Capturing the magic of the daikon “carrot” cake

 

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I was so happy with this meal, I almost cried. For real.

I have mentioned the Pok Pok cookbook on this blog a few times, as it’s one of the few cookbooks I actually use. The majority of the (hundreds of!) cookbooks in my house belong to my husband, and at most I just peruse them for the pretty pictures. But Andy Ricker, chef/owner of Pok Pok, makes food that is so addictively good I can’t help but want to make it at home — as often as possible.

Despite Ricker’s nation-wide fame, some people might not know about Ping, a restaurant that he ran in Portland’s Old Town until it closure 15 months ago. I ate there several times in its heyday, but I quite clearly remember my first dinner there — only because of the dish that made me fall head over heels in love, the savory “carrot” cake.

I had no idea what to expect from such a dish when I ordered it. The menu described it as a stir fry made with eggs, bean sprouts and seared daikon radish cake. It made no mention of carrots whatsoever. And when the dish arrived, there was not a carrot to be found. Instead it was a plate of pure magic.

It’s hard to describe what made the dish so perfect. Perhaps it was the Kecap Manis, the sweet soy sauce that seems to make every stir fry taste ‘just right.’ Or the crispy squares of daikon cake, which were chewy but tender and so full of umami flavor. Or the eggs, which were scrambled in such a way that they helped the sauce coat every single bite.

Years later, I still can’t identify what makes this dish so incredible, but I do recall that I inhaled it and promptly ordered another, to go, so I could enjoy it for lunch the next day. (It took all of my willpower to not eat it as soon as I got home!)

For a while I badgered anyone I knew who had worked at Ping to tell me the secret of the carrot cake, but it wasn’t until the cookbook Portland, Oregon Chef’s Table was released in 2012 that the recipe was finally revealed.

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A photo of the original dish, featured in the Portland Oregon Chef’s Table cookbook.

Yes, it’s taken me 2 years to try to recreate the recipe — simply because I was intimidated by the idea of making my own steamed daikon cake. I guess my culinary confidence has expanded since then because after rediscovering the cookbook, I couldn’t wait to give it a whirl.

* While I would recommend you buy the cookbook yourself, after all there is a lovely recipe from my husband in there, I will send you here for a “published with permission” link to the recipe.

I started with a quick trip to the Asian market for a hefty two-pound daikon radish, plus bean sprouts, cilantro, Thai rice flour and the ever important Kecap Manis.

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Ingredients assembled, I began the process of making the radish cake, which was surprisingly not difficult in the least.

Start by grating the daikon. Then heat up a large skillet and fry the radish in some oil. After about 5 minutes, add water and bring to a boil. Cook until softened, about 15 minutes.

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Softening the daikon in water

Then mix with a rice flour slurry:

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Softened daikon, rice flour, water and salt & pepper

Dump into an oiled aluminum pan and steam until cooked through. The recipe said 15 minutes, but mine needed much longer. Ricker never mentioned what size of aluminum pan he used though so maybe his was larger, allowing the cake to be thinner.

So just steam until it’s not mushy in the middle. It will firm up after it cools too. And if you have to “resteam” it later because you think it needed more time, that’s okay too. *ahem*

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Here it is cooled:

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Yay! My very first daikon cake!

It’s pretty sturdy!

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Then cut into cubes and it’s time to move on to the actual dish.

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Squares of daikon cake, scallions, cilantro and bean sprouts

Fry up the cakes in a non-stick pan. Get them nice and brown and crispy.

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Then add all the rest of the goodies, starting with sliced onions and garlic, moving on to bean sprouts and eggs, and finishing with sweet soy, soy sauce and the scallions. Top with torn cilantro.

The first bite I took made me giddy. It was absolutely perfect — the flavors were exactly how I remembered. And I still have half a radish cake in my freezer for when I get my next craving.

If you are feeling frisky I highly recommend giving this a try. You shouldn’t go through life without tasting some of this magic yourself!

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