A little comfort food for these uncertain days.
Welcome to What Our Friends Are Cooking, where we call up our favorite people to find out what they’re cooking and how they’re fairing under quarantine.
Back when we could frequent restaurants in New York without batting an eye, one of our favorite spots to gather and dine was King in the West Village. King is simple, but immensely satisfying, unfussy, but still unique and feels like the neighborhood gem everyone can call their own.
Annie Shi is one of the founders and GM at King. Since the onslaught of Covid-19, Annie and her partners have had to shutter King for the time being. King is part of the ROAR community so we wanted to take a moment to highlight Annie, King, and everything ROAR is doing for New York restaurants.
And reminder, if you order a Quarantine Cutie Kit, we will make a $25 direct donation to ROAR.
Q: First things first, where are you and how are you? And on a scale of 1 to 10, how badly do you want a snack right now?
Annie: I am in Scarsdale with my parents and my cat, and honestly, feel like I should be antsier after living with them for a full month, like I’ve reversed time and am once again sixteen and in high school, but I have been loving the extra time with them.
On the scale, I’m at an 11! I always want a snack. I think I speak for many when I say the organizing unit of my quarantine days is the snack.
Q: Why did you decide you wanted to share your mom’s scallion pancake recipe? Are there certain foods right now you’re gravitating towards more than others?
Annie: First off, I wanted to share something that is comforting for me, and Chinese food in all its forms is definitely what I’m craving these days. I grew up eating my mother’s scallion pancakes – they’re the best and just so savoury and delicious, and she’s from Dalian, so she’s from a dough culture and is excellent at all forms of it, whether it’s pancakes, or shen jian bao, or dumplings, or wontons. I’m super lucky in this regard! I also know that a lot of my friends are craving Chinese food right now since all restaurants are closed and it’s not something that they’re used to cooking at home, so I wanted to share something that would satisfy that craving. Scallion pancakes are actually incredibly easy to make, especially after mastering sourdough.
Q: While in quarantine, food has become a much discussed topic for so many because of its comfort and ease, everyone’s got to eat! Curious what your earlier memories with food and how they informed your career in restaurants?
Annie: I grew up eating dinner with my family every single night – it’s when we came together at the end of our day and shared news and caught up with each other, since both my parents worked, and I was typically at school or in after-school activities until evening. Somehow, my mom still managed to cook and put a full Chinese meal on the table every single night – this means at least one vegetable dish, one meat dish, possibly a seafood dish, a gently steaming soup of some kind to cleanse the palette at the end, and lots of rice. I think it’s that feeling of gathering together around a table with loved ones that made me really ache to open my own restaurant. I try to recreate that spirit of generosity and conviviality every night at King.
Q: How has the pandemic affected King? Why is ROAR such an important and vital cause to you?
Annie: Since March 16th, we have been closed. We had to lay off all 34 of our staff, who are the heartbeat of our restaurant, and close our restaurant, which we opened in September 2016. The whole thing has been a surreal nightmare. And unfortunately, we are one of the hardest hit industries because a restaurant by definition is a physical place where you come together and share food and drink – it’s not a job that can exist remotely. We have been more or less passed over in the government aid that has come out. PPP doesn’t work for our industry, EIDL funds have run out many times over, and we will be the last businesses allowed to reopen. ROAR is incredibly necessary in order for us to organize and explain to the government what is at stake and what we as an industry that employs 11 million in the country, specifically need in order to survive. The threat of extinction is real, and we need industry specific help if we are to stand a chance to survive this pandemic and recession.
Q: Besides King, what other restaurants are you most excited to return to when the social distancing restrictions have eased?
Annie: I’m most excited to go back to Flushing, where my family and I had a rotating cast of restaurants that we used to go to every Saturday lunch. I’m looking forward to going to August Gatherings in Chinatown, Ho Foods, 886 and Uluh in the East Village. Té Company in the West Village – my absolute favorite place to spend a quiet afternoon. Altro for a martini and some prosciutto after service. Via Carota for a late-night dinner after swinging by King on a night off for just one glass of wine that turns into way too many margaritas. The next morning, Westbourne for my feel-better breakfast and Jack’s for an iced red-eye before heading back into King.
Annie’s Mother’s Scallion Pancakes:
Add hot water slowly to the 3 cups of flour (keep aside the 1 tbsp) and salt and knead – don’t worry if it sticks to your hands! Just keep kneading until the gluten develops and it forms a ball. The dough should feel bouncy by the end. Cut and form into two logs, and cover with a damp towel. Let sit for 30 minutes.
While the dough is resting, slice 4 scallions, both green and white. Combine with five spice powder, and 1 tbsp of flour in a small bowl. Meanwhile, heat up around 1/4 cup of vegetable or grapeseed oil in a pan on the stove for a few minutes. Pour over scallion, flour, and five spice mixture and mix with a spoon.
With a rolling pin (or wine bottle, or water bottle, whatever you have), roll each log out into a thin long rectangle. Make sure you flour your surface so it doesn’t stick. If it rips, don’t worry, just smush it back – this is a forgiving recipe! With a spoon, divide up the scallion-oil mixture and spread evenly onto the dough. Then, fold the top edge down by a quarter, and repeat with the bottom edge. Fold over each edge once more to form quarters, and then fold the halves over each other. Pinch the edges at each end closed and then proceed to roll the dough from left to right like you’re forming a snail shell or cinnamon bun. Tuck the last bit of the edge underneath and smush with your palm to form a thick pancake. Repeat with the other ball of dough. Let these rest again for 30 minutes to an hour, then roll out again to form a thinner pancake.
Now you’re ready to fry! Add a healthy glug of oil to your pan, and turn your heat to medium high. Make sure the oil is nice and hot before you slide the pancake on (if it’s hard to maneuver, you can use your rolling pin / wine bottle to help transport by rolling/draping half of the pancake on it). Let cook 3 minutes on first side before you flip. Make sure you flip hard and thwack it against the pan a bit – this helps bring out the layers. Flip once or twice more, for a cooking time of roughly 7-8 minutes or until the color is golden brown with some lovely crispy bits and the center feels bouncy when you press against it.
Cut into triangles and make sure to make a dipping sauce to go with it – I use a general ratio of 1:1:1 of soy sauce, black vinegar or rice wine as a substitute, and sesame oil. Add splash water or sugar to taste, and of course, dollop in your favorite chili oil – mine is Fly By Jing made by my wonderful friend, Jenny Gao, who sources the best quality chilies from Sichuan every growing season for her oil. Sadly, it was left behind in my apartment, so Lao Gan Ma did the trick for us. Add some chopped scallions or cilantro if you have on hand. Tuck in, and try not to eat all of them before they make it to the table!
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