YOUR DESIGNATED DIM-SUM PLACE CAN’T TOUCH THIS
Have you had Chinese turnip cake with X.O. sauce?
Well, the thing is, you probably have without knowing. Over the dizzying array of small dishes on a dim-sum table, your friend passed you a plate of square white cakes with browned and crispy exteriors, served with a small oily dollop of brownish condiment. You ate it, mmmmmmm…., probably even asked for the name of the dish, but let’s be honest, who the hell can remember any names from a feeding-frenzy over a dim-sum table?
Well, that, my friend, you just had Chinese turnip cake and its side-kick, X.O. sauce.
I’ve been long trying to come up with a X.O. sauce recipe. X.O. sauce, suggested from the name given, is made with a large proportion of expensive ingredient, being soaked and shredded dried scallops, and thus lands as a prestigious condiments on the table of Chinese banquette. It’s usually served in small spoonfuls, as an intense, savoury and spicy flavour-booster to highlight stir-fry dishes, rices and noodles, or dim-sum classics such as the turnip cake. It’s wonderful. I love it. So why not just make that?
Well… I mean, dried scallops are great. Fancy stuff. One of those things that are pocket-burning to buy, a pain in the ass to prepare, and in the end of course as all fancy stuffs must be, highly fucked-able. One miss-step in the prepping and cooking procedure, what was supposed to make this sauce supremely “X.O.”, will also easily turn it into a pile of rubbery and teeth-flossing donkey-hide. In this particular juncture in my life where several “bad apples” are on the brink of collapsing, I’m not going to risk my iphone 6-fund on something that could potentially malfunction, too. Especially, not when I believe the beauty of X.O. sauce could be replicated with ingredients that are more, literally, down to earth.
Instead of shredded dried scallops, I’m using dried shitake mushrooms. In combination with dried shrimp which is also a traditional ingredient in X.O. sauce, this poor man’s version came out well beyond my highest expectation. It’s robust, complex and intense, embodying the sea-essence from the dried shrimps and oyster sauce, as well as the earthiness of mushrooms and ham. It’s a symphony of notes that cannot be described unless personally experienced. And it’s my next it-sauce to be slathered on a bowl of rice, a quick slurps of noodle, or if I’m feeling like going the extra mile, this cauliflower rice cake.
Wait, what happened to turnip cake? Because I’ve also, long been trying to come up with a turnip cake recipe. Turnip cake, suggested from the name given, is made with a large amount of Chinese turnip aka daikon, along with Cantonese sausage, dried shrimps, and a batter made with white rice flour. It’s usually steamed inside a rectangular mold, then sliced and browned over a hot skillet right before serving. A humble, homey and delicious staple that’s as beloved as anything can get if you came from an Asian background. It’s wonderful. I love it. So why not just make that?
Arrgh… the thing is, Chinese turnip/daikons are great. Good stuff. One of those root vegetables that are expectedly sweet like others, but outstandingly “juicy” and refreshing. Grated raw, it serves as a grease-cutter in both Chinese and Japanese fried dishes. Cooked in chunks, it soaks and marries with whatever flavours from the sauce or soup that it’s cooked in, and like many other Asian produces these days, it’s becoming more and more common even outside of Asian grocery stores. So I trust that you have at least seen one, in person, at some point during your stroll down the produce-isle. So you’ll know that… they’re huge.
Chinese turnip/daikon is, easily, the size of 5 carrots combined. They are the Shaquille O’neal of turnips. One single dish will usually require half, at best, of a single daikon, and I often struggle with the other half that is too white and too big to ignore in my already over-stuffed fridge. Which is exactly the reason why, I never buy them. Especially, when I know the beauty of turnip cake, could take a different perspective with something more user-friendly and equally delicious. Cauliflowers.
I love cauliflowers. I think they are one of the sadly under-utilized vegetables out there, waiting to be tapped for its many potentials, such a now when it fits perfectly into the vacuum created by my unwillingness to buy a whole freaking daikon. Its subtly sweet flavour, soft but sturdy texture, works superbly as a substitute and gives this Chinese classic dish, a surprisingly but not disruptive spin.
People, this is a dish that will dim (touch) your sum (heart). This recipe bypasses the traditional time-consuming method of steaming the cake inside a mold, and instead, is made directly from a batter. The generously filled rice cake is soft on the inside with sweet bites of cauliflower and fatty Cantonese sausages, then crackly and crispy on the outside as the entire “pie” sets and browns over the hot skillet. Just when you think something as complete and satisfying as this doesn’t need much more to please the palette, a dollop of poor man’s X.O. sauce swoops in and you realize, there is great, undeniable wisdom in this traditional pairing.
You thought you like your designated dim-sum place? Well, it can’t touch this.
