Chinese New Year Classic: Radish Cake
Chinese New Year falls two days after valentines day this year, but E & I decided not to celebrate either because we are busy preparing for our trip to Argentina! I'm a little sad I didn't get to spend CNY in Hong Kong this year. If I were home I'd be busy helping my mom purge old clothes, buy fresh flowers, and make traditional snacks.
My mom is a great cook, but her kitchen nemesis happens to be my favourite - radish cake. Radish cake, also known as turnip cake, is a brunch classic common in dim sum restaurants across the States. Sadly, my excitement for store bought radish cakes almost always turns into tales of mushy radish woes.
Radishes sold in the states are generally categorized into the fat, round korean mu and the long, white chinese radish or japanese daikon. Although the korean radishes are milder in flavour, radish is generally a pungent vegetable and its strong aroma will surely fill your kitchen during preparation.
The two flours used in the recipe are common ingredients in Chinese food, but not exactly a pantry staple for most home cooks. Rice flour is a low gluten flour made from finely milled rice. It is usually added to glutinous flour to give a bit of structure. Wheat starch is most commonly known as the flour used for shrimp dumplings, and contributes to that signature chewy, translucent skin. The combination of these flours create a savoury steamed cake that is just firm enough to slice and soft to the bite, but neither chewy nor mushy.
The standard for a perfect radish cake is much like pizza or paella. Every mother and grandmother has their own special recipe, and its the best recipe ever. I like mine with a combination of grated radish and radish batons. It has the perfect balance of a radish boosted pudding base, with chunks of translucent radish, fatty chinese sausage (lap cheung) and sweet crunchy dried radish dispersed throughout.
Tips for success:
- Boil the lap cheung before adding it to the cake; un-cooked lap cheung can be tough to bite
- Slice lap cheung as thin as you can. Large chunks tend to fall out, and may even tear apart the cake during cutting
- Similarly, chop all the add-ins to small dices so they are easy to eat
- Pick radish that is heavy and plump (juicy), with a shiny and translucent skin (less fibrous)
- Use a mixture of radish baton and shredded radish for the best texture
1 teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon salt, optional
toasted white sesame seeds
scallion, green part only
Makes two 4 x 8" puddings.
170g rice flour (粘米粉)
35g wheat starch (澄麵)
2 chinese sausage/lap cheung (臘腸）
177ml low sodium chicken stock, or water
55g dried shrimp
8-10 dried mushroom
60g salted radish (甜菜脯), rinsed and chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
- Prepare add-ins. Bring the chicken stock to a boil, pour over the dried shrimp and dried mushroom, separately, for 30 minutes or until soft. Drain and chop into small dices, reserving the chicken stock. Boil a pot of water and blanch the lap cheung, whole, for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the water, and drain on a sheet of paper towel. When cool enough to touch, slice as thin as you can. Set aside.
- Peel radish, cut ⅓ into batons and the coarsely grate the rest.
- Make a flour base. Mix together the rice flour, wheat starch and around three quarters of the reserved stock in a large bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon until it forms a smooth paste.
- Cook add-ins. In a deep saute pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the lap cheung and cook until the fat starts to turn translucent. Add the dried shrimp, mushroom and dried radish, and continue to stir fry until golden and fragrant. Transfer to a dish and set aside.
- In the same pan, heat another tablespoon of oil. Fry the shallots until slightly browned, lower the heat, then add the radish batons. Continue cooking until the radish starts to soften and become translucent.
- Add the grated radish and sprinkle over the ground white pepper. Pour in the rest of the reserved stock, cover and cook until the radish is soft.
- Remove from heat and add around a third of the radish into the flour batter. Temper and mix thoroughly before adding the rest of the radish. Add the dried shrimp, mushroom and dried radish, and continue mixing with the wooden spoon until incorporated.
- Pour the mixture into an oiled loaf pan and tap to get rid of any air bubbles. Smooth the top with a spatula.
- Place the pan into a steamer and steam over medium-high heat for 45-60 minutes. It is cooked if a chopstick inserted in the center comes out clean with no batter stuck on it.
- Cool completely, slice into 1/4" to 1/2" slices, and fry until both sides are golden and crispy. Serve with soy sauce and XO sauce (no sirarcha please).