Pajeon, the delicious Korean green onion pancakes, are simple to make from scratch. And with a couple of easy tweaks you can make sure they’re crispy every time.
If you’ve ever eaten at a Korean restaurant, you’ve almost certainly had pajeon. The traditional appetiser or side of golden brown battered green onions is deliciously addictive. But you don’t have to wait until you’re eating out to enjoy them. They’re easy to make at home from scratch with everyday ingredients.
I’ve reviewed sixteen recipes for Korean green onion pancakes, to figure out what’s popular and what’s not. By highlighting both the tried and tested methods and the more unique approaches, my review can help you to choose the right recipe for you. Or if you’re a bit more adventurous and want to know generally how to make Korean green onion pancakes so you can experiment, I’ll give you the background you need to go at it on your own too.
What are pajeon?
The name pajeon is a compound of pa (Korean for green onions) and jeon. Jeon is a Korean dish made by mixing meat and/or vegetables in a batter and pan-frying it. For all intents and purposes it’s a fritter (think corn fritters, or apple fritters), but tends to be more commonly known as a pancake. In fact, they’re commonly known as green onion pancakes. They’re often served as either an appetizer or as part of a mixed set of side dishes.
There’s a very similar dish in Chinese cuisine, also commonly called a green onion pancake. The main difference is pajeon are made with a batter, while the Chinese version is made with a dough. As a result pajeon is much easier to make – mix up a batter, into the pan and you’re eating! Chinese green onion pancakes on the other hand require the creation of a proper dough, which requires resting and kneading. Still delicious, but not really a quick snack or side dish. Regardless, to avoid confusing the two, pajeon are often referred to as Korean green onion pancakes.
Green onions or scallions?
Throughout this review you’ll see me use the terms green onion and scallion interchangeably. This is because they’re the same thing. They are the long green onion without a bulbous end, like the picture above.
What’s in pajeon?
There are many varieties of jeon, including a number with different meats or vegetables. Haemul pajeon (seafood scallion pancake) is a particularly popular variety.
For the purposes of this review though I’m going to focus on the simple classic – green onion jeon. I have intentionally avoided recipes for seafood or other meat variants. A number of the recipes I’ve included do add other vegetables to their scallion pancakes, but all sixteen use green onions at a minimum.
So at it’s simplest, pajeon is literally just green onions and a batter. But even then it’s not simple, because there is a lot of variation amongst the different recipes’ batters.
Korean green onion pancake batter
As you can imagine, the batter for pajeon is key. The goal is a crispy outside and a soft chewy inside. And the right batter mix will help achieve this.
Across the sixteen recipes there are several consistent ingredients in the batter:
- All-purpose/plain flour
- An additional starch or flour
- A little salt
Beyond these there were a few other ingredients appearing that I’ll touch on as well, but the list above is all that’s used in a number of the authors’ batters.
Korean pajeon flour mix
Although almost every recipe is based on all purpose wheat flour, nine of the sixteen recipes include another type of flour or starch as well:
- Five recipes include a small amount of cornstarch in the batter.
- Four recipes include rice flour in the batter.
There’s good reason for these additions. The gluten in all-purpose flour gives a batter structure, but it also absorbs moisture, leading to a greasier finish when it’s fried in oil. Cornstarch and rice flour don’t contain gluten so they produce a lighter textured batter. They also don’t absorb liquids as readily, so the finish is crispier.
Because cornstarch is a more potent thickener, it’s used in smaller quantities than rice flour. Amongst the recipes that use cornstarch, it’s typically included in a ratio of 4 parts flour to 1 part cornstarch or less. Rice flour on the other hand often matches the amount of all purpose flour in a one-to-one ratio. And one recipe uses slightly more rice flour than wheat flour.
Pre-packaged Korean pancake mix
You can buy pre-packaged jeon mix, known in Korean as buchimgaru. They’re widely available in Korea, and can also be found elsewhere online (like this one on Amazon) or in Asian grocery stores. And apparently the Koreans regularly use a premix at home.
I found a few different Korean pancake premixes online and they’re all wheat flour based, with the addition of a variety of flavours, plus baking powder and another starch (from potato, corn, glutinous rice or tapioca). Some premixes include more than one of these other starches.
Fourteen of the sixteen batter recipes include eggs.
Eggs act as a binder, give the batter structure and help develop the colour when cooked. They also reduce the ability of the batter to absorb oil, giving a crispier pancake.
The amount of egg included in the different batters varies dramatically. One recipe uses two eggs per cup of flour mix, while some others use one egg per two cups of flour. Two more only use egg yolks, and as mentioned above two don’t use any egg at all. I’ve listed these separately at the bottom of the page if you’re looking to make your scallion pancake batter without eggs.
Every recipe uses water as the liquid, but it’s not only the ratio of water to dry ingredients that varies. There are also different types of water being used.
How much water?
