Chinese Chive Pancakes, and the Art of Pancake Flipping

Perfect your technique with this quick and easy savory pancake recipe
September 22, 2020 Updated: September 23, 2020

I’ve been getting Chinese chives at the farmers market from a vendor named Nancy. She told me how to make a pancake, as she calls it, with egg, sesame oil, and her scallion-sized chives.

Chive pancakes usually have some glutinous form of starch, such as flour or pancake mix. But Nancy’s version, from “northern China,” has none. While it’s 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 sweetness and spice that joins 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 this disc.

Epoch Times Photo
Chives have an earthy, tea-like flavor and a balance of sweetness and spice that joins magnificently with the other ingredients. (PosiNote/Shutterstock)

I missed my chance to ask Nancy how she turns her pancake—probably something impossible with chopsticks. Before I knew it, I found myself with a sizzling pancake that I needed to invert, and I 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 chive pancake, when every other round thing in a pan that I’d ever needed to turn over was small or sturdy enough that I could do it with a spatula or two.

The chive pancake was different. Too big and delicate to turn, and too important to screw up.

When I realized as much, I knew 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 surprise with a flipped chive pancake in my pan.

The trick, with pancake flipping as well as managing any other object in front of you that might be falling, is to bend your knees. Quickly.

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 nonstick pan.

While a perfectly flipped chive pancake is a beautiful, impressive sight to behold, 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 for chive pancake, it will always be close to perfect. It’s too quick, and too easy, not to cook it every day.

Chive Pancake

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 nonstick omelet pan is the lightest option, and makes it really easy. My stainless steel saucepan is almost as manageable.

This time of year when corn is fresh, I like to add some cut kernels to the pancake. I know Nancy would approve.

Serves 1

  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 little bunch of 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 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce, plus extra for serving
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons fresh corn

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, then pour the egg right into the middle where the butter is, and circle 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. Two to six 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 let bleat a vigorous “Ha!” as when chopping a brick in half with your bare hand, and quickly free any pieces of the edge that may be folded and tucked under. Repair any damage with leftover egg mixture.

If you don’t have the confidence to try flipping it, just 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.

Ari LeVaux writes about food in Missoula, Montana.