Steamed Turnip Cakes
STEAMED TURNIP CAKES Law Bok Gow SERVES 6 AS PART OF A LARGER DIM SUM MEAL
A staple of dim sum carts, turnip cakes are an auspicious New Year food because the Chinese word for daikon radish is a homophone for “good fortune.” Even though the name of this dish references turnips, it is actually made with Chinese daikon radish, whose flavor resembles that of a turnip. The most popular, and more traditional, way to eat these slightly sweet turnip cakes is to pan-fry the steamed slices until golden brown. An alternative cooking method to frying is to make a softer, more liquid version that is eaten steamed with a spoon by adding more daikon and less rice flour. To turn this rather humble dish into something extravagant, top the steamed turnip cake with the luscious dried scallops found in Asian grocery stores.
8 dried shiitake mushrooms
½ cup dried shrimp
1 large daikon (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for frying
6 ounces Chinese smoked sausage (lap cheong), diced
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups rice flour
½ teaspoon sea salt
6 medium dried scallops, rehydrated and shredded by hand (optional)
Place the dried mushrooms and shrimp in separate bowls. Pour ½ cup of hot water over the mushrooms, and pour ½ cup of cold water over the shrimp. Set the bowls aside for 30 minutes.
Grate the daikon into a large pot. Add 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, until the daikon is tender. Drain the daikon in a colander set over a large bowl, reserving the cooking liquid. Transfer the drained daikon to a large pot.
Set the colander over a clean bowl, and drain the shrimp and mushrooms in the colander, catching the soaking liquids below. Squeeze any excess liquid out of the mushrooms into the bowl; reserve the liquid. Finely chop the mushrooms and the shrimp.
In a wok or a large pan, heat the 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the sausage and fry until cooked through and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and shrimp, and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the rice wine and sugar, and stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove the wok from the heat and stir the mixture into the cooked daikon.
In a large bowl, combine the rice flour with the reserved mushroom/shrimp soaking liquid, and stir until smooth. Add the sea salt and 1 cup of the reserved daikon broth. Then add the daikon-sausage mixture and mix until well combined.
Spread the mixture out in a shallow 8-inch round heatproof or Pyrex bowl. Bring about 2 inches of water to a boil in a wide pan or a wok. Place the bowl in a bamboo steamer, set the steamer in the pan (do not let the water touch the bowl), cover the steamer, and steam at medium heat for 1 hour or until the turnip cake is firm to the touch. (If using dried scallops, add them to the top of the cake during the last 10 minutes of steaming.)
Remove the bowl from the steamer and allow the turnip cake to cool at room temperature. When it has cooled, run a knife along the edge of the cake to loosen it, and turn it out right-side up onto a plate. If not eating immediately, wrap the turnip cake in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to one week. When ready to eat, coat a frying pan with oil on medium heat. Meanwhile, cut the cake into 1-inch-thick slices and about the length of a playing card, and add to the pan. Fry on each side for about 5 minutes, or until the turnip cakes develop a golden brown hue. Serve warm.
Note: You’ll find this dish along with steamed dumplings and delicacies like chicken feet in black bean sauce on carts at dim sum restaurants. Dim sum is a Chinese brunch tradition that literally means “to touch your heart.” To me, dim sum means “then some”—it’s leisure time to gossip with friends while nibbling. The food is almost secondary to the gathering; the cacophonous atmosphere of a large dim sum hall, the high-octane rattle of carts making their cheerful rounds, and of course, the sound of loud laughter and happy eating taking over each table, this is where the real action is.