Wednesday, September 30, 2015

An attempt at imitation: the O Chame' Pancake

Green Onion, Corn and Hijiki Seaweed Pancake
Sometimes you just get a craving.  I've been spending so much time at home lately, every day it seems a new dish pops into the "must eat now" part of my brain.  That happened the other day - a cold and dreary one - my car practically drove itself up to Hana Japanese in Rohnert Park for their amazing Tonkotsu Ramen.  If you haven't been, please make it a destination.  They only serve the Ramen at lunch - and it is ridiculously delicious - sticky rich pork broth, wakame and nori seaweeds,
spinach, bamboo shoots, one of those perfectly cooked eggs, and of course, succulent kurobuta pork belly.  The funny thing is they don't even specialize in Ramen, but are known for their amazingly fresh sushi and sashimi.  Hana is truly my favorite Japanese restaurant north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Did I mention to make a special trip?   Don't be put off by the fact they are in a strip mall behind a Mary's Pizza Shack and next to a variety of non-descript real estate and investment offices.  They just expanded, pretty much doubling in size, adding a beautiful sake bar, lounge and private dining room.  Did I mention you should go to Hana?
Notice the fat globules floating on the broth?    Some of you think I'm crazy, but eating fat is underrated.  What do you think every cell wall in your body is made up of?  Two layers of lipids.  That lipid "bi-layer" as they call it, monitors and controls all the molecules going in and out of our cells. That lipid bilayer needs to be on its game in order to keep the bad stuff out, and let the good stuff in.  So,  don't be afraid of some honest to goodness high quality lipids!

Okay, so onto the real reason for this post.  Apparently my trip to Hana inspired a little Japanese-esque tangent and I began dreaming about my other all time favorite Japanese Restaurant:  O Chame'.  O Chame' (formerly in Berkeley) closed about a year or two ago, much to everyone's sad surprise, and right after Chef David Vardy received yet another gold star by SF Chronicle's food critic Michael Bauer by making the Bay Area Top 100 Restaurants for perhaps the 10th year in a row (or possibly more!).  O Chame' was open for over 20 years though, so I'm sure David needed a break and why not exit at the top of one's game?

Anyway, of the many, many delicious items on the menu, especially memorable were the appetizers.  Remember the Grilled Eel on Belgian Endive?  Or, the Sashimi Salad with just the perfect amount of dressing.  How about the Blanched Spinach with Sesame Dressing, the Cucumbers with Wakame, the Seared Tuna on wilted leeks with a drizzle of horseradish studded mayo?  Oh no, I feel another craving coming on...
There was one appetizer though, one that kept every kid (and parent) within 10 miles of O Chame' coming back for more:  The White Corn and Green Onion Pancake.  With it's piquant dipping sauce (an elegant mixture of mayonnaise, soy, vinegar and mirin) and light crunch,  there was practically no table in the place that didn't order one.  Rumor is that David's wife, Hiromi, whipped up one of these at home late one night (or early one day?) - tossing in this and that from the refrigerator.  The most memorable dishes often come about in interesting ways...
David changed up the pancake seasonally, doing one with pumpkin in the fall and winter, portobella mushrooms in the spring, and corn in the summer.  Way back at the beginning, the original pancake on the menu was white shrimp and green onion (can still taste it...).  Sometimes we would talk the kitchen into making one with crab (oh, I guess that was just for us employees - did I mention I worked there?).
Anyway, a few times a year i decide I need some of David's food, so I channel the O Chame' kitchen - thinking of Yuji-san, Juan, Saul(not jewish Saul, but Sa-UL - he is from Oaxaca) and even Raju (blast from the past).  Yesterday, I definitely channeled Saul as I remember him lifting the pancake edges from the griddle, adding a little more oil, giving it a little spin...  When it wasn't busy in the front of the house, I spent a fair amount of time with my head stuck through that little window near the bar, watching, asking questions, tasting things.
I digress.  So yesterday the pancake popped into my head.  Had to have it.  The ingredients are pretty simple - David always said it was just flour and beer as the base.  We know there is more to it than that, so I decided to google "savory pancake."  I found an article written by Amanda Gold of the SF Chronicle with a recipe by Stuart Brioza (http://www.sfgate.com/recipes/article/You-ll-flip-for-State-Bird-Provisions-savory-5599655.php)  Incidentally, before Stuart and his amazing wife, Nicole, opened their very popular State Bird Provisions in the City, I actually had the pleasure of working a few parties with them as their server.  Top notch people I tell you.  And Nicole made the most amazing home-made crackers I have ever tasted.
Okay, back to the pancake.  I sort of used Stuart's recipe as my guide, but altered a few things.  I may not have hit David's recipe on the head, as he used Guisto's Vita Grain Flour (which I didn't have at home) - all flours aren't created equal and I imagine the Vita Grain flour probably has a higher protein content (i.e. less gluten) and therefore made for a less glutenous end product.  However, what I did come up with was pretty good, so good that I had to make it again the next day.  Plus my friend Linda sort of mildly double dared me to post my results (it didn't take much nudging) - which meant I really had to make it again to give you the proper measurements and proportions.  Here it is:

