Archive for October, 2009
Who would have thought that one of my favorite dim sum, turnip cakes, was not made of turnips as we know them at all, but out of daikon radish? I received some beautiful fresh picked turnips in my CSA box last April, and was searching for recipes using turnips that my husband would enjoy. While a somewhat adventuresome eater, he is not a fan of the likes of parsnips, turnips, celery root and other “underground” vegetables. Remembering that we both enjoy turnip cakes, I turned to Google, and discovered this startling fact. That week, the turnips ended up in a mixed vegetable soup, and the recipe was filed away for use in my vegetable cooking class the following month.
The other day, while reading other food blogs, I began to crave dim sum. We live on the north coast of California, in a very small town, and our Chinese food is generally not prepared by Chinese cooks. It is approximately two hours one way to the closest dim sum restaurant, so prospects looked dim on a Thursday night. Then I remembered the recipe for turnip cakes. The ingredients were fairly simple to assemble, and the daikon was readily available at the local market. I substituted bacon for Chinese ham, and fish sauce for dried shrimp, as my husband is deathly allergic to shellfish in general and shrimp in particular. I also had no Shaoshing rice wine, but blended a little brandy with mirin and a touch of Chinese black vinegar for an acceptable replacement.
The recipe looks long and involved, but in reality, most of the time required is for cooking and cooling the cake itself. I started out around four, and we were eating a little after six. As with all stir fry dishes, it is important to prepare and assemble all of the ingredients in advance of the cooking, and place them conveniently close to the stove. Otherwise, you will be flying around the kitchen with one eye on the sizzling wok so as to grab the crucial missing item while not burning the contents of the pan.
For a dipping sauce, I combined equal parts sweet chili sauce and soy sauce. You can either choose to dip the individual bites, or drizzle the sauce around the cakes, as I did. The finished cakes were a little darker than ones I have enjoyed in dim sum restaurants, but I chalk that up to the fact that there was sugar in the mirin that built up on the wok while frying the mushrooms that was absorbed by the turnip as it cooked, darkening the strips to a medium brown instead of a creamy beige. However, the flavor was fabulous, and far more authentic than anything I could get locally. The also reheat beautifully in the microwave, and the texture remains good, even the next day.
Turnip Cakes (Law Bok Gow)
1 ½ cups white rice flour
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 thick slice bacon or pancetta
1 oz dried shrimp (or substitute 1 tsp fish sauce)
1 Chinese white turnip (what we know as daikon)
Peanut or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon Shaoshing wine
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
In a large bowl, combine the rice flour and 1 ½ cups water and mix well until combined and smooth, set aside. Soak mushrooms in hot water until softened. In a separate bowl, repeat with the dried shrimp (if using). Blanch bacon in boiling water until softened. Remove and pat dry. Chop finely and set aside. Drain and chop mushrooms and shrimp, set aside. Peel turnip and slice into ½” slices. Fan slices and slice into ½” strips. Combine wine, soy sauce and fish sauce (if using) in a small bowl.
Heat oil in wok over high heat. Stir fry mushrooms (and shrimp, if using) until fragrant. Add wine mixture and stir fry until mushrooms are well coated. Add the bacon, cook for another 1-2 minutes, remove from heat and set aside. In the same wok, add more oil, and stir fry the turnip strips for 2-3 minutes. Pour in 2 cups water, place a lid on the wok, and steam until turnip is just cooked through and not mushy. Pour the hot turnip mixture into the bowl with the rice flour mixture and stir to combine thoroughly. Add the bacon, shrimp, mushrooms and salt, stirring until everything is evenly distributed.
Coat a round cake pan with pan spray or oil, and pour mixture in, tapping on the counter to remove bubbles and even up top surface. Steam in your wok, adding boiling water as necessary, for 30 minutes or until cake springs back when touched in the center and is firm throughout. Cool on a rack for about an hour.
Loosen the cake from the pan and invert onto a cutting board. Slice into 1” by 3” rectangles. Heat a film of oil in a non-stick skillet, and fry cakes, in batches, until golden brown on each side. Serve hot with your choice of oyster sauce, soy sauce or chili sauce.
