When you see the word cake, you probably don't think of ingredients like daikon radish, bacon, and sausages. But that's exactly what goes into law bok gow, Chinese turnip cake.* Made with rice flour and grated daikon radish, turnip cake is a Lunar New Year staple, especially in Hong Kong and the Southern regions of China. It's also a very common dim sum dish, where it's usually served pan-fried and topped with scallions.
*Despite being made with daikon, a type of radish, law bok gow is most often translated as "turnip cake" in English, though it is also sometimes called radish cake or daikon cake; don't let the naming variations confuse you, they all refer to the same dish.
Every Lunar New Year, my mom would make batch after batch of turnip cake. Stacks of it, steamed in tinfoil pans and topped with scallions, cilantro, and sesame seeds, would be loaded on our dinning room table, to be given away to friends and family. One thing I loved about her turnip cake was that she wasn't shy about adding a good amount of daikon to it: for every pound of rice flour, she would usually add six or seven pounds of daikon! Such a high proportion of radish creates a much more robustly flavored cake, and it's how I prefer to make mine now.
In addition to the ratio of rice flour and radish, one of the most important steps when making turnip cake is to thoroughly incorporate the two together until a pretty sticky mass has formed.
Another important step is making sure that the daikon is cooked all the way through before adding the rice flour—even though the daikon is finely shredded, it still takes at least twenty minutes for it to fully cook, at which point it should look a little transparent.
While keeping those two points in mind, here's how to make it:
I start by soaking dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water until fully rehydrated, then chop them up and sauté them with dried shrimp, diced Chinese sausage, and Chinese bacon (lap yuk).
I finish the mushroom-sausage mixture by glazing it with soy sauce and brown sugar.
Then, I cook the grated daikon in the same vessel (a large pot or wok will work).
When it's ready, I stir the mushroom-sausage mixture into the daikon base.
Working in thirds, I add the rice flour until a sticky mass has formed, thinning it with a tiny bit of water only if it becomes too difficult to stir.
It should look like this:
I scrape the mixture into two glass baking dishes, though you can use disposable aluminum ones as well, and then steam each one until cooked through, which takes about half an hour.
Just be sure your steamer is big enough to hold the baking dishes.
While you can eat turnip cake straight out of the steamer, it's best after it has rested for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Before serving, I drizzle it with sesame oil and top it with chopped scallions and cilantro.
A little hoisin and Sriracha on the side for dipping, and it's all set.
To be honest, though, my favorite way to eat it is as leftovers the next day: To reheat it after a night or two in the fridge, I slice it and pan-fry it until it's golden and crispy on both sides. Serve the cake with a bowl of congee, and you'll have my ideal Lunar New Year breakfast.
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