A traditional turnip cake with a twist! This Chinese turnip cake's traditional ingredients have been switched up with bacon, cheddar, caramelized onions, and dried scallops for a creamier, and more full-flavored turnip cake. This recipe can also be made with traditional ingredients as well for the traditionalists!
It's almost Chinese New Year, and every year I go hog wild stuffing my face with turnip cake during this time of year. This year I decided to break tradition a bit and tweak my turnip cake recipe to a more non-traditional way of enjoying it. Don't get me wrong, the traditional recipe is great (and technically it is still the traditional turnip cake with bacon, caramelized onions, and cheese) but every now and then it's nice to switch up the ingredients to try something different! The bacon gives this turnip cake a salty smoky flavor and the caramelized onions give it a slightly sweet onion flavor which is not very strong. The cheese and miso give this a bit of umami flavor and makes the texture a bit creamier as well.
If you are not too sure about the bacon, cheese, and caramelized onions, you can definitely use the traditional ingredients of Chinese sausage (lap cheong), shiitake mushrooms and dried shrimp in its place in this recipe as well.
That being said, this is definitely not just limited to Chinese New Year, I normally order lo bak go at dim sum every weekend so why not enjoy it anytime at home as well?
INGREDIENTS FOR CHINESE TURNIP CAKE
- Daikon Radish - When you are picking daikon radishes at the supermarket, make sure it is firm and not turgid. It shouldn't be very soft and bendy. The firmer it is, the more water it contains and the fresher it is.
- Rice Flour - When you are buying rice flour, make sure you are buying rice flour and not glutinous rice flour. Rice flour usually comes in clear packaging with red writing. Glutinous rice flour comes in clear packaging with green writing.
- Cheese - I like to use sharp aged cheddar for this recipe because it has a stronger and salty flavor to it and it melts into the lo bak go and gives it a creamy texture. That being said, I think any type of cheddar will work for this recipe. Try not to use mozzarella, it doesn't have much flavor and the only benefit to it is the cheese stretch.
- Bacon - For the bacon, you can use pretty much any kind of bacon of any thickness. Pancetta (Italian bacon) also works well as well. I like to sometimes add in Chinese sausage (lap cheong) as well.
- Miso - Instead of salt, I like to use miso to give the turnip cake its savory flavor - it also gives it a nice umaminess as well.
- Dried Scallops - Dried scallops need to be soaked ahead of time and reconstituted. This is an optional ingredient. If you want to go a more traditional route, you can use the dried shrimp instead.
PREPARING THE DAIKON RADISHES
Peel the turnip and remove the ends. Then cut it into half or thirds so it is easier to work with. Whenever you cut any type of cylindrical shape veggie, always try to cut them in half so it sits on the cutting board flat side down, so it doesn't roll around while you're cutting it. I like to cut my turnip to 2mm match stick slivers. It gives a bit of substance to the cake but not giant big chunks. I prefer manually cutting them over grating it because I find you have a bit more control of the size of the matchsticks, and I personally think it's faster as well.
Once you have finished cutting up all the turnip, put it in a bowl and then add in 1 teaspoon of salt and massage the salt into it. Don't be afraid to give it a few firm squeezes while you are doing this. This process will soften up the turnip and draw out the turnip water, which we will use as the liquid for the batter. We will not be boiling or cooking the turnip - I honestly don't see the point of double cooking it since it will cook while it's being steamed within the cake. After you are done preparing the turnip, we need to wait for the water to draw out so I like to use this time to grate the cheese and brown the bacon and onions in a frying pan.
RECONSTITUTING THE DRIED SCALLOPS (OPTIONAL STEP)
If you are using dried scallops, you need to reconstitute it back with hot water. (It takes a while so start this right away) Try to use a smaller bowl so you can use less water but make sure that the scallops are covered with the water. Alternatively, you can do this with dried shrimp instead if you are going the more traditional route.
MAKING THE LO BAK GO BATTER
Before we start making the batter, it is important to make sure that the turnip has had enough time to soften and draw out at least 1 cup of turnip water.
In a large bowl, mix the rice flour, corn starch, white pepper, and sugar together. The water will come from 3 sources:
- Add 1 cup of the turnip water.
- You should also have a little bit less than ¼ cup of scallop water if you are using scallops, add that in as well. If you are not using dried scallops, add ¼ cup of plain water
- Lastly, dissolve the miso with ¾ cup of hot water, then add it into the bowl as well and mix everything very well until there are no lumps.
