Christmas Day is a holiday on which many Jewish Americans enjoy a tradition of going to the movies and eating Chinese food. But this year, Christmas falls right in the middle of the eight days of Hanukkah, so we’re presenting recipes that meld traditional Jewish dishes with American Chinese classics. We hope you enjoy this Cantonese Chrismukkah menu. It’s not strictly kosher, but it does celebrate a particular Jewish-American family tradition. (You’ll have to choose your own movie.)
On the first day of Cantonese Chrismukkah there were spare ribs, braised like a brisket in a Cantonese BBQ-tinged sauce before being deep-fried, resulting in a rib whose fantastically crispy exterior belies the fact that the meat below is melt-off-the-bone tender.
On the second day of Cantonese Chrismukkah there were egg rolls filled with gently sweet noodle kugel, encompassing a dessert that is all the good things about blintzes and fried cheesecake in one perfect package.
On the third day of Cantonese Chrismukkah there was lox rangoon: crispy fried wontons filled with lox and schmear, covered in the same glorious mixture that makes everything bagels so beloved.
On the fourth day of Cantonese Chrismukkah there were pastrami shrimp toasts: glistening golden triangles of rye- and sesame-seed-coated joy.
And today, we present to you the final piece of the Cantonese Chrismukkah pupu platter: potato scallion pancakes. There are many reasons for the season, and latkes are most definitely ranked somewhere at the top of that long, long list.
This has been my first holiday season writing recipes for The Takeout, and I’ve done so much research on these holly jolly days that I could not possibly share all I’ve learned. For example, I learned that pigs have been sacred to our holiday celebrations since long before the birth of Christ, which inspired me to develop what is quite possibly the most legitimate Christmas cookie recipe in the past 2,000 years. In recreating an English recipe from 1430, historical texts taught me that Christmas shouldn’t be one day, or 12 days, but more like six weeks (at the minimum). In discussion with our own Aimee Levitt—my Chrismukkah collaborator and resident expert in all things Jewish—I’ve learned that celebrations of Hanukkah aren’t just about the oil that burned for eight miraculous nights, and that Jews enjoying Chinese food on Christmas is about so much more than going out to eat—it’s a ritual that honors both religion and identity.
The holidays don’t “belong” to anyone. They’re a celebration of the fact that the crops have been harvested, the flour has been milled, the fruits have been preserved, and the wine and ale have fermented. They’re about resting our weary bodies after a year of hard work, celebrating what we have, and finally having moments of peace to spend time with the ones that we love.
Traditions grow and change as the years pass; we write new chapters to our own stories, and find new ways to celebrate them. If this pupu platter, or our other holiday recipes, or anything else The Takeout has shared becomes part of your holiday celebrations, we hope these dishes bring you joy. Let’s all raise a deep-fried spare rib to 2019: the good, the bad, and the people we’ve grown into. Merry everything to one and all.
Potato Scallion Pancakes
Makes 8 pancakes
- 2 cups flour, plus more for rolling
- 1/3 cup instant mashed potato flakes
- 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 1/4 cups boiling water
- 1/3 cup chicken fat, or another oil of your choice (see note at bottom)
- 1 1/2 cups very thinly sliced scallion greens
- 1/2 cup pulverized potato chips
- Oil, for frying
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup apple sauce
- 2 tsp. five spice powder
Put the flour, potato flakes, and salt into a food processor and turn it on. While it’s running, slowly stream in the boiling water a bit at a time, stopping once a dough forms that balls up around the blade. You can use a bit less than the entire amount; if you think you’ve gone too far, no worries—just add in a bit more flour until you get the consistency right. Wrap the dough in plastic and stick in the refrigerator to rest for at least half an hour.
Generously flour a wooden board and rolling pin. Set up three bowls nearby: one with scallion greens, one with potato chip crumbs, one with melted chicken fat and a pastry brush. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces; cover loosely with plastic wrap.
Roll out one piece of the dough into a paper-thin square-ish shape; the shape really doesn’t matter so don’t stress out over it, nor is it the end of the world if you get a few tiny tears here and there. Brush the pancake with a thin layer of chicken fat, then sprinkle on about 2 tablespoons of scallions. Roll up like a jelly roll, then coil it into a round spiral and gently press down with the palm of your hand to make a disk. Put it back under the plastic wrap with the rest of the dough, then repeat with the process until all eight pieces are done.
Next, you’re going to repeat the process with each of the disks you’ve made, but with two slight changes: roll the dough until it’s about 1/8" thick, brush with chicken fat, sprinkle on a tablespoon of potato chip crumbs, roll up tightly, coil into a spiral, and flatten with the palm of your hand.
Fill a skillet with about 1/2" of frying oil—schmaltz is traditional when making potato pancakes, but if you can’t find yourself a large amount of chicken fat, canola or vegetable oil work great. Put it over high heat until the oil is shimmering, but not smoking. Line a baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels, and keep some more on hand so you can swap them out as they get greasy.
Roll out each pancake to a diameter of about eight inches, then fry individually until golden brown—if your oil is at the correct temperature, this will take about two minutes per side, though keep your eye on them to make sure nothing burns. Use tongs to remove the pancakes and let the excess oil drip off into the pan before moving to the paper towels and sprinkling with salt and pepper. Repeat until all the pancakes are done.
Stir together the applesauce with the five spice powder, and serve immediately.
Note: I’ve never seen chicken fat for sale in the average supermarket. In other recipes calling for it, most writers give the instruction “ask your butcher for a bag of skin,” but I have yet to meet a supermarket butcher who has a vat of chicken skins lying around. If you want to skip the chicken fat in favor of using another oil you like, that’s totally fine, but I really think they taste better with the schmaltz, so here’s how you can easily make some: Buy yourself a package of 4-6 chicken thighs, skin on. Brush a cold skillet (I prefer cast iron) with a bit of oil, then place the thighs skin down and put over a medium flame. Leave them completely undisturbed for about 20 minutes, during which time the fat will render out and the skin will become crispier than you could have ever dreamed of. Once the skin is a beautiful shade of amber, flip the chicken thighs over so they can finish cooking through, then put them aside for another use (eat the skin immediately, because it’s amazing and you won’t be able to help yourself). You should now have at least 1/4 cup of chicken fat in the pan, if not more. And you’ve got chicken thighs, too, so this recipe is kind of a twofer!