Dim Sum Classic – Turnip Cake (蘿蔔糕)
So you’ve heard of the term Dim Sum and probably learned from your Chinese friends that it means small bites and snacks in Cantonese. In fact, dim sum is loosely defined term and depending on the context and occasion it means different things ranging from sweet desserts to delicate seafood soup to salty fried meat. But for me, dim sum means going to a Cantonese morning tea place(yum cha) and ordering up a few push cart dishes such as shrimp dumpling (Har Gaw /蝦餃), barbecue pork bun (Cha Siu Bao /叉燒包), egg tarts (Dan Ta 蛋撻), and of course the famous turnip cake(蘿蔔糕).
Turnip cake is a popular dim sum dish as well as a common appetizer served during Chinese New Year dinner in Cantonese region. Over the years I’ve learned to appreciate this little delicacy and become pretty picky. At its core a good turnip cake should be filled with detectable radish inside If Ican’t see or taste a good amount of radish I know I am probably just eating mostly the flour. I also like my turnip cake pan fried to golden brown but still soft in the middle. As I bite into it, I want to feel the crunchiness of the smell the aroma from the flavoring ingredients from as shiitake mushroom, dried shrimp, and meat…..
With that said, I have researched, tried, and finally concluded that the only place you can find decent turnip cake is either in an authentic Cantonese dim sum place (one that filled with old Chinese patrons) or from someone’s home kitchen. In any case I try to avoid the pre-made turnip cake because you have not found a single one of them that’s nearly as good as a homemade one. The bottom line is if you just stumbled onto this page and have no idea what turnip cake is, I suggest you try it first in a Cantonese dim sum place. If you are like me who is serious about the turnip cakes (or food in general), you’ll appreciate every effort you put on making this.
My early attempts on making the turnip cake were full of heartbreaking failures and occasional mediocre success at the best. It was frustrating to see my cake came out either too soft or too hard. My real success came after I used the recipe from Alice C’s mom, whom by the way has been making turnip cake every year for the past two decades! I religiously followed her 6 to 1 guideline and the turnip cake just comes out top quality. Ever since then, I had not had any turnip cake that was not homemade.
I am sharing this recipe in its entirety with a small modification. The turnip cake is normally filled with preserved Chinese meats (sausage or pork belly). I used fresh ground pork instead for the sake of new flavor and it’s totally wonderful. I hope you get to try this fabulous recipe!
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Turnip Cake – Ingredients (making 2 9 inch loaves)
1 lb Plain rice flour (not to be confused with glutinous rice flour)
6 lb Fresh long radish (aka daikon/turnip)
5 Dry shiitake mushroom
3 tbsp dried shrimp
1 lb ground pork (use Chinese preserved sausage or pork if preferred)
3/4 tbsp + 2 tsp Salt
½ tbsp + 1 tsp White pepper powder
1 tbsp Soy sauce
1 tbsp cooking wine
You will also need 2 9-inch loaf pans and a shredder such as Mandolin or electric chopper.
Turnip Cake – Step By Step
1. Soak the dried shrimp and shiitake mushroom for at least two hours until all softened. Clean and drain well.
2. Chop the shrimp and shiitake mushroom and set aside. Peel the radish skin.
3. Use a Mandolin or an electric shredder to shred the radish into the size of matches. My food processor comes with a shredder so it was fairly easy for me. This is the most tedious and laborious part of the recipe.
4. In a large skillet or wok, combine the radish, 2 tsp of salt, and enough water to cover. Boil in medium heat until boils. About 15 minutes. Drain off most of the liquid from the radish and save about 2 cups of the liquid for later use.
5. In a oiled pan, combine the pork (or Chinese preserved meat), shrimp, shiitake mushroom, soy sauce, cooking wine, and 1 tsp of white pepper powder. Stir fry until the pork is cooked. About 4 minutes.
6. In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice flour, radish, and cooked ingredients. Also add 1 tbsp of salt and ½ tbsp of white pepper. Stir with a spatula to mix.
7. Gradually add saved liquid to the mix while you stir. Depending on how well you drained your radish you’ll need about ½ – 1 cup of liquid to make a thick batter such it will not fall off your spatula. Try to avoid putting too much liquid in there.
8. Fill a 9-inch loaf pan with the batter. Steam the batter with lid on for 40 minutes over medium high heat.
9. Once it’s done steaming, cool it down to room temperature. It can be served now but more commonly it is sliced to 1 inch thick pieces and pan fried to gold brown on both sides.
To serve, I like to dip in hoisin sauce and a dash of sriracha would have been the icing on the cake!
What is your favorite turnip cake dipping sauce?