WITHOUT THE BRAVERY FROM WITHIN A BEER CAN… YOU CAN NOW MAKE THIS SIGNATURE BEIJING STREET-FOOD AT HOME
What the hell’s this? Well… let me refresh it for you.
If you have ever lived or travelled to Beijing. It was nightfall. Granted that you should be excused by the overwhelming remorse that soon followed the moment you stepped out of the airport, you thought, it would be in your best redeeming interest to hang out with some old or newly acquainted companions for a night of bad behaviors around the Work’s Stadium in Chaoyang District. After what probably felt like a mirage of flying alcohols, soul-murdering-ly bad musics, and an unbroken stream of ugly faces, you woke up the day after, half-alive, with a banging headache and wondering how the hell did last night end. While other histories were less certain or best left forgotten, chances were, whether you remembered it fully or from the swamp of broken memories, that without even knowing what it was called, you ended it with this.
This, this is called jian-bing.
Here, before I say anything more, I want you to listen carefully. It is not, your fault. We’ve all done it. We’ve all, for more than once, either unconsciously or with full consent, stood under the dingy lightbulbs from a hygienically suspicious food-stall in a notoriously poisonous country, and ate this thingy that highly resembled a french crepe on one side, but marbled with beaten egg on the other, made by someone reaching into buckets of some things that both screamed highly dubious at best. Yes, that was a long sentence, because I just wanted to rip it off fast like a bandage for you. It’s ok, my friend. It’s just a Beijing thing. It probably didn’t hurt you as bad as you thought it would. It probably, if memories are slowly coming back, tasted much better even in the haze of your drunken skepticism. Between it’s thin, soft and slightly chewy body, there was the appetizing aroma of a skillet-fried egg, the pungent and salty punch from the smothering of chili sauce, and to your surprise, a shattering and crunchy contrast from an unknown source that you were too drunk to identify. Most likely, it was actually, really really tasty. And dare I say, it has probably, been missed.
Now, without the bravery from within a beer can, or the risk of losing a liver, you can make this signature Beijing street-food at home, knowing that none of the ingredients contains traces of stray cats. Ha ha, just kidding.
No I’m not.
Makes: 3 jian-bing using a 12″/30 cm pan.
The original jiang-bing (also known as jian-bing-guo-zi) was popularized in Tianjin. This recipe features an adapted Beijing-style jian-bing, not Tianjin-style, which is a different thing entirely. There are, obviously, things that we need to do differently at home than how it’s done at food-stalls:
- First of all, jian-bing stalls use a T-shaped spatula to spread the batter, in a circular motion, across a giant preheated griddle (very much like how French crepe-stall does it). I doubt that the majority of us has the kind of equipment or skills to pull that off at home, so, here we are going to start by swirling the batter evenly across a COLD pan, and once we have an even layer of batter, then we apply heat.
- Secondly, because the pan I used wasn’t nearly as big as theirs, my jian-bing was expectedly smaller. And if your pan is even smaller than mine, which is a respectable 12″/30 cm crepe-pan, then your jian-bing will be even smaller-er. But that shouldn’t affect the flavour or texture.
- Thirdly, as much as I try to keep the flavour/texture as authentic and close as the jian-bing in Beijing, there are compromises that need to be made. For example, most Beijing jian-bing uses batters made from wheat flour plus a variety of ground Asian grains, ranging from mung bean (the “classic”), millets, purple sticky rice, and etc. The grains are usually soaked for several hours then ground through a stone mortar to make a batter… yeah, I know. And even if I was willing to spend all that effort and time to do so, the difference just doesn’t justify it. Because to be honest, they don’t actually taste all that different from one and other! Even when I switched the grains to using buckwheat flour, and rye flour, the result tasted/felt almost indistinguishable (because the batter is still mostly flour). So I would suggest, instead of soaking/grinding your own mung beans, just use buckwheat or rye.