Adapted generously from Jacky Yu’s Cookbook.
Traditionally, lo-bak-g0 or luo-b0-gao (turnip/daikon cake) is mainly made with white rice flour with maybe a bit of cornstarch. But this recipe, based on Jacky Yu’s cookbook Xi-Yan, uses almost equal amount of white rice flour and sticky rice flour, to give it a softer texture.
Some ingredients may seem a bit foreign (dried shrimp… Cantonese dried sausage…) for those of you who aren’t familiar with Chinese cooking, but they are all easily purchasable in Asian grocery stores. I keep my dried shrimps in the freezer which lasts like forever, and they are crucial in dishes like laksa, or this one-pot wonder, and several Chinese condiments such as X.O. sauce. Dried shitake mushrooms are the most common variety of dried mushrooms in Chinese cooking, but you can substitute with dried porcini or other varieties you have on hand. The links to the white rice flour and sticky rice flour in the recipe, are both the brands from Thailand that I used, but you don’t have to use the same brands.
You can of course use Chinese turnip/daikon instead of cauliflower, in the same amount, in this recipe.
- 3 tbsp (30 grams) Chinese dried shrimps
- 8 medium-size (12 grams) dried shitake mushrooms
- 2 tbsp shaoxing wine, or sherry
- 1/4 cup water
- Approx 3/4" square (30 grams) Chinese ham, or prosciutto ham
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 small shallots
- 3 small red chilis, diced
- 6 small dried chilis, whole
- 1 tsp ground paprika
- 3/4 cup (165 grams) vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1/4 tsp brown sugar
- 1/8 tsp ground white pepper
- 3/4 cup (100 grams) white rice flour
- 1/2 cup (70 grams) sticky rice/glutinous rice flour
- 2 tbsp (20 grams) Chinese dried shrimps, finely chopped
- 2 links Cantonese dried sausauge (la chang), diced in small chunks
- About 3 cups (270 grams) cauliflower florets
- 2 cups water + 1 tsp salt
- 2 ~ 3 tbsp vegetable oil for browning
- Ground white pepper for dusting
- TO MAKE THE POOR MAN'S X.O. SAUCE: Mix dried shrimps, dried mushrooms, shaoxing wine and 1/4 cup of water in a bowl, and microwave on high for 1 min (stopping/mixing once in between). Let sit for 10 min until the mushrooms are plumped. Strain the dried shrimps and mushroom, and keep the liquid. In a food-processor, grind the dried shrimps, mushrooms, Chinese ham (or prosciutoo), garlic and shallots until finely ground. The texture should be like extra fine breadcrumbs.
- Add the ground mixture into a pot, along with diced chilis, dried chilis, ground paprika and vegetable oil, and the reserved shrimp/mushroom liquid. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, and continue to cook while stirring for about 20 min, until all the moisture has completely evaporated. If there are any foams or bubble on the surface, skim them off.
- Now add the oyster sauce, brown sugar and ground white pepper, and continue to cook for another 5 min low medium-low heat. Turn off the heat and let sit for at least 2 hour before serving. Can be stored in an air-tight jar inside the fridge for up to 3 weeks.
- TO MAKE THE CAULIFLOWER RICE CAKE: Combine white rice flour and sticky rice flour in a large bowl, set aside. In a skillet, cook chopped dried shrimps and diced Cantonese dried sausage, along with 1 tbsp of oil and 1 1/2 tbsp of water (the water helps plump up/soften the dried shrimps and sausage) over medium-high heat, until the water has evaporated and the ingredients are slightly browned. Set aside.
- Bring 2 cups of water and 1 tsp of salt to boil, then cook the diced cauliflower florets (make sure they are small) for about 5 min until soft. WE NEED the cooking water, so remove the cauliflower with a slotted spoon and set aside. Let the cooking-water cool down to just warm to the touch (if it's too hot, it'll completely cook the flour). Then first add 3/4 cup (170 grams) of the cooking-water into the rice flour-mixture, and whisk until it becomes a loose batter (consistency like melted ice cream). Add 2 tbsp more cooking-water to adjust if needed. Then mix in the cooked cauliflower, dried shrimps and sausages (with all the rendered oil) until evenly incorporated.
- Heat up 3 tbsp of vegetable oil in a 8"~10" non-stick skillet over medium-high heat (to avoid extra dish-washing, cook the dried shrimps/sausage in the same skillet). Add the batter and distribute it evenly across, put a lid on so the center can be cooked through, then cook until the first side is golden-browned. Flip the rice cake *(or if you find it easier, flip it into another heated skillet with another tbsp of oil), and brown the other side as well (also with a lid on). Dust with a bit of ground white pepper and serve immediately with poor man's X.O. sauce.
- Instead of one big rice cake, you can also make several mini ones.