A pancake can be the basis of a satisfying meal, particularly when it contains hearty lentils and is complemented by sauce rather than syrup. photo courtesy of gordon food service. The beloved carrier steps away from the syrup and into the savory spotlight
By Gerry Ludwig
One of the most exciting developments on casual menus of late has been the increasing appearance of savory pancake dishes. Yet another example of chefs applying bold flavor treatments to economical ingredients, these pancakes are taking on many new forms, and proving to be a versatile platform for a wide variety of meat, poultry, seafood and vegetable accompaniments.
The two most prevalent types being served are savory takes on the traditional American-style fluffy pancake and variations of the Korean scallion pancake.
In their new savory role, American-style pancakes are most often served silver-dollar size and stacked or shingled, making them an ideal sharing plate. The batter is a typical pancake recipe of flour, milk or buttermilk, egg, baking powder, butter and salt. Some chefs prefer to use olive oil rather than butter in their savory cakes. The only excluded ingredient is sugar.
At the widely acclaimed State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, chefs Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski feature three pancake dishes each evening. Their signature cake is a menu fixture, made from a sourdough batter laced with sauerkraut and topped with whipped ricotta and grated pecorino Romano cheeses. Rotating specials include cakes topped with sea urchin and soy-lime glaze, sweet corn and aged goat cheese, pickled anchovy with crème fraîche and basil, and an ingenious “everything pancake” loaded with a variety of toasted seeds and topped with smoked sturgeon and horseradish cream.
Chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly of Chez Sardine in New York City serves a stack of diminutive “breakfast pancakes” layered with fish tartare and garnished with salmon roe and spicy yogurt. At Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago, chef Heather Terhune folds red lentils into her batter and serves the crispy griddled cake in a pool of coconut curry broth. Also in Chicago, Nightwood’s chef Jason Vincent cleverly garnishes his spinach and crispy prosciutto salad with a savory pancake made from chickpea flour.
A scallion pancake makes an ideal wrap for tender pork belly, melding two favorite Asian dishes into one. photo courtesy of gordon food service.
While the scallion pancake is Asian in origin, today’s offerings highlight many opportunities to add Western ingredients to the toppings, sauces and garnishes.
The base recipe is a simple combination of flour, water, egg, salt and thinly sliced green onions. The batter is considerably thinner than that used for American-style pancakes.
Korean-style scallion pancakes are a stand-alone category at Bill Kim’s Chicago restaurant Belly Q. Each cake is accompanied by Kim’s signature black vinegar, sesame and soy dipping sauce, but the topping combinations extend beyond traditional Asian ingredients, including goat’s milk feta cheese and rice noodles, double smoked bacon and kimchi, and savory grilled shrimp, squid and salmon.
In Los Angeles, Eric Greenspan, executive chef at The Foundry, folds scallion pancakes around thick slices of braised pork belly and griddles them to a crispy crunch, serving them with a black vinegar dipping sauce. And Stephanie Izard of Chicago’s Little Goat Diner serves a scallion pancake topped with slices of crispy pork belly and garnished with housemade hoisin sauce, bok choy salad and ginger-maple dressing.
These examples illustrate the potential to establish differentiation with a savory pancake dish. Best of all, unique and signature pancakes can be created using ingredients that are already in inventory.
Beyond conventional white or whole wheat, basing the recipe on unique flour can provide flavor and texture variety. Consider the following:
Amaranth, buckwheat, chickpea, rice, rye, tapioca
Another advantage of using these flours is that, with the exception of rye, all are gluten-free.
Ingredient additions that are folded into the raw batter can provide delicious differentiation:
Caramelized onions, chopped greens, cooked lentils, sauerkraut, shredded or grated sharp cheeses, toasted seeds
A wide variety of cold proteins make ideal toppings for savory cakes:
Fish or beef tartare, fish or shellfish ceviches, fish roe, gravlax, hot-smoked salmon, trout, sturgeon, mayonnaise-bound salads (chicken, ham, tuna)
Hot proteins can range from the healthful to the indulgent:
Bacon lardons or crispy pork belly; braises (beef pot roast, pulled pork and lamb shoulder); grilled meats, poultry and seafood; meat and seafood stews
Garnishes are limited only by the imagination. Some top choices:
Baby arugula or frisée, fried onions or shallots, fresh goat cheese or whipped cream cheese, greek yogurt and labne, grilled vegetables, rajas