My Citizens, as the Western New Year approaches with rapidity, let us also not forget that Chinese Lunar New Year is following shortly thereafter – and this recipe is not only a dim sum specialty you may have already enjoyed, but it is also a MUST for Chinese New Year! I speak of the less-than-perfectly translated “turnip cakes” that are in fact made from daikon radish! The Pasha of Perfection – He who ALONE is the mighty TFD! – shall now impart his culinary wisdom, so attend and pay heed!
Turnip cake (luóbo gāo or in Cantonese: lòbaahk gōu) – just to confuse matters even more – is traditionally called carrot cake in Singapore.
Turnip cake is commonly served in dim sum parlors, usually cut into rectangular slices and sometimes pan-fried before serving. Each pan-fried cake has a thin crunchy layer on the outside from frying, and is soft on the inside. The non-fried version is soft all over. It is one of the standard dishes found in the dim sum cuisine of Hong Kong and China as well as overseas Chinatown restaurants.
It is also commonly eaten during Chinese New Year, since the word for radish (菜頭, chhài-thâu) is a homophone for “good fortune” (好彩頭, hó-chhái-thâu) in the Hokkien language. In Taiwan, turnip cake is also commonly eaten as part of a breakfast in Chinese speaking areas.
To prepare a turnip cake, roots of Chinese radish are first shredded. Chinese radish, either the white-and-green variety or the all-white variety (TFD strongly prefers all-white), is one of the key ingredients since it makes up a large portion of the cake. The other key ingredients are water and rice flour.
Cornstarch is sometimes added as it aids in binding the cake together, especially when a large number of additional ingredients (see list below) are added. The ingredients are stirred together until combined.
Additional ingredients that provide umami flavouring can (and should, in TFD’s opinion!) also be added. They include diced or minced pieces of:
These flavoring ingredients may first be stir-fried before being added to the radish and flour/starch mixture. Somewhat more luxurious cakes will add larger amounts of these ingredients directly to the mixture. Cheaper variants, especially those sold in lesser dim sum establishments will often just have a sprinkling on the top, to keep costs down.
This combined mixture is then poured in a steamer and steamed at high heat until it solidifies into a gelatinous mass.
Although the steamed turnip cake can be consumed straight with soy sauce, they are commonly cooked again to add additional flavors. For instance, turnip cake can be sliced into rectangular pieces when cooled and then pan-fried until both sides turn golden. It is served with chili sauce and/or Hoisin sauce on the side, as condiments.
My Citizens, my version of this recipe started with a recipe disclosed by a leading Taiwanese restaurant on the famed eGullet forums – but I have majorly upped the meat and luxury quotient with Chinese bacon, shredded dried Chinese scallops, and a hit of Shaoxing rice wine.
I’m very partial to this recipe – I hope you find it as much to your liking as I do! To aid in your quest, I’ve included the Chinese names of all the ingredients – just print this out and show it to the people in the Chinese grocery store or herbalist shop so they can help you find things. 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo