The history and naming of guokui can vary depending on who you ask. Every story involves some ancient Chinese military squadron, lack of armor and/or lack of cookware, stale pastry being used as the former, and shields being used as the latter. We thank our archaeologist friend Qu Feng for providing our favorite among them. In Han Dynasty China, as legend has it, guokui were fried so large, so hard, and so thick, that leftover specimens were often used to protect soldiers from falling arrows. Today, we wouldn’t recommend this type of protection. Modern guokui are delicate, comparatively diminutive, and dangerously delicious. Progress.
Though we’ve enjoyed guokui in dozens of forms from Beijing to Kunming, there’s one experience from last year that stands out as the guokui to put others to shame. While pedaling our Ofo bikes around the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an, tucked up in the northwest corner in the shadow of the city wall, we met a man who ruined other breakfast sandwiches forever. The kindly yet devious Mr. Guan took his seventeen years of guokui-making experience and changed the rules of breakfast, entirely. Imagine an impossibly crispy, thin, buttery bun, with a creamy, peppery, simple fried egg nestled within. No ham, no bacon, no avocado! Just egg. Stop imagining and cook.
- Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
- Serves: 5–6
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 tsp vegetable or canola oil, plus more for brushing
- 6 eggs ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- ½ cup vegetable or canola oil for frying
- Whisk together flour and salt in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Using clean hands in a mixing bowl or the dough hook in a stand mixer, slowly incorporate the water and 1 teaspoon of oil and knead until a single mass of dough forms.
- Dust the work surface with flour and transfer the dough on top. Knead and form the dough into a smooth ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled, clean bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 475°F. Brush a thin layer of oil across the work surface. Uncover the dough, transfer the dough atop the oil and evenly hand-roll it onto a 2-inch-thick log. Cut the dough into 2-inch pieces. Knead and roll each of the dough pieces into a ball. Hand-roll one ball into a 1-inch log. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a long oval, ¼-inch or thinner is best. Using a clean fingertip, dipped into oil, rub the surface of the dough, leaving the edges untouched.
- Starting from one narrow end, roll it up as you would a poster. Stand the roll on its end and gently flatten and roll it into a 4- to 5-inch disc. If an outer edge sticks out, fold it under the bottom of the disc as you roll it. Set aside and continue to make discs with the remaining dough balls.
- Add ½ cup of oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, place a few discs comfortably in the skillet, and work in batches. Fry the discs on one side for 2–3 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown. Flip the discs over and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Remove the partially cooked discs from the skillet and place on a rack over one or more sheet pans. Finish browning the remaining dough discs.
- Transfer the sheet pan(s) to the oven and bake the dough until the guokui are cooked through, about another 6–8 minutes. Remove the guokui from the oven and let them cool for 2 minutes. Fry each egg and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cut open a guokui and fill it with one egg. Serve hot. Best breakfast sandwich ever.
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