A family recipe that will live on.
I am honoured and excited to be sharing my mother in law's famous turnip cake recipe! This is a classic dim sum dish, but it's also something my MIL always makes for us every Chinese New Year. Honestly, I've never had a version at any restaurant better than hers, which is why I insisted on going over to her house to watch her make it. As most recipes from our mothers and grandmothers, there isn't much written down if anything at all. So I literally filmed her making it so that I can document the exact process, so that this recipe will always live on to future generations! Thankfully she at least had the amounts of ingredients in writing, so I just had to make sure I got the process down.
If you've never had turnip cake (also known as daikon cake and lo bak go), it may not sound like the most delicious thing at first. But trust me, with the addition of dried shrimp, scallops, Chinese sausage and shiitake mushrooms, this is one of the most umami-filled comfor foods. There's a reason why it's a classic!
What is a Turnip Cake?
Turnip cake, or "lo bak go" in Cantonese...doesn't actually involve any turnip! More accurately it should be called a daikon cake because the daikon radish is the main ingredient. And it's not a "cake" like a chocolate zucchini cake. The only thing that's "cake" about it is the fact that it's cooked in a block, cake-like shape.
It's a classic dish served at dim sum restaurants, so I guess it's classified as "brunch". The most classic way to eat these turnip cakes is to simply pan sear them until browned, then served with hot sauce and soy sauce. But I've also seen the turnip cakes cut into cubes then stir-fried with XO sauce and beansprouts as well. My husband (who is Chinese) loves cracking an egg into the pan while pan frying them, then scrambling everything together.
What's with all the dried ingredients?
Even though this is a dish made mostly of daikon, it's amazingly filled with savoury umami flavour, and that's because of the dried shrimp, dried scallops, and dried shiitake mushrooms. These ingredients are relatively mild-flavoured in their fresh state, but when dried, something happens to them that just turns them into umami bombs! An intense, robust, meaty aroma develop, and it's absolutely key to this recipe. The Chinese sausage, of course is also very important in adding texture, a slightly sweet flavour, and don't forget the pork fat!
Where to buy all the dried ingredients for this?
- Dried shrimp: You can find dried shrimp in the refrigerated section of an Asian grocery store; medium or large sized one work fine.
- Dried shiitake mushrooms: These are also readily available in the dry goods section of Asian grocers, and for these I prefer to choose ones that are not too large, so they will rehydrate faster.
- Chinese sausage: Can be found in the refrigerated section, and make sure you choose the all-pork, fatty ones rather than the leaner looking ones with chicken or liver mixed in.
- Dried scallops: These are a little harder to find. Your Chinese grocery store may carry them, but in Vancouver I get them in bulk from Chinatown at one of those stores that sell a whole bunch of dried products. They are a bit pricey, but you don't need a lot, and there's no need to get large ones which are more expensive. And yes, you can absolutely omit them from this recipe.
Storing Turnip Cakes
You can keep the cakes in the fridge for up to a week, and fry them up whenever you want to eat. You can also freeze them, but make sure you slice them before freezing so you can just thaw what you want to eat. To delay freezer burn, wrap the cake in foil, then place in a heavy duty freezer bag. Let them thaw at room temp, and fry them up as usual. I find the texture to be a tad softer after frozen, but still perfectly fine.
Watch The Full Video Tutorial!
All my recipes come with step-by-step video tutorials with extra tips not mentioned in the blog post, so make sure you watch the video below to ensure success - and if you enjoy the show, please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. Thank you!
Note: Make sure you plan in advance and soak your dried products at least 3 hours before making, especially if using scallops which take longer to rehydrate. I like to soak them the day before, and I keep them in the fridge. If using only mushrooms and dried shrimp, one hour of soaking should be enough time.
