One of the perks of marrying into a Cantonese family is being introduced to lots of very Cantonese dishes, at least ones that run strong in Mr. ABC Chef’s family. Almost every time we made plans to see Mr. ABC Chef’s mom, she would ask him a few days before, if he wanted some lo bak go* (蘿蔔糕) or lo mai fan* (糯米飯). Obviously, the answer was always yes. This was not only great news for Tim, but for me, too! You see, usually, the only place my family and I ate luo bo gao was at dim sum restaurants. We really love luo bo gao, and were always trying to find and remember a restaurant that made it the way we liked it. Our criteria was pretty simple: a strong luo bo taste, and not too firm or too soft. We would discuss that so-and-so restaurant’s luo bo gao didn’t have much flavor and just tasted like rice flour, or that such-and-such restaurant actually had luo bo taste in it and that was liked it. I guess we never gave too much thought to experiment making it ourselves, though we definitely knew that getting the right ratios of luo bo (daikon/turnip) to liquid to rice flour was the secret. Turns out that all this time, my mother-in-law (MIL) had perfected it! Maybe that’s why I married Tim. Haha.
Since I’ve I had my MIL’s lo bak go, I haven’t missed the lo bak go at dim sum places, and don’t plan on ordering it out anytime soon. Now I can see why for Tim, eating luo bo gao at restaurants was outrageous, because of how good his mom’s was.
What makes this lo bak go so good? It’s chock-full of lo bak (daikon/turnip) and does justice to its name. It is the right firmness- not too jelly-like, and not too firm. It fries up beautifully and, like a well-seasoned dumpling, can be enjoyed alone without sauce (though, you can always choose to do so if you wish).
*Lo bak go = luo bo gao = 蘿蔔糕. How I say it depends on who I’m with, or who I was with when the memory was formed (Cantonese or Mandarin). Gotta fit in, yanno?!
lo bak go / luo bo gao
Chinese Turnip Cake
Makes enough for 2 people for a week of leisurely eating
EDITED 2/3/16 to reflect daikon shred size- thanks M. for pointing it out!
2 to 2 3/4 lb Chinese turnip (also known as daikon) (I used 2 1/4 lb), peeled and coarsely shredded (largest holes of your food processor grater attachment, or box grater)
2-3 thin slices of ginger
1 tsp salt
1 tsp oil plus more for greasing the pans
1/2 to 3/4 cup filling- combination of Chinese sausage- lap cheong/la chang, dried shrimp, and/or rehydrated shiitake mushrooms (I used 2 Tbsp shrimp and 2 Chinese sausage links)
1 cup liquid (see instructions)
1 1/2 tsp oyster sauce
1/2 lb rice flour
1) Chop up the ingredients for the filling- you want them in between a mince and fine dice- you want to be able to still taste and see the filling ingredients as you eat the turnip cake, but they shouldn’t be so big that they dominate the whole slice.
2) In a large saute pan, add some oil (~1 tsp), and saute the filling ingredients (I used dried shrimp and lap cheong) until the fat in the sausage starts to get translucent, and the edges start to crisp up. At that point, transfer the filling ingredients into a large bowl, which you will later use to mix all the turnip cake ingredients.
3) In the same pan, cook turnip w/ ginger and salt over a medium-low flame- not too high! It is done when the turnip is mostly translucent, instead of white. The sharp/pungent/raw smell will also be gone, and the smell that replaces it should be pleasant and not make your nose itch.
4) The turnip will have produced a lot of liquid as it cooked- transfer that liquid into into a measuring cup. What I did was to use a wooden spoon to hold the turnip back, as I poured the liquid into the cup. You can also pour all of the contents of the saucepan into a colander over a large bowl, so that the bowl catches the turnip liquid. Up to you. Fish out the ginger slice- you can throw that away now.
5) Measure the turnip liquid, and either pour some out, or add water, so that you have one cup total of liquid. This is important, as it will determine the consistency and texture of your turnip cake, so do not wing this step!
6) Add the cup of liquid and shredded turnip to the large bowl where the filling ingredients are waiting. Add oyster sauce, mix well, then add the rice flour. Make sure you scrape the bottom and sides to get any rice flour that has clumped up. Mix up thoroughly to make sure everything is well-incorporated!
7) Pour into your well-greased steaming vessels. I used a 6 inch round plus a small tupperware. It looks more proper when it’s at least 2 inches tall, so keep that in mind when you pour it into molds for steaming.
8) Steam until everything has turned from whitish to a more translucent hue. You can also poke a knife in it and make sure that it comes out without any very white flecks- should be more translucent and almost cream-colored. It took my batch of lo bak gao 20 minutes in my indirect rice cooker, but your mileage may vary depending on your steaming method. The top will look mottled with lots of shredded and cooked turnip even when it’s done- no worries; the lo bak go will be structurally sound and the interior smooth, not lumpy.
9) When the vessels have cooled to room temperature, go around the edges with a butter knife, then invert to release the turnip cake! Once it’s completely cooled, it will be easy to cut.
10) You could technically eat the turnip cake now, but….it’s better to pan fry. See Step 11.
11) For Pan-Frying:
If you have a cast iron, there is no better cooking equipment for perfect lo bak go. Slice up your lo bak go in 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick slices. Add enough oil to the pan so that it coats the entire bottom of the pan in a very thin layer. Add the lo bak go, and pan-fry until nice and golden brown. We like ours VERY toasty, as shown in part of the picture. You decide what you like!