The texture of the batter should be almost like a pancake batter. Run your finger through the batter on a coated wooden spoon, it should leave a defined strip. If it is too watery, add rice flour, 1 tablespoon at a time until it is a bit thicker. If it is too thick, add in water, 1 tablespoon at a time until it is slightly less thick.
Once the batter is at the right consistency, add in the caramelized bacon, onion, grated cheese, shredded scallops (optional), and turnip, and mix together. It will look like there is not enough batter, but don't worry if it looks like the picture below, once the turnip cooks, everything will combine into a solid cake.
MAKING SURE YOUR TURNIP CAKE DOESN'T GET STUCK IN THE PAN
It is very important to oil the pans you are using to steam the turnip cake so it doesn't get stuck to the bottom after it is cooked. I personally like to line the bottom of my pans with a circular shaped parchment paper and oil the sides so there is no chance of it ever sticking to the bottoms just to be safe.
LET IT COOL BEFORE REMOVING IT FROM THE PAN
Once the turnip cake has finished cooking, wait for it to cool before removing it from the pan so that it doesn't break. Once you remove it out of the pan, it is crucial to cool it for a few hours (preferably in the fridge) before cutting it and frying it. The melted cheese makes the turnip cake VERY soft right out of the steamer and if you fry it right away, it will break and not hold its shape in the frying pan.
HOW TO STIR-FRY LO BAK GO
Once the turnip cake has completely cooled, cut them up into small pieces and pan-fry them! I like to cut them into 2 cm cubes and fry them up that way. I find they have more surface area to crisp up and brown that way and it also makes it much easier to eat as well.
I also find that microwaving the turnip cake before pan-frying it shortens the pan-frying time a lot since it softens the middle of the turnip cake, so we only need to worry about browning the sides. Re-heating it slightly also makes it crispier as well, because it makes it a little softer, which makes it less stiff to fry so the edges are in contact with the heated pan.
If you have extra bacon fat, you can even add a bit of the bacon fat with some oil to fry them up with that for some extra flavor! 🙂
LOOKING FOR MORE TRADITIONAL CHINESE RECIPES? TRY THESE!
- Steamed Chinese Spare Ribs with Black Beans
- Chinese Sticky Rice (Lo Mai Fan)
- Bitter Melon Recipe with Black Bean Sauce
- Dim Sum Style Chinese Stuffed Peppers
- Sweet and Sour Pork Recipe
- Three Cup Chicken (San Bei Ji)
- Dry-Fried Long Beans and Minced Pork with Olive Vegetables
DID YOU MAKE THIS CHINESE TURNIP CAKE RECIPE?
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Turnip Cake (Lo Bak Go)
- 950 g Chinese turnip (Daikon Radish, approximately 10 inches in length and 3 inches wide), approx. 3-4 cups
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 small dried scallops or 2 tablespoons of dried shrimp (optional)
- 8-10 strips bacon or 2 Chinese Lap Cheong (See Notes Below)
- 2 small onions (Sliced)
- 1 ½ cup sharp old cheddar (Grated, See Notes Below)
Turnip Cake Batter
(Optional) Reconstituting the Dried Scallops
- Add the dried scallops into a small bowl and cover it with ¼ cup of hot water. Make sure the scallops are fully immersed in the hot water. Keep it covered to 'steam' in the bowl for at least 30 minutes or until soft. Alternatively, you can use dried shrimp as well.
Preparing the Turnip
- Peel and remove the ends of the turnip. Cut the turnip into half or thirds to make it easier to cut if it is larger than 6 inches long.
- Cut the smaller pieces in half lengthwise so that it can sit flat side down on the cutting board so it doesn't roll around while you are cutting it. Cut them into thin 2mm slices and then stack them 3-4 slices high and cut across into 2mm matchsticks. (See blog post for photos)
- Once the turnip has all been cut, add it to a bowl and add 1 teaspoon of salt and massage it into the turnip. Give it a few good squeezes, you want to work the salt into the turnip to draw out the water and to soften the turnip so that it is pliable in the batter.
- Set the turnip aside for 20 minutes and occasionally flip the turnip and massage the salt into it.
Caramelizing the Bacon & Onions (or shiitake & lap cheong)
- Chop up the bacon into small pieces and slice the onion into thin slices.
- In a frying pan set to medium heat, brown and caramelize the bacon and onion together. Once the bacon has been browned and the onion has been caramelized, set it aside to coolIf you are using shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp and lap cheong instead, pan fry it now with a bit of oil to render out some of the fats from the sausage. This will make the lap cheong more flavorful. It's done when the sausage is a deep red.
- Grate the cheese and set aside
Making the Turnip Cake Batter
- In a large bowl, combine the rice flour, corn starch, sugar, and white pepper.