Twelve recipes use between three-quarters and one cup of water per cup of flour mix. Another three use less than this. All of the recipes that include another type of starch in the flour mix use a higher water to flour mix ratio to compensate for the greater thickening power of these additions.
What type of water?
Twelve of the authors use tap water. The other five use some type of sparkling or carbonated water, with the most common choice being club soda (soda/mineral water).
The use of carbonated water in batters is not uncommon. The gas bubbles create a bit more lift, giving you lighter textured pancakes.
Regardless of the type of water used, a number of the recipes recommend cold water. The goal of this approach is that the cold batter crisps up more when it hits the hot oil. Several also refrigerate their batter to enhance this effect.
Other batter ingredients
There are a few other ingredients that appear in some of the batters:
- Six authors add a small amount of sugar, usually about a teaspoon per cup of flour mix.
- Six of the batters are flavoured with garlic, mainly fresh.
- Four batters include a teaspoon or two of baking powder to lighten up the batter a little. This may help with crispiness too.
- Three recipes use Korean soybean paste either instead of salt, or in one case in addition to it. Soybean paste won’t only provide saltiness. Made from fermented soybeans, it also brings a unique earthy flavour with it.
- Two of the batters have a bit of soy sauce in them. This will be similar in taste to soybean paste, just not as strong.
- Three unique flavours are used in one recipe each – sesame oil, mirin (Japanese cooking wine) and the juice from kimchi (fermented spiced cabbage).
Given that we’re talking about pajeon, all sixteen recipes include green onions.
There’s a lot a variation in how many scallions the authors like in their pancakes. The easiest way to look at it is green onion stalks per cup of batter. On this basis, the recipes range from less than one stalk per cup of batter to almost fifteen per cup of batter! These will obviously be very different pancakes, both in terms of taste and texture.
On average there’s just over four scallions per cup of batter, which is about half a bunch. The authors that add additional vegetables tend to use less green onions, especially those using more substantial ingredients like potato.
A traditional pajeon is known for having very visible green onions, so would be towards the upper end of this range.
How to make green onion pancakes
Pajeon are surprisingly easy to make. Make the batter, prepare your scallions, then cook your pancakes.
Making a Korean pancake batter
Based on these recipes making the batter is very straightforward. Most of the authors simply have you mix everything together.
A few follow a more traditional method:
- Mix the dry ingredients together.
- Mix the wet ingredients together.
- Fold the two mixtures together.
With many recipes that use a flour-based batter, like banana bread, you don’t want too much gluten toughening up the finished product. Pajeon are no exception to this. So to limit the formation of gluten, a number of authors highlight the importance of not overworking your batter.
Mix it gently by hand until it is just combined, and no more. A couple even suggest resting your batter to allow the last few small lumps of flour to dissolve into the batter rather than continuing to mix until every last bit of flour is combined. This is why it’s good to make your batter as the first step. The batter can rest while you prepare your green onions (and any other vegetables you’re adding to you pancakes).
Preparing your green onions
There’s quite a bit of variation in how the authors chop their green onions. Some simply remove the roots and the pointy tips, then cut them into battens that will just fit into their pan. This is the traditional Korean method. Other authors cut their green onions to shorter lengths of one to two inches, and a couple slice them more thinly.
How you cut your scallions will impact both taste and texture. Larger pieces will be more textured, but release less onion flavour into the pancake. Smaller pieces, meaning more cuts, will release more flavour. The good news is either way will work, so you can choose whatever suits you and your family best.
A number of authors suggest slicing the whites of your green onions lengthwise if they are thick. Otherwise the white can be a bit too oniony, not to mention potentially a bit tough to bite through. A few authors recommend buying thin scallions for this reason.
Bringing it all together
There are a few different approaches to combining the green onions with the batter, but there are three main themes:
- The most popular approach is to combine your scallions with the batter before cooking. Eight recipes take this approach, and a ninth uses a variation of this.
- Three recipes have you add your green onions to the pan first and then pour some batter over the top of them.
- Two authors add batter to the pan first, then lay their green onions over the top of the cooking batter. One of these is then topped with more batter, and one with some beaten egg.
The other couple are combinations of these different approaches.
I’ve made pajeon a number of times and my favourite method is the second point above – green onions in the pan first. This way you can allow them to brown up a little before adding the batter. But it’s hard to argue with the simplicity of the most popular approach.
How to cook pajeon
If you’re using the most popular approach, mixing your batter and scallions in advance, then cooking your pancakes is very similar to any other pancake:
- Get your pan nice and hot on medium heat.
- Add some oil and allow it to heat up.
- Scoop some batter into the pan. If you work quickly you can shape it how you like before leaving it be to cook.
- Most authors suggest you’ll need between three and five minutes on medium heat before your pancake is ready to flip. It should be firming up or browning around the edges. You can always lift an edge for a peek underneath to check.
- Once the first side has browned up nicely, flip the pancake and give it another three to five minutes.
