I'm not taking part of the anti-SOPA blackout but decided to take a pass on my regular Wednesday post. Lunar New Year falls on January 23 in 2012 and I'll be making this recipe I posted last year to celebrate the occasion with family. If you want to plan ahead for a trip to Asian grocery store, now's the time to do it!
There is a dearth of Chinese cuisine-related posts at Dessert By Candy. This is no coincidence. I cook for one more often than not due to my training schedule and most Chinese dishes do not adapt well to single portion. When I do cook Chinese food, they are not glamourous. I cook comfort food with Asian flavours that I crave and they are likely to be something I throw together without thinking. However, every so often, I do enjoy cooking some very traditional dishes I grew up with. Steamed Turnip (daikon) Cake 臘味蘿蔔糕 is one dish close to my heart especially around this time of year.
For those not familiar with Chinese cuisine, turnip cake is a savoury steamed rice cake filled with shredded daikon and flavourful assortment of cured meats, shiitake mushrooms, and dried shrimps. They are often served year-round at dim sum restaurants sliced and pan-fried for a crispy exterior. The less widely-available way to enjoy them is freshly steamed which is more rustic and more likely to be found at home. When turnip cakes are pan-fried, it makes sense to start with a stiffer cake meaning more rice flour as filler and less of the expensive ingredients. When you enjoy them steamed, the quality of the ingredients really comes through and a softer texture is more desirable achieved with a higher portion of daikon.
The tradition of steaming cakes for the lunar new year celebration is akin to fruitcake in Christmas. I remember one year long ago my little brother came home from a visit to my grandparents. My aunt and grandmother were steaming batches of turnip cake in preparation for the onslaught of new year entertaining. My little brother pulled me aside and confided solemnly that my aunt was mopping up condensation on the cakes with a questionable rag. You see, my mom had always been vigilant on hygiene and even finger-licking is frowned upon at my house. For a few years after that discovery, my brother and I passed on my grandmother’s turnip cakes with all kinds of excuses.
My mom’s father was the most amazing cook and I never turned down his turnip cakes or anything came out of his kitchen for that matter. I remember fondly the afternoon he told me all about his secrets of making turnip cakes. Stupid me I never wrote any of it down. Otherwise I would be sharing with you a treasured family recipe today. Instead, this is a tried-and-true recipe that I’ve used for years. It has a good balance of ingredients and the softer texture is delicious fresh out of the steamer. After an overnight chill, it is stiff enough to be sliced and pan-fried with a delicate touch, preferably with a non-stick pan. Whichever way you enjoy it, a small dish of hot sauce such as sriracha is a great accompaniment. Good strong black tea such as Pu-erh goes without question. One day, perhaps I’ll share with you a treasured family recipe.
Steamed Turnip Cake 臘味蘿蔔糕
makes a 7” round cake of 3” height, serves 4-6
- 4 large dried shiitake mushrooms 冬菇
- 15g dried shrimps 蝦米
- 200g assorted cured meats including Cantonese sausages 臘腸, liver sausages 潤腸, and cured pork belly 臘肉
- 750g daikon, peeled, coarsely shredded, squeeze out excess liquid 白蘿蔔絲
- 225g rice flour 粘米粉
- 40g wheat starch / ungluten flour 澄麵
- 1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp roasted sesame oil
- warm water
- vegetable oil
- 375mL hot water
- roasted sesame seeds and finely chopped cilantro for garnish
- Fill a small bowl with just enough water to cover the shiitake mushrooms. Do the same in another small bowl with the shrimp. Soak for 2-3 hours until softened.
- Steam the cured meats over high heat for 20 minutes.
- While the cured meats are steaming, finely chop the shiitake mushrooms and shrimps, set aside. Reserve the soaking liquid.
- Finely chop the cured meats and set aside.
- Heat frying pan over medium high heat with 1 tsp vegetable oil. Sauté shiitake mushrooms and shrimp until fragrant. Add cured meats and sauté for another 3 minutes. Empty to a bowl and set aside.
- Set up your steamer that is large enough to house a 7” round cake pan with 3” high sides. Fill with plenty of water and heat over high heat. The water takes some time to boil. Grease your cake pan and set aside.
- Back to your frying pan at medium high heat, sauté the shredded daikon for about 2 minutes. Add 375mL of hot water, cover with lid, and bring to boil.
- In the mean time, whisk together rice flour, wheat starch, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add enough warm water to your reserving mushroom/shrimp soaking liquid to measure 375mL. Whisk into rice flour mixture until smooth. Add sesame oil.
- Once the daikon comes to a boil, empty it all at once, liquid and all, to the rice flour slurry. Stir to blend and add in shiitake mushroom, shrimp, and cured meats.
- Fill the cake pan with batter and steam for 60 to 75 minutes at high heat. Check every 20 minutes to ensure there’s enough hot water in the steamer. The turnip cake is done when you can feel resistance when inserting a knife into centre of the cake.
- If there’s condensation pooled on the cake, you can put a layer of clean paper towel on the surface and dab away. Top with roasted sesame seeds and cilantro while cake is hot. The cake is best enjoyed fresh out of the steamer. Leftovers can be re-steamed or pan-fried.