cooked taro with a fork until it’s smooth, and that’s it. And because the taro is starchy, you also need factor three:

Steamed taro cubes
Olive oil. Yes, I know, this is not traditional, but my Chinese friends are coming to love it almost as much as me, not only for its flavor, but also for its health benefits. You don’t have to use extra virgin. Regular is perfect for this.

The olive oil lends a great creaminess to the taro and also crisps up the dough like nobody’s business. 

I’ve tried other oils here, and olive oil is the way to go. You can slip some toasted sesame oil into the filling, if you want, but sesame oil is so strongly flavored that it tends to out shout the taro’s subtle aroma.

Finally, be sure and sprinkle the fried breads with some really good salt. This makes each mouthful a joy.

For a complete breakfast, you can top the breads with a fried egg. 


Sprinkle on the fillings
To do this, wait until the bread is fried to a golden crisp, and then set it to one side. Add a touch more oil to the pan and crack an egg in there. Then, immediately squoosh the bread down onto the egg so that it cracks the yolk and welds to the egg. Fry the egg just until it’s cooked to your liking, and you’re ready to eat.



Crunchy taro scallion breads
Yùní cōngyóubĭng  芋泥蔥油餅
Taiwan
Makes 4

2 teaspoons bread yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup warm water
2 cups | 320 g Chinese flour  (or 1⅓ cups | 210 g all purpose plus ⅔ cup | 110 g pastry flour)
Fold the long edges over
About 1 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup | 100 g taro, cooked and mashed
½ cup | 50 g finely chopped green onions
½ cup | 120 ml water
Flaky salt, like Maldon

1. Sprinkle the yeast and sugar on the water and wait until the yeast foams, about 20 minutes. Place the flour in a large work bowl and mix in the yeasty liquid until you have coarse flakes, then turn it out on a board and knead until supple. (You probably won’t need more flour.) Lightly oil the bowl and toss the dough around in it to cover it with the oil. Place a towel or plastic wrap over the bowl and let the dough rise to twice its size, punch it down, and let it rise once more.

Coil the dough into a snail
2. Lightly oil your counter and a Chinese rolling pin. Have a pastry scraper ready, too. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Working on one at a time, roll the dough out into a rectangle, about 12 x 4 inches | 30 x 10 cm. Brush the surface with around a tablespoon of oil and sprinkle it with a quarter of the salt, taro, and green onions. Fold both of the long edges over the filling and then fold it once again down the middle to form a rope. Coil the rope around to form a ball, and then flatten this with your hand. Roll out the ball to form a disc that is about ½ inch | 1 cm thick. Repeat with the other pieces of dough and filling until you have 4 raw discs. The edges of the discs will look alarmingly tattered, but that’s actually good news, as these will fry up into incredibly crunchy bits. The raw discs can be frozen at this point, if you wish; you don’t need to defrost them before frying.

Raggedy is good here
3. Set a frying pan over medium heat and have a platter lined with parchment or tempura paper ready. Pour about ¼ inch | 5 mm of oil into the hot frying pan and then slide in one of the discs. Immediately pour about 2 tablespoons water around the edge of the dough and cover the pan, as this will steam-fry the bread and ensure that the center rises quickly. Remove the cover when there’s no more steam and fry it on one side until golden brown. Flip it over, fry until the other side is also golden brown, and then remove to drain on the paper. Fry the other discs in the same way, adding more oil as needed.

4. To serve, cut the discs into quarters and sprinkle with the flaky salt. Serve while hot. If you want, you can hold the fried breads in a 275°F | 135°C oven to keep them warm, although I have been known to scarf up the still-crispy cool ones when no one is looking.

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