Pancake Batter Base:
1.5 cup  AP Flour
1.5 tsp Baking Powder
1.5 tsp Kosher Salt
1.5 cup beer - lager, non-hoppy, light beer
1 cup water
1 egg

Additions to batter (per pancake)
3-4 Tbsp raw white corn
1 heaping Tbsp chopped green onion
1 Tbsp chopped hijiki seaweed (optional)

Sauce
4 Tbsp Mayonnaise (Best Foods)
1 Tbsp Rice Vinegar
2 tsp Tamari (or low sodium soy sauce)
1 Tbsp Mirin (sweet cooking sake)
1/2 tsp ground ginger (optional)
a sprinkle of shichimi togarashi to garnish

Make sauce by combining all ingredients and whisking together well.  Store in refrigerator until ready to use -  shichimi togarashi is a japanese pepper mix commonly served with soba and udon noodles to spice up the broth.  It is the mix you see on the table that has the random hemp seed in it.

Prepare additions to batter so they are ready when the batter is ready to go.  The hijiki seaweed isn't 100% necessary - as the end product will be just fine without it - but you  may have to go to the asian market anyway, so you may as well pick some up - it comes dried, so lasts a long time well sealed in a dark cupboard.

For the batter, in a medium sized mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.  Mix together well.

In a separate bowl combine water, beer and egg.  Whisk together.  Pour into dry ingredients and lightly whisk together.  Don't overmix - a few lumps are okay.  The batter should be the consistency of regular pancake batter - not too thick.






In a small mixing bowl, combine about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of batter with enough ingredients for one pancake (below)

Gently combine these ingredients
Heat a cast iron skillet or a griddle on medium heat until oil almost smokes.  I use olive oil but feel free to use peanut oil or even canola oil.

Pour batter as one would a pancake, immediately spreading ingredients with a spatula so the middle isn't too thick.



Lift edges and add a little oil, the pan should be hot enough that the oil sort of "slides around" instead of just pooling.
Spin the pancake around a bit to make sure nothing is sticking.  Turn over when first side is golden brown (about 4 or 5 minutes).  Add a little more oil underneath and cook another 4 or 5 minutes until the second side is golden brown.

Slice into squares and serve along side the dipping sauce.

This version turned out a little more like the chinese version of the scallion pancake, a little more glutenous than I would have liked, and it picked up more of the oil than I remember. I believe the key really is the flour.  Nonetheless, it was super delicious!   I sprinkled a little shichimi on my sauce (not how we served it to the customers by the way) and was instantly transported to many sweet times and memories.  Funny how good food can do that!  Please try this recipe and give me feedback.  Mess with flour and liquid proportions.  Add some shrimp!   Enjoy!



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