- Remove your pajeon from the pan, and if you like sit it on some paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
- Allow the pan to heat back up, then add a bit more oil if you need, add another scoop of batter, and repeat.
And don’t forget that the first pancake is often a bit of a dud. Whether it’s because the pan’s not hot enough, or the oil’s not hot enough, if it happens you’ll just have to eat that one while you cook the rest, and chalk it up as a practice run!
The keys to a crispy Korean scallion pancake
The authors offer four different tips to help ensure your pancakes are nice and crisp on the outside. I’ve covered most of them previously, but they’re worth repeating:
- Add some gluten-free starch to your batter, like cornstarch or rice flour. For an even crispier result, switch half of your all purpose flour out for rice flour.
- Chill your batter, or prepare it with cold water.
- Don’t skimp on the oil, even if you’re using a non-stick pan.
- Make sure you cook them long enough. Korean pancakes are different to a typical sweet pancake. We want more browning, and even a little charring of the exposed green onions. So don’t flip them too soon.
Serving up Korean green onion pancakes
Every recipe recommends slicing your pajeon into pieces. Traditionally they’d be eaten with chopsticks so the pieces would be small enough to be picked up this way and dipped in a sauce. But I’ve even served them whole with a chicken breast on top to be eaten with knife and fork and they were delicious. So cut them however works best for you and for the occasion.
Pajeon are typically served with a dipping sauce, and all but a couple of authors include a sauce as part of their recipe. All fourteen are based on soy sauce with the addition of smaller amounts of several of the following ingredients:
- Rice vinegar
- Sesame oil, seeds or both
- Chili flakes, especially gochugaru, the Korean variety
- Sliced green onions
A couple of authors direct you to heat the sauce to dissolve the sugar, but most of the sauce recipes are simply mixed together in a bowl and they’re ready to go.
Korean vegetable pancakes (chaeso-jeon)
Of course you don’t have to stop at green onions.
One of the wonderful things about Korean pancakes is their versatility. Without altering the batter, you can add any number of ingredients to your pancakes. In fact, Wikipedia lists more than fifty different formal jeon variants! And while I’m not going to go into the variants in this review, it’s worth mentioning vegetables because a number of these recipes include additional vegetables.
Chaeso-jeon is the term for a jeon that’s made with vegetables. Our hero, pajeon, is a type of chaeso-jeon. There are several other named varieties in Korean cuisine as well. Ultimately, making a Korean vegetable pancake is really only limited by your imagination, your tastes and what’s in your fridge. Amongst these recipes, the other vegetables added were:
- Chili peppers
- Green beans
- Red onion
- Potato, and hash browns (frozen grated potato)
- Zucchini, and summer squash
- Red bell pepper (capsicum)
Most of these are julienned, sliced, grated or shredded. And you don’t need to stop at one. Several recipes include two or three of the additional vegetables.
There are obviously other choices you could use as well. Pretty much any vegetable that doesn’t take too long to cook will work in a Korean pancake.
The essence of crispy Korean green onion pancakes
If you’re looking to make a batch of scallion pancakes you’ll need:
- Green onions! And preferably lots of them. Half a bunch or more per cup of batter is a good place to start.
- All purpose/plain flour (for structure).
- Rice flour or cornstarch (for a crispy finish).
- An egg.
- Chilled water, or even club soda. You’ll need about the same volume as your dry ingredients, or slightly less.
- A bit of salt.
The most popular approach to making your scallion pancakes is very simple:
- Make your batter by gently mixing everything together.
- Chop your green onions to the length you prefer, then fold them gently into the batter.
- Fry batches of the batter mixture over medium heat until well browned on both sides.
- Slice your pancake and enjoy.
And you can easily put together a delicious traditional-style dipping sauce by combining soy sauce with smaller amounts of rice vinegar, sesame oil, garlic and chili flakes.
So there you have it – the essence of Korean scallion pancakes. Hopefully this has helped you choose an approach to experiment with, or a recipe that suits you the best.
Recipes included in this review
- Savory Korean Pancakes – 30Seconds Food
- Scallion Pancakes (Pajeon – 파전 ) – Pickled Plum
- Korean Pancakes with Scallions (Pajeon or Pa Jun) – House of Nash Eats
- Pajeon Korean Scallion Pancakes Recipe – Food52
- Scallion Pancake (Pajeon) Recipe – Food Network
- Korean Scallion Pancake (Pajeon) – Rasa Malaysia
- Korean Pancakes (Pajeon) – The Spiced Chickpea
- Pajeon – Ang Sarap
- Korean spring onion pancakes (pajeon) – Food and Travel Magazine
- Pajeon (Korean Scallion Pancake) – The Domestic Man
- Korean Pancakes – Pajeon (Video) – A Spicy Perspective
- Korean Savory Pancakes (Pajeon) – The Wanderlust Kitchen
- Crispy and Fluffy Pajeon Korean Pancakes – East Meets Kitchen
- Korean Vegetable Pancakes (Pajeon) – Once Upon a Plate