- Finally, perhaps the weirdest compromise ever. Beijing jian-bing is stuffed with something called “bao cui”, which are thin sheets of crispy and blistered fried dough that, as much as the crunch is lovely, all look like they are from a single, unknown, suspicious and unreliable source (The Only-idiots-would-eat-things-made-in-this-place Factory). The texture can be closely described as fried dumpling-wrappers. If you want to fry a bunch of dumpling wrappers for this, knock yourself out. I on the other hand, decided to use… lightly salted potato chips instead. That’s right. It works. It’s yummy. Their crunch is lovely. You choose.
Needless to say, the possibility of this recipe is endless. But before you embargo on your own “adaptation”, I would strongly urge you to try the “original” first. It is Beijing’s most well received street food for a reason.
- 1/2 + 1/8 cup (90 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (35 grams) buckwheat flour, or rye flour
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 cup (223 grams) water
- 5.3 oz (150 grams) ground lamb, or beef, or pork
- 1/2 tsp cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp salt (the sauce is salty so we're not going to salt the filling too much)
- 1/8 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 cup (32 grams) finely diced scallion
- 1/3 cup (22 grams) chopped cilantro, or mint (I prefer mint)
- 1/4 tsp each of ground black pepper and white pepper
- 1/4 cup (78 grams) sichuan douban paste/broad bean chili paste (you can use other brand you prefer)
- 2 tbsp (40 grams) honey
- 1 1/2 tbsp (30 grams) smooth peanut butter
- 2 grated garlic
- 3 tbsp water
- 3~4 large eggs
- 3~4 large handful of lightly salted potato chips, or fried dumpling wrappers
- TO MAKE THE BATTER: At least 30 min before using, whisk together all-purpose flour, buckwheat flour (or rye flour), cornstarch and water together until lump-free (DO NOT worry about overworking the batter). Set aside.
- TO MAKE THE FILLING: Evenly mix ground lamb (or beef, or pork) with cornstarch, salt and ground cumin. Add 1/2 tbsp of oil into a skillet over high heat, then cook the ground meat until evenly browned. Transfer to a large bowl, and let cool for 15 min. Mix with finely diced scallion, cilantro (or mint, which I prefer), ground black and white pepper. Set aside.
- TO MAKE THE BROAD BEAN CHILI SAUCE: Mix sichuan douban paste, honey, smooth peanut butter and grated garlic together until smooth. Add 2 ~3 tbsp of water until the sauce loosens up into the consistency of mayonnaise. Set aside.
- TO MAKE THE JIAN BING: Choose a non-stick crepe-pan as large as possible (mine is around 12"/30 cm). Rub the surface of the pan with an oiled paper-bowel, not too much, just so it has a light sheen (too much oil will deter the batter from grabbing onto the pan). Pour enough batter into the pan to coat the entire surface with a thin layer, swirling the pan while the batter spreads outward to the very edge. Then set the pan over medium-high heat. The batter will set fairly quickly, in under a min.
- Crack 1 large egg directly onto the crepe (*NOTE: if your pan is much smaller, you may only need 1/2 egg for each crepe, in which case, beat the egg in a separate bowl then pour 1/2 onto the crepe). Use a wooden spatula to gently mix the egg and spread it across the entire crepe. Let the crepe cook until slightly browned on the bottom, which will take approx 4 min.
- Once the first side is slightly browned, TURN OFF THE HEAT, then flip the crepe over (the residual heat is more than enough). Brush the sauce generously across the whole surface (this is where all the seasoning is from so don't be shy), then add a thin layer of the meat-filling around the center, and a large handful of lightly salted potato chips. Use two spatulas to fold 1/3 of the crepe over from both sides, flattening it by pushing it down with your spatulas. Then turn it 90 degrees, and fold the 2 ends over again. Serve immediately.
- Start the next crepe with a cold pan again. Simply rinse the pan with a bit of running water then dry with a clean kitchen towel.