Cooking school is generally a waste of time and money. Articles have been written to this effect (at least the money part), so this isn’t some kind of bitter screed. Grads are stuck with thousands in debt, a situation not uncommon to alumni of all sorts of schools. However, restaurant jobs aren’t exactly the most lucrative gigs. For a starting line cook subway fare is an indulgence.
On the bright side, it does provide you with some funny moments. Such as sausage day, otherwise known as “day of attrition”, as described by our instructor, a bald and voluble chef. Actually, he had it right: my partner and I, half-listening to his instructions, barely trimmed the sinew from the lamb, resulting in a hopelessly jammed grinder. Naturally I backed away and let the teacher deal with it, watching as he tore away at the tangled, shredded tendons, cursing the whole time.
Cake day was another funny one, as a student, told to ice his cake, upturned it into a vat of ice. One time, a student went after his classmate with a pair of tongs, which ended up flying through the air. All eyes followed the soaring tongs, which landed in the giant whirring Hobart mixer, bringing the paddle attachment to a violent halt in a manner similar to that of the tangled sausage grinder.
Less funny was Chinese food day. For debt-laden cooking school grads, memories of Chinese day is enough to prompt thoughts of revenge and instruments of torture. There’s nothing better than being taught how to make Chinese food in a few hours by a guy who knows nothing about Chinese food.
The only thing I recall with any fondness is making scallion pancakes. It’s kind of a simple and cool procedure. Simple because the dough is more or less mix and cook; cool because to the eater, it seems like it must have been a pain to embed all those scallions. Not so. Rolling, cutting, and forming is a snap, and as long as you know how to slice scallions you can make this stuff.
I haven’t made scallion pancakes since cooking school, i.e. in ten years, but, flipping through Corinne Trang’s Essentials of Chinese Cuisine, I passed right by a recipe for today’s post. I’m not sure whether nostalgia or a craving for a simple fried snack made me go and buy a bunch of scallions, but I’m glad I did. Within an hour I was gorging myself on scallion pancakes dipped in soy sauce.
For those of you thinking about cooking school, I just saved you the pain of Chinese day. For you cooking school graduates, I may have churned up some bad memories. Sorry. Soothe your pain with a tray of these things.
Scallion Pancakes (adapted from Essentials of Chinese Cuisine, by Corinne Trang)
Makes 12 pancakes
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons lard, chilled
1/4 cup sesame oil plus another ¼ cup for frying
2 tablespoons kosher salt
8 scallions, roots trimmed, light and light green parts sliced thinly
- Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. With your fingers work in the lard quickly until incorporated. Make a well, pour in 1 cup water and stir until the mixture becomes a dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 5 -7 minutes until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit half hour.
- Roll the dough into a 12-inch long cylinder and cut off 1-inch long pieces.
- Using a rolling pin, roll a piece into a rectangle about 2 inches wide and 6-inches long, about 1/8 inch thick. Brush with some sesame oil, sprinkle with salt, sprinkle with a tablespoon of scallions.
- To form: roll up the dough lengthwise into a cigar, pinching the seam and ends to enclose the scallions. Then roll into a spiral, press flat and roll into a circular pancake, about ¼ inch thick. Repeat.
- To cook, heat some of the remaining oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Fry the pancakes in batches, until golden, about 2 minutes on each side. Serve with soy sauce.