Turnip cake is a traditional Chinese New Year dim sum. Like every traditional dish, each household has their own recipe, with various tweaks, slightly different ingredients, and methods.
I finally took the time this past weekend to learn the ropes from my mom, and here is her recipe. Fun cooking everyone, and Happy Chinese New Year!
- 2 cups of rice flour (粘米粉)
- 3.5 lbs of Chinese radish/daikon (蘿蔔), peeled and grated into long shreds with a box grater (like coleslaw), and squeezed its juices out by hand (It doesn’t need to be perfectly dry. Buy 4lb of daikon to take into account of the peels)
- Chinese preserved sausage (臘腸) – 1 and 1/3 – steamed on high heat for 10 minutes, then dice into small cubes
- Chinese preserved pork belly (臘肉) – 1/4 piece – steamed on high heat for 10 minutes, then dice into small cubes
- Dried shrimp (蝦米) – 1/4 cup – soaked in room temperature water until soft (several minutes), then diced to the same size as the preserved sausage and pork belly
- 3-4 Chinese black mushroom (冬菇) (optional) – soaked in room temperature water until soft for several hours, then diced into small pieces
- 4 Chinese dried scallop/conpoy (瑤柱) (optional) – soaked in room temperature water. Steam on high heat for 30 minutes until cooked, then pull into shreds
- Xiao Xing cooking wine (燒酒) – 1 tbsp
- Green onions – 3 to 4 sprigs – diced
- 2 cups of liquids (a combination of the daikon juice that was squeezed out from the shredded daikon and room temperature water)
- salt – 1 tsp
- ground white pepper (糊椒粉) – 1 tsp
- chicken bouillon powder (雞粉) – 1 tsp
- granular cane sugar (黃糖) – 2 tsp
- flavorless cooking oil – 1 tbsp
- Brush the inside of an 8″ square cake pan with a thin layer of cooking oil. Set aside.
- On medium high heat, stirfry together in this order: the preserved sausage, preserved pork belly, dried shrimp, black Chinese mushroom, and conpoy shreds until fragrant. Add the Xiao Xing cooking wine and stir until evenly distributed and fragrant. Then finally, stir in the green onions until slightly cooked. Set aside.
- Place the 2 cups of liquids in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the rice flour, salt, ground white pepper, and cane sugar until dissolved. Set aside.
- In a wok, on medium heat (NB: you don’t need to add oil to the wok), add the daikon shreds and stirfry until translucent. This step will take some time, so be patient. You will see some more liquids coming out of the daikon as you cook. Don’t worry, just leave it and continue cooking.
- Add in the items from step 2 into the wok with the daikon and gently stir it in until evenly distributed. This step should take about a minute or two. Be gentle so that the liquids doesn’t splash out.
- Add in the liquids from Step 2 to the wok, and stirfry until it is evenly distributed with the daikon and other ingredients. You will notice that the mixture starts to turn into a paste as you cook it. You will need to cook and heat this paste until it turns into a slight golden yellow colour in all areas (inside and out). The golden yellow colour indicates that the paste and rice flour is cooked, which yields a more fragrant turnip cake. Also, it will be less prone to stick to the knife when it you cut it for pan-frying at the end, causing it to break apart. It will also take away the raw dough flavour that you can sometimes taste in turnip cake. This step will take a long time, and you will need some muscle along with patience, because the paste starts to become heavy and hard to maneuver. Ensure that you cook the middle of the paste too buy digging into the center with a wooden spatula and flipping it inside out. This is to make sure that all areas are exposed to the heat, as it is a very thick paste. Do note that the paste will dry out a little bit, where the original water seems to be gone and soaked up by the turnip. Don’t worry, it is supposed to be like that (as long as it’s not burnt).
- Once done, pour the paste into the oiled aluminum pan. With the spatula, press the paste into the trays for an even surface, and to so that the turnip cake will be firm after steaming. Lightly drop the baking tray several times against the counter to get rid of any air bubbles. (See picture below as an example).
- When the water in the wok comes to a rolling boil, place the turnip cake in the steaming tray and steam on high heat for 1 hour (or several more minutes if the aluminum pan is filled really high, or if the pan or steaming utensil that you are using has a thicker material). Pay attention to the water level. Make sure you have a kettle of hot water ready on the side. If there is not enough water, add more hot water to it. Do not add cold water, because that will drop the cooking temperature.
- Once done, the turnip cake cool on the counter for 30 minutes. Then place it in fridge for at least 4 hours. Best overnight.
- Next day, cut it into 1 cm thick pieces and pan fry with flavorless cooking oil. Serve plain or with hot sauce.