Pancakes have become a traditionally sweet treat in many countries on Shrove Tuesday, which falls on 28 February. But the big surprise is how they vary widely, from savoury snacks in India to beer-laced delights in the hands of a veteran French chef. Here are 10 unexpected variations, from a ricotta-stuffed Italian roll smothered in cheese and butter to chilli flakes and tamarind chutney.
Savoury pancakes are old favorites in China, particularly the chong yao beng spring-onion variety. Chef Andrew Wong of A Wong restaurant in London says the batter is simple, just flour, water and salt. Eggs are an option. Milk is not. "You roll it very thin and sprinkle spring onions on top, then you fold it over and roll it again, like making puff pastry, and then you pan-fry it."
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I well remember pancakes as a boy growing up in post-war England. Food rationing ended just after I was born and my mother used to smother ours in strawberry jam. Of course, things are a little more sophisticated these days. “A jolly good way to enjoy your pancake is flambéed in cognac," says chef Fergus Henderson of St John restaurant in London. "Possibly not one for the younger folk."
The French go for crepes, a close relative of the pancake, only more buttery and rich. "I have a few tricks to make the batter lighter," says chef Pierre Koffmann. "The first is to replace the milk with beer." His second tip is to give the mixture a long time to rest, overnight if possible. Finally, add sugar as soon as the crepe is cooked, so it melts with the heat and is soft.
Indians eat uttapam, which are rice-based thin savoury pancakes or crispy dosas, more like a crepe. Chef Romy Gill of Romy's Kitchen in Bristol was born in India, and her British-born children are fans of American pancakes. She tempts them with a hybrid, using regular pancake batter and adding ajwain (caraway) seeds, a few chilli flakes and tamarind chutney. "The pancakes have the traditional texture but different flavours and the tamarind adds sweetness," she says.
Israelis enjoy blintzes, an Ashkenazi Jewish crepe originating from Central Europe. They are filled with raisins and sweet cream cheese and then rolled up like burritos and can be served with Amarena cherry syrup. "We often have these at Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, where traditionally we eat quite a lot of wheat and dairy dishes in celebration of the harvest time,” says chef Ronnie Bush of Palomar restaurant in London.
The Italians enjoy crespelle alla fiorentina at weddings and other celebrations. These are crepes stuffed with ricotta, spinach, egg yolk and nutmeg. Chef Francesco Mazzei tops them with a gratinati (crust) of Grana Padano cheese and butter with sweated shallots. "Serve it with a sage-flavoured tomato sauce," he says. "It's delicious and it's vegetarian."
"We like pancakes really fluffy and soft," says Hideko Kawa, who was a high-school teacher in Kanazawa city before becoming one of Europe's leading pastry chefs. "I make them like a soufflé, using rice flour and gently folding in a meringue mix." She cooks them gently in a covered pan for five minutes before flipping them. Kawa flavours with matcha or chocolate cinnamon, or with a savoury topping such as karaage chicken, chilli and mayonnaise.
As a boy growing up in Russia, London restaurateur Leonid Shutov enjoyed blinis made to a very simple recipe of milk, eggs and flour, with salt and pepper to taste. Or sometimes they were made with prostokvasha - milk that is left to sour. "You fill them with meat or farmer's cheese," he says. "But caviar is best, of course, which must be served with sour cream." He notes that Russian blinis are the size of a plate, while the smaller discs often served outside Russia are actually known as oladi.
Chef Albert Adria created his own pancake by mistake at Tickets restaurant in Barcelona. "We discovered a fun way of making pancakes when we poured pancake dough into a preheated sandwich maker, press down on it and then quickly lifted up the lid," he says. "We created a soufflé pancake hollow on the inside, which we filled with a yogurt spuma, and then placed maple-syrup butter on top. It was served with blackcurrant compote on the side. Delicious! We should put it back on the menu."
Scotland (via Sweden)
"Simple, sweet pancakes are hard to beat - sugar and lemon and indulgent chocolate are among the most popular filling choices in our house," says Tom Kitchin, chef-proprietor at Kitchin, in Edinburgh. His wife, Michaela, is Swedish-born, and they often make buckwheat smoked-salmon pancakes with crème fraiche. "The robust, smoked flavour of the salmon really stands up to the delicate, fluffy pancakes. Just add dill, a lemon wedge and cracked black pepper to garnish and you’re good to go."
News by Bloomberg, edited by Hospitality Ireland