In times like these, comfort food takes on a great importance, and one of the few things that have made me happy this past week has been the fact that I have finally figured out how to make a decent (in fact, quite delicious) version of the Korean savory pancake pajeon.
Pajeon is apparently quite a popular Korean staple, but I’ve never had it turn out right. It’s been surprisingly difficult to get the fillings to cook properly, and when they do, the result has been really boring, even after I bought some jeon mix in hopes of improving the outcome.
In fact, the only jeon I’ve liked the taste of is kimchi jeon. It worked taste-wise because I like kimchi, but like all recipes in which one fries vegetables in batter, you take a low-calorie, highly-nutritious food and, through effort and dedication, turn it into high-calorie, low-nutrient food. Let’s just say that I feel I have better things to do with my time than to make my own junk food.
(Pedantic language note: Pajeon literally means “green onion pancakes”–pa = green onion, jeon = pancake.
So, this was all about…green onions?
But strictly speaking, with pajeon you don’t mix the pa into the batter–you make a layer of batter, then a layer of pa or whatever you’re putting in there, and then another layer of batter. If you chop the pa up and mix it into the batter, technically you’re not making pajeon, you’re making buchimgae, which is Korean for, “Even Koreans use these terms interchangeably. Try not to get stressed–this is comfort food, after all.”)
So I had basically given up on jeon, but then I watched this:
And, man, that dish sounded really good–a blend of eggs, shrimp, and scallops? Plus I still had the better part of a bag of jeon mix in the freezer. I knew I could make this work!
What I wound up doing was basically melding this recipe with this one. (I used the dipping sauce from the Cooking Channel recipe, although since I didn’t have any rice vinegar handy, I just used a third as much distilled white vinegar, which worked fine.) The result was quite good!
What made a big difference was julienning the green onions–cut them into 2-inch lengths, and then cut those lengths vertically into itty-bitty strips. That way the green onion actually cooks through. (I used regular green onions, not the humongous Korean ones.) I also chopped up the seafood so that I wouldn’t have problems with it being undercooked.
So, here’s what I wound up doing:
Note: This made enough pajeon for two servings–at least, I could only eat half of it at one sitting. It was less good reheated, so if you’re making it for one, I’d halve everything–except you can’t halve the egg, so maybe cut back to about 1/4-1/3 c. of water. You want the plain batter to have a regular breakfast pancake batter consistency.
1 cup of jeon mix (I don’t think the brand matters, because I didn’t like the results with the mix I have until now)
7/8 of a cup cold water
6 oz. raw shelled scallops, cut into a 1/2-inch dice
6 oz. raw peeled shrimp, cut into a 1/2-inch dice
5 green onions, julienned
2 cloves garlic, diced fine
Oil for cooking
First make the batter: Using a fork, beat the egg alone, and then mix together the jeon mix, water, and egg. As with breakfast pancakes, you want the batter to be mixed but lumpy–don’t go to the trouble of making it smooth, you’ll just have tough pancakes (this is also why you use cold water).
You’ll probably have to switch to a spatula now–mix the seafood, green onions, and garlic into the batter.
I followed Crazy Korean Cooking’s advice to use more oil and a higher heat for a crisper pancake–I heated the pan on high heat for a few minutes and threw in maybe 2-3 T oil for each panful of pancakes. (I didn’t measure, because like Park Kyung, sometimes I live dangerously.)
I know pictures of pajeon always feature these HUGE pancakes, but keep in mind that smaller pancakes are easier to flip. Again, it’s comfort food–you’re not trying to prove anything to anyone here.
Cooking the pajeon properly takes some attention, though: An undercooked pancake falls apart when you try to flip it. Plus, you want the seafood to cook through–but not to cook too much, because then it gets tough. To complicate things, this makes a thick pancake and the batter doesn’t bubble, so you can’t use the old trick for breakfast pancakes and just wait for it to firm up on top so that new bubbles can’t form.
What I did was cook the pajeon on high for a little bit, and then I turned the heat down to medium. Then I watched the side of the pancake–when it was firm and cooked about three-quarters of the way up the pancake, I flipped it. Then I put the heat back up to high to crisp the other side. Then I gave it a minute or two on medium just to make sure everything was well and truly cooked (my mother was a health inspector), and onto the platter it went!
Eat it with the dipping sauce, and it’s damned good!