Every year lunar new year is a wonderful opportunity to gather friends, make lots of food and celebrate together. In true Cantonese spirit we had a rowdy time. Some glimpses of traditional practices that I remember from my childhood growing up in Hong Kong – Late night flower markets with strings of naked tungsten lights strung overhead. Spring so fully embodied by pink peach buds poking out from a tangle of bare branches and glossy bulbs of narcissus bursting white and gold from sleek green leaves. Huge round tables filled with food and five separate conversations juggled with skill by fast talking aunties, hands waving and voices rising in a merry mashup of indignation, mirth and scandal. Daylong preparations in the kitchen where clever hands and patient steps work steadfastly towards the glory of consumption. New clothes, lucky packets filled with money, trays of candy, dried fruits and watermelon seeds. Bright red paper with fresh black calligraphy inviting prospects with a few well placed words, joss sticks and fire crackers and visits to spruced up grannies who ply you with ancient candy and squeeze your arms. In true South China style I remember a cacophony of good will and a tumultuous amount of good food.
I started my preparations the week before curing pork belly from a friend’s farm. This method “laap yuk” works wonderfully well in Colorado’s dry and temperate climate. I keep my house cooler than most (around 67 degrees) which also worked out perfectly. The technique was simple first I submerged 2×4 inch strips of pork belly in a half and half mix of tamari and rose scented rice wine (mui gwai lo), pressed the meaty pieces under the liquid for 24 hours (room temperature). I then used butcher’s twine to hang the bacon in my kitchen with a steel bowl under on the counter to catch any dripping fat etc. It then hung and cured for 5-7 days. As it cured you could see the outer skin dry out, a sweet rice wine smell emanate and a matte sheen from the fat curing on the surface. I still have two pieces of this precious cured pork in my fridge it is so simple and really is a marvel.
This year I decided to make Radish Cake a traditional new year dish and also a favorite dim sum dish. (You know the cart with the griddle top that goes around… in Cantonese “Lor Bak Go”). I got the recipe from my best friend Des who lives on Cheung Chau Island in Hong Kong. He got the recipe from asking his Aunties. He said it was very difficult to decipher because they were all talking at once and arguing. I am allergic to shellfish so I substituted the shrimp and scallop with shitake mushrooms, my home made bacon and some finely chopped kimchi. Next year I think I might use dehydrated kimchi for better textural contrast… however the kimchi worked out fantastically giving the Radish Cake a great spicy flavor.
8 pounds of Daikon Radish (grated – traditionally done by child labor)
600g of sharp rice flour (plain rice flour NOT glutenous or sweet rice flour)
a small lump of rock sugar
1 cup of small diced cooked pork belly (crispy is good!)
1 cup of squeezed dry finely chopped kimchi (next year I will dehydrate!)
1 cup of diced shitake mushrooms
black and white pepper
dried shrimp dried scallop dried fish – (if you’re not allergic to it it’s great! soak in water first then dry fry to prepare)
In a massive wok..fry up the radish with salt/sugar/seasoning
cover wok allow to soften and release juice
once radish is soft drain out the radish juice and mix it with rice flour to make a solution
prep other ingredients. (fry bacon, squeeze and chop kimchi etc.)
mix rice paste solution with soft radish and mix in other ingredients.
at this stage do a taste test by making a small pancake in a frying pan.
make your final adjustments. (we like lots of white pepper!)
Steam for 1 hour (small tin) 1hour 30 min for a big one. Cool completely before cutting. Cut in slices and fry up on a griddle til outside is crispy.
Serve with cut spring onions, srirracha and hoisin sauce.