Hooni Kim's Crisp-Golden Pajeon Are All About the Scallions

Restaurant Quality

Hooni Kim's Crisp-Golden Pajeon Are All About the Scallions

June  8, 2020
Photo by KRISTIN TEIG

COVID-19 changed the restaurant industry as we knew it. And even as businesses begin to reopen across the country, there are countless challenges ahead. In this series, Restaurant Quality, we're checking in with a few of our favorite chef-slash–cookbook authors and seeing how they're holding up. Along the way, you'll get signature recipes to make at home—and find out how you can support the chefs and their staffs. Today, get to know Hooni Kim.


Hooni Kim loves seeing people enjoy his food. In fact, the chef cites this as the best part of running his New York City restaurants Danji and Hanjan. Of course, right now, his restaurants aren’t open for usual service, so this side of the business—making people happy—is hard to see.

“That's what we’re missing these days,” Kim told me over the phone. But there is one way he’s enjoying connecting with guests lately: “When people post about [our food] online, it makes us a lot happier.”

In some ways, this is the perfect time for Kim’s first cookbook, My Korea, to be released. The book, which came out in April, is a collection of recipes inspired by Kim’s “taste memories” from visiting family in South Korea, and eating and drinking through New York City’s Koreatown.

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“an actual amount would be useful so we can try out the ratio hooni kim uses in the restaurant. ”
— Sandra N.
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It’s a celebration of chewy, gochujang-slicked tteokbokki from vendors in Busan; toasted gim, which he compares to the packaged seaweed snacks now sold in many American grocery stores (but notes their flavor can’t compete with the freshly toasted, salted version his grandmother would prepare at her home on the small island of So An Do in South Jeolla Province); and the feeling of belonging upon approaching 32nd Street in Manhattan.

In My Korea, Kim takes traditional flavors and translates them into modern dishes he’d serve at his restaurants. Yet these recipes are also attainable to the home cook, who can giddily post a few photos of their finished kimchi jjigae and bulgogi sliders before sitting down to eat.

Now more than ever you’ll see people learning how to make their favorite restaurant dishes at home, thanks to chefs who have posted tutorials on Instagram Stories or published recipes in newsletters. For many chefs, like Kim, this is an ideal time to encourage fans of their restaurants to check out their cookbooks.

Kim’s scallion pancakes, or pajeon, are one of his restaurant dishes that can be made at home with My Korea. Unlike Chinese scallion pancakes (cong you bing)—rolled-out, scallion-speckled flatbreads that fry up flaky and chewy—pajeon are made with a loose, crepe-like batter. Just before frying, you’ll fold in a mountain of two-inch scallion batons. If executed properly, the scallions—not the batter—are the star of the dish.

“The recipe in the book is a very traditional recipe, even more traditional than Korean restaurants in the U.S. often serve,” Kim explained. As purchasing scallions in bulk can get quite expensive in winter months when they’re not in season, he notes that restaurants will often place “more emphasis on the pancake part than the scallion part. Here, there’s just enough batter to hold the scallions together…I wanted to make sure at my restaurants and in this book that it’s mostly scallions.”

Though scallions are easy to find at most grocery stores (or maybe you have some currently growing on your windowsill?), Kim explained that there are plenty of ways to riff on pajeon, depending on what you have on hand. He and his son are gluten-sensitive, so he’s made them with Cup4Cup gluten-free flour, no problem. And since the pancakes require quite a bit of oil to take on their glimmering golden color, Kim recommends trying sliced jalapeño or Korean hot peppers instead of or in addition to the scallions, allowing the heat to cut through the fat; Hanjan’s menu has a pajeon made with their 180-day fermented kimchi.

Of course, it’s also exciting to let the season dictate the main ingredient. Kim says fresh spring asparagus, which are roughly the same size as scallions and don’t require a long cooking time, would be a great swap. And if you can get your ahold of them, try the darling of spring’s alliums: “If our restaurants were open right now, I’d be doing a ramp pancake.”

Although Kim’s restaurants are closed to visitors right now, they are open for delivery. The staff is churning out rotating menus of “meal kits” with stews and soup, marinated meat, noodles, assorted banchan, sauces, rice, and more, some of which are large enough to feed a family of four for two or three meals.

