Thanks to Wai Chu’s recipe in The Dumpling cookbook, I’ve now gotten my fix of daikon radish cakes. If you’re unfamiliar with luóbo gāo (lok bok gow in Cantonese, 蘿蔔糕) they’re a mainstay on Cantonese dim sum menus. Recall the crisp seared pieces of slightly soft whitish cakes that look like a deck of playing cards but don’t taste like them whatsoever. That’s what these are. The ones at dim sum rarely are cooked as crisp as I like them. The crispier they’re fried, the better the contrast between the exterior and interior.
Whenever I make daikon radish cakes at home, I’m guaranteed of a nice supply of the cake to fry up whenever I please. The cake, which is first steamed and then fried, keeps in the fridge for about a week. Once you’ve made daikon radish cakes yourself, you’ll also look at the ones at dim sum houses with new eyes! I can eat luóbo gāo (“lu-oh bu-oh gow”) all year long, but Wai and his co-author Connie Lovatt slotted it in October in The Dumpling cookbook, which I reviewed last week. I don’t know if that’s why I was jonesing for the cakes but now I have them! They’re also a favorite during Chinese New Year time so I’ll be making the again come February when Lunar New Year falls on Valentine’s Day.
Wheat Starch + Rice Flour
I test drove Wai’s recipe and it was great. It’s slightly unconventional as he includes wheat starch in the stiff batter along with regular rice flour. Most recipes just employ rice flour. When I queried him about the starch use, he said that the recipe comes from his father, who was a restaurant cook in New York City for years. The wheat starch (sold at Asian markets near the rice flour and other starches) firms up the batter and adds a ‘bouncy’ texture. If you know about Asian food, you know that texture is important. If you like a softer finish, omit the wheat starch. However, I liked that Asian dumpling tip from Wai and his father!
Below is the daikon cakes recipe from The Dumpling. Dried shrimp (find it in the refrigerated section of a Chinese market) is one my favorite Asian dumpling stealth ingredients as it adds umami oomph. Double or triple it for even greater depth. Wai’s technique of simmering the shrimp and sausage with the daikon releases their flavors into the daikon well. I steamed the rice cake in 1 cake pan for an hour, until a toothpick inserted came out relatively clean. My husband and I ate our cakes with soy sauce and homemade chile garlic sauce (see the recipe in page 216, Asian Dumplings or at Viet World Kitchen).
Luo Bo Gao
Serves 6 to 8 (makes 2 dumplings)
Luo bo gao is a dim sum dish made with daikon, or winter radish. Daikon is juicy like an apple, shaped like a large, white carrot, and has a smooth radish flavor. To make the batter for luo bo gao you need to cook the daikon, break it down, and mellow out its flavor while concentrating its essence. You can eat this fresh from the steamer, but it’s most popular sliced and lightly seared for a crispy skin.
For the Dumplings
2 cups white rice flour, preferably from China or Thailand
¼ cup wheat starch
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
10 to 12 small or medium dried shrimp, soaked in hot water to cover for 30 minutes
1 pound daikon radish
1 link Chinese pork sausage (la chang), chopped very fine (about ⅔ cup)
3 scallions, chopped fine
For Cooking and Serving
Grapeseed or other neutral oil to coat the cake pans and the skillet
Oyster sauce or hot sauce
2-inch-high steamer rack
Two 9-inch round cake pans
Pot large enough to hold both the rack and the cake pan when covered
1. Make the Batter: Combine the rice flour, wheat starch, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and set aside. Drain and finely chop the shrimp.
2. Peel the daikon and grate it through the small holes of your grater onto a kitchen towel. Bring together the ends of the cloth and twist to squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can into the bowl. Measure out the collected juices and add enough water to the juice to make 3½ cups.
3. Pour the daikon liquid into a medium pot. Add the grated daikon and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 5 minutes. Mix in the sausage, scallions, and chopped shrimp, cover, and cook for 5 minutes longer. Remove from the heat. Slowly add the rice flour mixture and whisk continuously until free of most large lumps. The batter will be thick and sticky and a little lumpy.
4. Steam the Dumplings: Place the steamer rack in the pot, add 1½ inches of water to the pot, and bring to a boil over high heat.
5. Brush both cake pans with a little oil and divide the batter between the 2 pans. Dip a spoon into cool water and use the back of the spoon to smooth out the surface of the batter.
6. Carefully place one of the filled pans on the steamer rack, cover, and steam for 40 minutes. The other filled pan should be covered and left sitting at room temperature while the first one cooks, or it can be cooked simultaneously in another pot.
7. Remove the pot from the heat. Carefully lift the pan out of the pot, place it on a folded kitchen towel, and allow the luo bo gao to cool to room temperature. Cook the other filled cake pan.
8. Unmold the luo bo gao and gently turn it onto a cutting board. Cut each dumpling into 8 equal slices. (Do not slice the luo bo gao if you are planning on serving it later. They can be refrigerated, tightly wrapped, for up to 3 days. Slice and fry just before serving.)
9. When ready to serve, coat a large skillet with oil and heat over medium heat. Carefully place the slices of luo bo gao in the pan and cook until their bottoms are crispy and golden brown, about 4 minutes. Turn them over to brown the other sides. Serve with a side of oyster sauce or hot sauce.