White radish cake (lor bak goh)
I like ’em big. Get your mind out of the gutter! I’m talking about white radishes (daikon). I’ve written about white radish cake (lor bak goh in Cantonese) before and had linked to a great recipe but that website has since disappeared. So what’s a person to do but write one up herself?
White radish cake is something that you can always order at yum cha but homemade tastes best. Why? You can control the ingredients and the proportion of flour used. Flour dulls the radish flavour and as it isn’t the strongest flavoured vegetable, that’s the last thing you want. Like broccoli, gai lan and kale, white radish tastes best in winter, losing the faint bitterness that it has during other times of the year. Since it’s winter in the southern hemisphere, it’s now the perfect time to make white radish cake.
The version you get at yum cha has a lingering sweet aftertaste (like diet drinks, ugh! Full sugar or none at all, I say) due to the MSG. Although Chinese food has a bad reputation for it, I don’t know any Chinese families that deliberately add MSG in their home cooking (although some prepared condiments like oyster sauce may have MSG added during production). MSG was first discovered over 100 years ago by a university professor in Japan named Kikunae Ikeda and is sometimes sold under the Japanese brand name Ajinomoto. I used to wonder as a kid why my mother always referred to MSG as ajinomoto.
This beast of a radish was 69cms (27 inches) in length and weighed almost 3 kilos. It took me over an hour to grate by hand, taking some knuckles along with it. The boredom induced by this monotonous task nearly killed me! If you have a food processor then I suggest you use it instead and in that case, it’ll take less than 10 minutes. I made the white radish cake at my parents’ place as a single batch makes a lot and much as I like it, I can’t really eat through so much. If the radish is young and fresh as it should be, the grated output will be extremely watery. This is very precious liquid and will be used in the cake.
There are three main ways to eat white radish cake after it’s steamed. Slicing it into squares to pan fry lightly is probably the most popular. Or eat it as is with a simple drizzle of light soy sauce. Finally, white radish cake is also used in a Teochew style stir fry to make chai tow kway; commonly found in Malaysia and Singapore. If you choose to eat it simply steamed, it should have a softer texture so I recommend reducing the flour by 100 grams to achieve this. Just for fun, I made three large rounds to slice for panfrying and also some individual ramekins. I garnished the single serves with some panfried finely diced ham that was tossed with fresh coriander.
My tips are:
- Take your time cutting the ingredients as the finer, the better. I’ve always loved practising my knife skills and find such work strangely cathartic. Clearly I don’t feel the same about grating.
- Stir in the flour whilst the mixture is still warm but neither boiling hot, nor cool. This ensures there are no lumps. My mother procured this method from some restaurant chefs (such a secretive, wily bunch) when she was living in Hong Kong and while there’s no doubt that it’s time consuming, it’s the old school real deal.
Feeds: 8-10 people
Start cooking: 4 hours before eating
White radish cake
- 3 kilos x white radish (daikon)
- 1 litre x chicken stock
- 700 grams x rice flour
- 200 grams x Chinese roast pork
- 100 grams x lap cheong (cured Chinese pork sausage, raw)
- 100 grams x lap yuk (cured Chinese pork belly – optional)
- 100 grams x dried shitake mushrooms, soaked until soft
- 100 grams x dried shrimp, soaked for 15 minutes and then drained.
- Vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon x sesame oil
- 1/4 teaspoon x white pepper
- 2 teaspoon x salt
- 50 grams x leg ham (optional, for garnish)
- 20 grams x fresh coriander (cilantro, for garnish)
- Finely grate the white radish in a deep dish to catch all the juices or blitz quickly in a food processor. The vegetable should basically disintegrate.
- Place the radish and radish water in a large pot and add the chicken stock. Stir and simmer over medium heat for 1 hour, covered.
- In the meantime, very finely dice (about 2mm diameter) the Chinese roast pork, lap cheong and lap yuk (if using).
- Chop the shrimp and place on a separate plate. Squeeze the water out of the shitake mushrooms and finely dice, placing next to the dried shrimp.
- Heat up a frying pan or wok over medium heat and add a teaspoon of vegetable oil. Add the chopped shrimp and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the sesame oil and white pepper and stir. Finally, add the mushrooms and cook for a further minute before removing from the heat.
- Once the radish has been cooked for an hour, add the Chinese roast pork, lap cheong, shrimp-mushroom mixture and salt and stir through evenly. The batter will become darker almost instantly. Simmer for 5 minutes and then remove from the heat and cool uncovered for 20-30 minutes.
- We’ll steam the radish cake in round tins. You could use a cake tin but make sure it’s not the springform variety. Use a pastry brush dipped in vegetable oil to grease the tins thoroughly with vegetable oil. If you’re using ramekins, do the same for them.
- Using a wooden spoon, slowly incorporate the rice flour into the warm radish batter, stirring continuously.
- Taste the mixture for seasoning and add more salt if desired.
- Pour the batter into the prepared trays.
- Prepare a wok with water and steam tins over high heat for 45-60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Individual ceramic ramekins will take about 30 minutes to cook.
- Garnish with sprigs of fresh coriander to serve and some panfried ham if desired. Have soy sauce and chilli sauce on the side so each person can add to their own servings to their taste.
- If you want to pan-fry the radish cake, wait at least 45 minutes to cool before attempting to slice. It cuts best cold. Cook with a tiny bit of oil in a non stick frying pan over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes per side until crispy and golden brown.