In my novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, Henriette’s brother Carl “wielded a knife with a surgeon’s precision and served each person crisp slices of skin and dark meat.” He’s aiming for so-called Peking duck, pumping air under the duck’s skin with a bicycle pump. So much easier to write food than to make it work as small tastes for a crowd!
I started with Mu Shu pancakes, lucky to find a detailed recipe in the March-April 2015 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Their precise instructions work! You make a dough with boiling hot water and flour:
- 1 1/2 c. flour
- 3/4 c. boiling water
- 2 t. toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 t. vegetable oil
Let it rest 1/2 hour, divide into 12 equal pieces, pat each into a three inch round and paint one with sesame oil. Squish that one on top of another, sesame oil inside, and roll them out together into a 7″ pancake. Grease a skillet with that 1/2 t. vegetable oil and wipe out. Then fry pancakes one by one until bubbles appear and a few brown spots can be seen on the bottom. Then turn and fry on the other side a few seconds until it, too, is freckled. Remove, and when it is cool enough to handle, peel the two apart.
This traditional technique really works! Especially good news for making ahead: they keep, they freeze, they don’t stick together, they reheat in the microwave without damage. Next step for me: figure out what goes inside.
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