Last Monday, my husband and I had to take his car into the dealership in San Rafael (the closest one to the Mendocino Coast) for a recall repair. Luckily, it gave us the opportunity to spend the day in San Francisco and restock the pantry with some needed goodies. After filling out the necessary paperwork, the dealership shuttle dropped us off at the Larkspur Ferry terminal, and we caught the Golden Gate Ferry Napa to the city. It had rained all the way down from the coast, but the clouds started to break and the view of the bridge as we came around Angel Island was fantastic.
We docked at the San Francisco Ferry Building around ten, and went immediately to Boccalone for salumi. This delicious shop is run by Chris Cosentino of Incanto, and is one of the best places in the city to buy artisanal charcuterie. I stuffed my bag with two of my favorite dry salami, the brown-sugar and fennel seed ones, and added one of the orange peel with wild fennel for good measure. My husband commented that every dog in San Francisco was going to be following me around for the rest of the day. We also perused all of the other wonderful hand-made goodies in the marketplace, but decided to take advantage of a break in the weather to walk to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, our next stop.
We spent the remaining time before eleven browsing the museum’s vast book and gift shop, and joined the first round of visitors in the trek upstairs to see the Richard Avedon photographic exhibit. Since it was a Monday, and not a school holiday, the crowds were reasonable, and we were able to spend as much time as we wished wandering the galleries and appreciating the incredible collection of black and white portraiture. Before we knew it, we were getting hungry, and headed back out to Mission Street for the walk uptown to Charles Phan’s Heaven’s Dog. I had eaten several of the braised pork belly in clamshell buns during the Slow Food San Francisco Golden Glass tasting even in June, and wanted to check out the rest of the menu. We hiked up Mission from 4th to 8th, actually a total of about twelve long blocks, and were famished by the time we reached the restaurant around one.
Unlike the more elegant Slanted Door, this was a modern noodle shop, with colorful animal-themed artwork on the walls and a lavish bar. We were seated in the middle room off the bar, and a server was with us almost instantly, getting us tall glasses of water and menus. In addition to two orders of the pork belly (three per plate), we ordered the Shrimp Won Ton Soup for me and the Pork Fried Rice for my husband.
The pork belly was everything I remembered and more; unctuous slices of perfectly braised fat and meat, redolent of soy and rock sugar, served on the steamed clamshell bun with shaved green onion and a reduction of the braising liquid. Each one was about three to four bites, depending on how hungry you are, and just melted in my mouth.
My soup was hot and steaming; a large bowl filled with broth, thinly sliced char sui (Chinese BBQ pork, sans the ubiquitous red food coloring), cilantro, sliced green onions, about eight of the plump shrimp won tons and a big handful of thin rice vermicelli. The entire assemblage was topped with tiny crisp cubes of pork cracklings. The surprise of the day was when I bit into the first won ton. The filling in each dumpling had been topped with a splash of toasted sesame oil, and the first bite resulted in an explosion of warm sesame flavor, followed by the creamy shrimp filling. What a delight! My husband’s plate of rice was freshly fried, with crisp vegetables and sweet and tangy pork chunks. The only thing lacking, according to him, was a dollop of chili sauce to liven things up, but he finished it to the last grain.
After lunch, we walked back down Market Street to the Ferry Building, indulging in San Francisco people watching at its best. Arriving over thirty minutes before the next ferry, we waited on a bench facing the bay until the returning rain drove us into the terminal. It was as if the heavens had opened, and within minutes, the entire platform was awash and the rain was still coming down in sheets. The Ferry Mendocino arrived, dispatching its passengers into the storm, and we dashed up the platform into the warm, dry cabin. Our return to Larkspur was uneventful, and the sun came out once again while we waited for the shuttle back to the dealership. Later, we heard that they had gotten so much rain in San Francisco that the Market Street Muni line was closed due to flooding. We laughed as we resumed the return trip north, returning to a spectacular sunset over the Mendocino County hillsides, leaving the dark clouds in our wake.