- 1 link (~40 g) Chinese sausage, diced
- 2 Tbsp dried shrimp
- 12-15 g dried shiitake mushrooms (~3 pc)
- 20-25 g dried scallops, optional
- 1 cup hot water
- 750g daikon (pre-peeled weight)
- 130 g rice flour
- 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp tapioca starch
- 1 tsp sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground white pepper
- 2 Tbsp oil
- For serving: soy sauce and hot sauce (A Thai-style Sriracha which is a little sweeter works really well for this)
- Tools: A 6- or 7- inch round cake pan, a loaf pan or another mold(s) of your choice.
- At least 2-3 hours in advance: rinse scallops, dried shrimp and dried mushrooms under cold water quickly, then soak them all together in 1 cup of hot water until scallops are fully hydrated and can be easily shredded by hand. Scallops the size I used in the video took about 3 hours, but if not using scallops, mushrooms and shrimp will take no more than 1 hour to soften.
- Drain the dried products and reserve all of the soaking water.
- Shred scallops with your fingers into strings, removing the little piece of chewy muscle that's attached on the side of the scallops.
- Remove stems from mushrooms then finely dice.
- Roughly chop dried shrimp.
- Peel daikon and shred into juliennes either with a knife, a julienne peeler, or you can also grate it using the largest holes on the grater.
- In a wok or a large heavy-bottomed pot, add Chinese sausage and cook over medium-low heat to render out fat. If sausage is too lean and there isn't much fat coming out, you may need to add a bit of oil. Keep cooking until the sausage pieces are browned slightly.
- Add mushrooms, scallops and dried shrimp and saute over medium heat for about 3 minutes until aromatic. Remove from wok.
- Add daikon to wok and toss it over medium high heat until wilted slightly. Add mushroom/seafood soaking water; if there is a bit of grit in the soaking water, be sure to not pour that part in. Toss the daikon around until wilted, then cover and cook over medium heat for about 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fully cooked and soft.
- Drain cooked daikon through a mesh sieve or a colander, pushing out as much liquid as possible, reserving the liquid. Put drained daikon back into the wok, off heat.
- Measure daikon cooking liquid and you want to have about 1 cup. If there isn’t enough, add cold water to make up the volume. If there is too much (there should not be that much extra), discard the excess. Let the liquid cool slightly just until it's warm.
- Meanwhile, add mushroom mixture to daikon in the wok (heat still off), along with sugar, salt, pepper and oil. Toss to mix well.
- Once daikon juice is warm, whisk in rice flour and tapioca starch until there are no more lumps. Add this flour slurry into the daikon mixture and toss to mix well.
- Turn the heat on medium and keep tossing, scraping the bottom, until the mixture is thickened into a paste. Remove from heat.
- Grease your pan generously with oil, and if you want the whole thing to come out easily in one big piece, line the bottom with parchment paper. Add the daikon mixture to the pan and even out the surface.
- Steam the cake for 1 hour over boiling water, making sure there is PLENTY of water in the steamer to last the hour. Tip: If your steamer has metal or glass pot lid, shield the daikon cake loosely with a piece of aluminum foil to prevent condensation from dripping onto the cake, or wrap the lid in a tea towel to help catch the drips. If using a bamboo steamer, there’s no need to do this.
- To test doneness, use a thermometer and you want a minimum of 200°F internal temp. Or you can use a wooden skewer to poke the center, and if stuff that comes up is translucent and not pasty white, it’s done. If making a bigger pan, or a larger batch with multiple pans, you may need to steam for longer.
- Let cool completely, or chilled, before cutting. You can keep the daikon cake in the fridge, for about a week, and slice it up to fry whenever you’re ready to serve.
- Run a knife around the mold to free it from the sides, then flip it out onto a cutting board and cut into desired size (preferably no more than 1-inch thick).
- Pan fry them over medium heat in a little bit of oil in a nonstick pan or a well-seasoned wok until hot throughout and browned on both sides.
- Serve with soy sauce and hot sauce (like Sriracha) on the side. A sweeter Sriracha, like a Thai style one, works better for this recipe I find. Enjoy!