I never had real Korean food (ie. excludes Nongshim instant ramyun) until my sister introduced it to me a few years ago. She brought us to this place called Hanabi in the city, which serves a combination of Japanese and Korean cuisine (but mostly Korean) and she insisted that we had to try the Pajeon, along with some hotpot with pork and tofu (I think). When the Pajeon arrived at our table, my eyes lit up at the sight of the large, thin and crispy battered pancake with large strips of green scallions embedded on top. Then there was the little dish of dipping sauce that came with it. Taking cue from my sister, I helped myself to the cut-up squares of pancake and dipped them in the sauce. Oooh yum....crispy edges, fragrant scallions, chewy bits of seafood, and a delightful garlic, chilli, vinegar and soy dipping sauce...it was so good I wished we could just skip the main course and just eat that.
Well, after that first experience, we have been to a few other Korean restaurants and we usually never fail to order Pajeon. It's like going to McDonald's and not ordering fries (or hash browns for breakfast). Anyway, making Pajeon is pretty easy and it's basically flour, eggs and water with seafood and scallions (or shallots as they call them in Australia). These are then pan-fried on both sides until browned with crispy edges, and cut up into squares so that it's easily picked up with a pair of chopsticks and dipped into the sauce. In order to get those crispy edges, the oil needs to be hot enough, just like when deep-frying. This will form a crust on the outside of the batter which acts as a barrier to prevent the oil from seeping through and making the pancake soggy.
Pajeon (or Scallion Pancake) Recipe
Makes 2 large pancakes
250g mixed seafood (mussels, clams, fish, prawns, squid, calamari), roughly chopped into small pieces
1 large bunch of scallions (about 8-10 large stalks), cut into 15cm lengths (or to fit your pan)
Oil for frying
3/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup rice flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup water
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp doenjang (Korean soy bean paste, optional)
Dipping sauce (combine in a bowl):
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 stalk scallion, chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 tbsp hot water
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame seeds
Whisk together the dry ingredients for the batter in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the egg, soy and doenjang. Whisk it and slowly add the water while incorporating the flour in to make a smooth batter. Add in the seafood.
Pour 1/4 vegetable oil in a large non-stick pan (I used a 28cm pan) and place it on medium-high heat. When it's sufficiently hot (a drop of batter in the oil will sizzle quickly and float to the top), take a bunch of scallions with both hands, dip it in the batter to coat, and arrange it in the pan so that they are lined up closely side by side in one layer. It should cover 80% of the pan. Then, quickly use a ladle and pour over half of the seafood and batter mixture over the scallions. Take a large spatula or turner and spread the seafood evenly around the pan. Then, using the back of the spatula, press down on the batter starting from the centre to the edges to spread out the mixture. This will help to flatten it into a thin round pancake. Turn the heat to medium if necessary.
Leave it to fry for 3-5 minutes until the bottom is browned and the top of the pancake has set. Then flip it over and fry the other side for another 3-4 minutes. I used a large fish turner to do the flipping.
When it's cooked and edges look golden brown and crisp, drain off any excess oil from the pan. Place a large plate over the pancake and turn the pan over upside down. Remove the pan to reveal the pancake! You can use an absorbent kitchen paper to dab off any excess oil on the pancake. Repeat the steps above to make a second pancake.
To serve, slice the pancake into bite-sized squares. You can do this on the plate or transfer the pancake onto a chopping board. Serve hot with dipping sauce and a few pairs of chopsticks!
- I bought a seafood marinara mix from the fish shop that has a good variety of different seafoods. Use that if you can find it, rather than buying each type of seafood individually.
- Make sure you use sufficient oil to cover the base of the pan, and it has to be hot enough to "crispify" the edges of the pancake!
- Store any leftovers in the fridge and reheat by toasting it in a hot pan on both sides. No oil necessary.
- Korean "doenjang" is optional, but it does give the pancake a "taste of Korea" and a light brownish tinge.