Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Daikon Radish Cake 臘味蘿蔔糕

I have a huge backlog of delicious recipes that I want to share, but the recipe for the daikon radish cake I just made over the weekend is jumping the queue to get posted in time for this Chinese New Year.

Daikon radish cakes are Chinese New Year staples as the word “cake” in Chinese is a homophone for "height”, symbolizing rising fortune in the new year.  Some people call them turnip cakes or even carrot cakes, but I think daikon cakes or radish cakes is the more accurate translation, as the long white radishes are used instead of their short and chubby turnip cousins. (I actually looked up the meaning of turnip/radish/daikon while typing this up as people have been using these names interchangeably when referring to this savory cake and it’s very confusing!)

My god-grandmother used to make them for us every Chinese New Year when I was a child and I remembered waking up to the smell of frying daikon cakes on the first day of each new year.  Even though these cakes are also served in Chinese every dim sum restaurants throughout the year, nothing even comes close to homemade ones.  

When I decided to make my own this year, I have chosen to follow my dad’s recipe as his daikon cakes are very popular in my family.  Normal recipes call for daikon to rice flour ratio of about 6 to 1.  Everyone in my family likes extra daikon flavour so my dad increases daikon to rice flour ratio to almost 8 to 1!  I kicked it up another notch by using Japanese daikon for its natural sweetness.  A couple years ago I was in Tokyo for Chinese New Year with my family.  To keep our family tradition, we had dim sum in Fook Lam Moon in Marunouchi Building -- a branch of the famous Fook Lam Moon in Hong Kong -- for our New Year lunch.  Their daikon cake was made with Japanese daikon and was absolutely divine.  Using Japanese daikon is definitely more expensive, but I can assure you that it’s all worth it.  Every bite of it is packed with this wonderful creamy flavour.  I’m calling it a success and I am definitely making it again next year!

Hope you will enjoy this recipe and here I wish everyone a prosperous Year of the Horse.  Kung Hei Fat Choy!

10 dried shiitake mushrooms
60g dried shrimps
4 dried scallops
250g dried Chinese sausage (臘腸)
200g dried Chinese bacon (臘肉)
3.6 kg daikon radish, shredded
2 pieces of shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons white pepper
2 1/2 teaspoons of salt
450g rice flour (粘米粉)
2 tablespoons corn starch
500ml chicken stock
600ml water (including reserved soaking water for dried scallops and dried shrimps)

1. Wash and soak dried mushrooms in water for 2 hours or until softened.  Drain and squeeze dry.  Cut off and discard stems and cut the caps into 1/4 inch dice.
2. Wash and soak dried shrimps for 20 minutes or until softened, cut into 1/4 inch dice, save the soaking water for later use.
3. Wash and soak dried scallops until they become soft and start to separate, then steam for 30 minutes, save the soaking water for later use.  Separate the steamed scallops by hand into small pieces.
4. Blanch the Chinese sausages and Chinese bacon in boiling water for about 2-3 minutes. Drain well and cut into 1/4 inch dice.
5. Peel the daikon radish, wash and pat dry. Then shred the daikon radish using the thickest cut in a food processor.
6. In a large Chinese wok or wide saucepan, stir-fry the dried sausages and dried pork belly over medium heat until the fat is released and the meat begins to brown.  Add chopped shallots, dried shrimp, dried scallops and dried mushrooms and stir-fry for another 2 minutes until fragrant.  Remove from heat and set aside.
7. Add the chopped ginger and garlic to the wok and stir-fry for about a minute.  Drizzle Shaoxing wine and add shredded radish to the wok and stir-fry for a few minutes. Lower the heat, season with sugar, white pepper and salt and cook for about 10-15 minutes until softened.
8. While the daikon radish is being cooked, in a mixing bowl, combine rice flour, corn starch, chicken stock and water until the rice flour and corn starch have completely dissolved.
9. Add the ingredients in step 6 (reserving a small portion for garnish later) to the cooked daikon radish, stir to combine.
10. Add the mixture in step 8 to the daikon radish slowly over lowest heat possible, a little at a time, stirring continuously, until it reaches the consistency of a thick and sticky batter.  Turn off heat.
11. Grease cake pans or heat-proof containers that are 2-3 inch deep. Transfer the batter into the containers and level the top using a spatula.  Top with the reserved ingredients in step 9 as garnish. Steam the cake over high heat for 75 minutes.  Check doneness by inserting a toothpick to see if it comes out clean.
12. Remove the cake from the steamer and allow the cake to cool in room temperature.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours before serving.
13. When ready to eat, run a knife along the edge of the cake to loosen it from the container.  Slice the cake into 1/2 inch thick and about 2-3 inch wide slices.  Pan-fry the cake over medium heat for 2-3 minute on each side, until golden brown.  Serve and enjoy!

1. I used Japanese daikon in this recipe and it has less water content than the Chinese radish.  You might want to reduce the amount of water if you're using Chinese radishes instead.
2. Most of the daikon radish shredded by a food processor or a grater tends to melt into the cake when cooked.  If you are like me who prefer having bits of the daikon radish in the cake, cut about 1/3 of it by hand into strips about the thickness of a chopstick so they won’t completely disappear.
3. Blanching the dried sausage and bacon removes some of the excess fat and also makes it easier to cut.
4. Some people like to include some of the mushroom soaking water as well, but I prefer without as I find the mushroom flavour a bit too overpowering and it makes the cake come out tan instead of white.  Also, if you’re not going to finish the cake in a few days, skip the mushrooms altogether as the cake with mushrooms tends to go bad much more quickly than without.

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