- Pour out 1 cup of turnip water from the turnip and add it into the flour mixture. (If the turnip does not produce 1 cup of water, measure out the turnip water it produces and add water to it until it reaches 1 cup.)
- If you are using dried scallops or dried shrimp, add the scallop liquid into the bowl. It should be a little less than ¼ cup of water. If you didn't use dried scallops/dried shrimp, add ¼ cup of plain water into the bowl.
- In a small bowl, mix ¾ cup of hot water with the miso until it has dissolved. Once the miso has fully dissolved into the water, add it into the bowl.
- Mix everything together until there are no lumps and the batter is smooth. To check the consistency of the batter, coat the back of a spoon with it and run your finger through it. The line you create should stay intact.If the batter is too thick, add in 1 tablespoon of water at a time and mix until it is the right consistency. If the batter is too runny, add in 1 tablespoon of rice flour at a time and mix until it is the right consistency. (See blog post for photo example)
- Once you have the batter at the right consistency, add in the turnip, dried scallops (optional), bacon, onions, and cheese, and mix everything together. It will look like you don't have enough batter but as long as everything is well coated with the batter, it will be fine. Once the turnip cooks and softens it will become a solid cake.If you are using the traditional ingredients (shiitake, lap cheong, and dried shrimp), you would add it into the batter now along with the turnip and mix everything well.
Steaming the Turnip Cake (Lo Bak Go)
- Oil the pan you are steaming the turnip cake in very well so that it doesn't stick to the bottom. I like to cut out a small piece of parchment paper to place it on the bottom and oil the sides of the pan very well to make sure that the turnip cake cannot stick to the pan. I use an 8-inch round aluminum pan that is 3 inches deep.
- Steam it in a steamer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. To check if it is cooked, poke a wooden skewer or chopstick into the middle of the turnip cake - it should come out clean. If it has wet batter stuck to the skewer, add 15 more mins to the cooking time.
- Once it is finished steaming, let it cool in room temperature for an hour and then put it in the fridge to let it fully cool before removing it from the pan and cutting it. This is very important because the cheese makes the cake very soft and gooey when it is still warm, so you don't want to work with it until the cheese has had a chance to harden in the fridge.
Pan Frying the Turnip Cake (Lo Bak Go)
- Once the turnip cake has had at least 3-4 hours to cool in the fridge remove it from the pan. You might need to run a spatula or knife around the sides of the pan. Then flip the pan upside down and wiggle it out.
- Cut the turnip cake into 2 cm cubes, and pan fry it in oil in a non-stick pan on medium heat. (If you have extra bacon fat from browning the bacon, you can use some of that as well with a bit of oil! :)) Pan fry them until they are brown and crispy.
- Enjoy immediately. Turnip cake tastes best when it is hot or still warm.
- IMPORTANT : You must make sure the turnip cake has been cooled in the fridge and the cheese has had enough time to solidify before cutting it so that the turnip cake can hold its shape in the frying pan.
- Once the turnip cake has cooled and solidified in the fridge, I find that microwaving the turnip cake before pan-frying it shortens the pan-frying time a lot since the middle will already be warm. It also makes it crispier as well, because a slightly warm turnip cake is softer, and a softer turnip cake surface area stays in contact with the pan more for more crispy bits.
- If you have some extra bacon fat from caramelizing the bacon, use it to fry up the turnip cakes! 🙂
- When you are picking daikon radishes at the supermarket, make sure it is firm and not turgid. It shouldn’t be very soft and bendy. The firmer it is, the more water it contains and the fresher it is.
- When you are buying rice flour, make sure you are buying rice flour and not glutinous rice flour. Rice flour usually comes in clear packaging with red writing. Glutinous rice flour comes in clear packaging with green writing.
- I like to use sharp aged cheddar for this recipe because it has a stronger and salty flavor to it and it melts into the lo bak go and gives it a creamy texture. That being said, I think any type of cheddar will work for this recipe. Try not to use mozzarella, it doesn’t have much flavor and the only benefit to it is the cheese stretch.
- For the bacon, you can use pretty much any kind of bacon of any thickness. Pancetta (Italian bacon) also works well as well. I like to sometimes add in Chinese sausage (lap cheong) as well.
- Instead of salt, I like to use miso to give the turnip cake its savory flavor – it also gives it a nice umaminess as well.
- If you want to go a more traditional route, you can use Chinese sausage (lap cheong), dried shiitake mushrooms (reconstituted with water) and dried shrimp instead of bacon, cheese and caramelized onions
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