This endeavor has proved quite successful. Kim was able to hire back nine employees to work out of Hanjan to produce these kits. He’s recently hired six more to produce smaller meal kits (dinner for four or a single meal) at Danji. “That’s the goal, to bring back as many staff members as I can.” To achieve this, he needs to maintain a steady amount of orders—from local individuals looking for a break from cooking, or supporters from around the world who have a vested interest in supporting Kim and simply want to donate (for the latter, you can purchase a gift card from Hanjan.) To further support Kim, you can also buy a copy of My Korea, which is sold at major retailers all over the US.

And even if you’re not able to spend much money right now, it’s free to post a photo online. Consider making these pajeon from My Korea and tagging Kim—it’s bound to brighten his day.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Pamela
    Pamela
  • Sandra Nicole Roldan
    Sandra Nicole Roldan
  • Jusika
    Jusika
  • ahncj
    ahncj
  • Mari
    Mari
Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. Her writing has appeared in TASTE, The Strategist, Eater, and Bon Appetit's Healthyish and Basically. She contributed recipes and words to the book "Breakfast: The Most Important Book About the Best Meal of the Day." Once upon a time, she studied theatre design and art history at Smith College, so if you need a last-minute avocado costume or want to talk about Wayne Thiebaud's cakes, she's your girl. You can follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.

24 Comments

Pamela June 14, 2020
The spring onions worked very well. As far as the weight of the bunch of onions. If you look at the picture, you can sort of tell how many onions to add to make it look like Hoonis. After making it twice, it is really not about an exact measurement. Go for it.
 
Sandra N. June 14, 2020
been making pajeon since 2006 (lived in seoul for half a year) and am really curious about this version which claims to be “more traditional”. that’s why i wanted a more precise recipe — to compare it with how i usually make it. i’ve used both scallions and spring onions and even leeks — they all work well since they’re alliums.
 
Sandra N. June 14, 2020
just how much is “3 bunches of scallions”? a bunch can be large or small, depending on where you buy it (farmers markets or CSA box or grocery stores). how many oz or grams or cups is that? an actual amount would be useful so we can try out the ratio hooni kim uses in the restaurant.
 
Author Comment
Rebecca F. June 14, 2020
Hi Sandra! This recipe was reprinted directly from the book, and there is so set weight given. You’re correct that every bunch of scallions is a bit different—I’d recommend considering 6-8 scallions “1 bunch”.
 
Author Comment
Rebecca F. June 14, 2020
Sorry, that should be “there is no* set weight“
 
Author Comment
Rebecca F. June 14, 2020
Sorry, that should be: "there is no* net weight"
 
Sandra N. June 14, 2020
thanks for the suggestion! :)
 
Author Comment
Rebecca F. June 14, 2020
Of course! Enjoy!
 
Jusika June 12, 2020
same question as pamela: would spring onions be goof for this recipe?
 
Jusika June 12, 2020
good*
 
Author Comment
Rebecca F. June 12, 2020
I think spring onions would be great! I’d thinly slice them.
 
Pamela June 12, 2020
I have some great spring onions.............would this be a hit or a waste of the rare onion?
 
Author Comment
Rebecca F. June 12, 2020
I think thinly sliced spring onions would be great!
 
ahncj June 12, 2020
If you find that you like these Korean pancakes, consider picking up some 부침가루 (Boochim garu; Korean pancake mix) next time you’re at the Asian market! It really cuts down on ingredient prep. You can experiment with all kinds of veggies in addition to scallions. Koreans are all about pre-made mixes!
 
Mari June 14, 2020
We bought the mix and it all worked out great, thanks!
 
Mari June 12, 2020
I love Korean pancakes of all kinds, but don't want to buy yet another ingredient. Can I substitute brown miso for the doenjang?
 
Author Comment
Rebecca F. June 12, 2020
hi! I think using miso would work just fine here.
 
ahncj June 12, 2020
Yes, I’m Korean and I often substitute miso for doenjang.
 
Mari June 12, 2020
Thank you!
 
Mari June 12, 2020
Great to hear, thanks!
 
Sheppard June 12, 2020
This is probably sacreligious, but can you substitute red or white miso for the doenjang?
 
Author Comment
Rebecca F. June 12, 2020
hi! I think using miso would work just fine here.
 
Sheppard June 12, 2020
This is pros all sacreligious, but can you substitute red or white miso for the doenjang?
 
HalfPint June 8, 2020
These pajeon pancakes are so delicious and easy to make. It's a nice way to showcase scallions as a vegetable instead of an herb. I could make a meal out of these :)