Steamed taro cake (芋頭糕)

Posted on December 4, 2013

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Earlier this year I bought a proper steamer with the intention of making more steamed goodies. By proper, I mean one of those big ass Asian style steamers.

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See this is the type of steamer you need if you really want to make serious steamed treats, not those piddly little electronic ones. Before I got my hands on this baby, I usually employed a common trick and used my wok or large pot to steam things, but it had limitations. The trick is to: fill your wok with ~1/3 water, invert a bowl in the centre of the wok, balance a plate on top of the bowl, place the item you want to steam on top of the plate and cover with large lid. (See my very rudimentary artwork below, it should demonstrate how I’d used this method to steam fish.)

woksteamerThe problem with this method is that you are then constrained to steaming things that fit within the diameter of your wok and can sit comfortably underneath the lid. A proper steamer is thus desirable if you want to steam larger or taller items, or even multiple items at the same time. So anyway I bought a proper steamer for the purposes of steaming cakes and the like, but so far have only used it once to steam Chinese New Year cakes. After being bullied about not making use of my purchase, I have finally used my steamer again to make steamed taro cake (芋頭糕).

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I have many memories of my mum steaming taro cake or its cousin radish cake, so it’s a nice feeling to recreate this part of my childhood in my own kitchen. Steamed taro cake is a fairly common dim sum item, where it’s typically served pan fried. This treat is also often served as part of Chinese New Year in South East Asia, so rest assured that there are many different recipes to be found for steamed taro cake. My version is a bit of an amalgamation of my mum’s recipe and the recipe from a Hong Kong dim sum cookbook. Most steamed taro cakes will feature Chinese sausage (lap cheong, 臘腸), but mine uses Chinese barbeque pork (char siu, 叉燒) instead because mum doesn’t like the taste of lap cheong so I’ve grown up associating homemade taro cake with char siu. I needed to incorporated some of the method advised by the dim sum cookbook because as mentioned before, my mum is very vague with recipes. I’d like to think that her vagueness with recipes has made me a better cook since it forces me to be constantly aware of what I’m doing and to taste things as I’m going.

This dish takes a while to steam, but by comparison the preparation time is quite short. Not much effort needed, it just requires a little patience for the reward of a fabulous homemade treat. The result is a firm set taro cake with a lovely fragrance of taro and 5 spice (the 5 spice powder is deemed a crucial ingredient according to my dim sum book). Can be eaten freshly steamed or my preferred serving method is pan fried with eggs. There will be other recipes that produce a softer set taro cake, or you could try experimenting with the flour to water ratio yourself if you don’t want a firm set cake.

Steamed taro cake 芋頭糕 (makes 20cm cake)

Ingredients:

  • 300g taro diced
  • 100g Chinese barbeque pork (char siu) diced
  • ~20g dried shrimp (if using large dried shrimp, roughly chop these)
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder
  • 1 1/2 cup (~180g) rice flour
  • 3 cups (750mL) water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ground white pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon oil for cooking

Method:

  1. Mix rice flour with half the water (1 1/2 cups) until it is smooth. Add in salt, sugar and pepper. Reserve.IMG_7682
  2. In a wok, heat oil until smoking. Fry diced taro, char siu, dried shrimp and 5 spice powder until fragrant. IMG_7683
  3. Add in the remaining 1 1/2 cups of water and bring to boil. Once water is boiling, add prepared rice flour batter and reduce heat to a low simmer. Mix batter thoroughly and simmer gently until it thickens to resemble a paste.steamedtarocake
  4. Pour taro paste mixture into a lightly greased 20cm cake pan, pressing down and smoothing out the batter to eliminate any air pockets.
  5. Steam taro cake on high heat for ~50-60 minutes until cooked through. The cake is set when you can see it pulling from the sides of the pan slightly and when the surface is no longer sticky.IMG_7712
  6. This cake can be served sliced freshly steamed, at room temperature or pan fried. It can be kept covered in the fridge for ~3-4 days.

To serve freshly steamed or at room temperature, garnish with chopped spring onions, chopped coriander, sliced long red chillis and deep fried shallots. I had no long chillis around the house, hence their absence here. At home, mum would also put 2 sauces on the table to go with taro or radish cake; a bottle of Maggi Seasoning sauce* and fish sauce (nước chấm) for dipping. See this link for how my mum prepares a basic fish sauce for dipping.

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If like me, you preferred fried treats, then… Lightly beat 1 or 2 eggs with a handful of chopping spring onions and a pinch of salt. Pan fry slices of taro cake with a little oil on low to medium heat until it develops a crisp crust (~3-4 minutes), flip over and pour the lightly beaten egg over the top to finish cooking through. Again garnish with chopped coriander, sliced long red chillis and deep fried shallots. Same 2 sauces (Maggi seasoning and/or fish sauce) would go well if desired. Yes, it looks pretty much the same as the above picture where I served it steamed. It’s texture that’s the difference here. Happy crunching!

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*Note: Specifically it’s Maggi Seasoning sauce, not soy sauce. In Asia, Maggi Seasoning is widely used condiment and sometimes in cooking as a type of soy sauce. Though it is important to note that it is not actually a soy sauce and the flavour profile is quite distinct from regular soy sauce and serves a different purpose.Essentially Maggi Seasoning is liquid MSG, with a few other things thrown into the mix.

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