Capturing the magic of the daikon “carrot” cake

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

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.

A photo of the original dish

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.

Making a steamed daikon cake

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.

Softening the daikon in water

Softening the daikon in water

Then mix with a rice flour slurry:

Softened daikon, rice flour, water and salt & pepper

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*

Making a Steamed Daikon Cake

Here it is cooled:

Yay! My very first daikon cake!

Yay! My very first daikon cake!

It’s pretty sturdy!

Making a Steamed Daikon Cake

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

Squares of daikon cake, scallions, cilantro and bean sprouts

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.

Seared daikon cakes

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!

Daikon "Carrot" Cake Stirfry Daikon "Carrot" Cake Stirfry

And, just for kicks, here’s an Instagram video I took, because it was waaayyy easier than taking a bunch of pictures while making this!

Making #daikon cake stir fry #fuckyeah #foodporn

A post shared by jessamine15 (@jessamine15) on

 

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16 thoughts on “Capturing the magic of the daikon “carrot” cake

  1. omg, I want this now! It looks amazing and you make it look doable at home. I didn’t know that’s how daikon cake was made! I still have to get the cookbook, but thank you for the published recipe link!

    • This one is a keeper for sure. I was honestly surprised at how easy it came together. Sure it’s a project, but not a difficult one, just a bit time consuming. But one recipe of the radish cake is enough for 4 meals, easily, which is really nice. I hope you give it a try! =)

  2. We regularly make the sort of turnip cakes you get at dim sum restaurants. (We started during a season of farm share daikon overabundance, and they freeze beautifully.) But this is a real step up. So much more area for potential crustiness! Can’t wait to try. And, yes, I have the Pok Pok book. I look through it regularly, but just haven’t yet mustered up the energy to make anything from it.

    • This one isn’t in the Pok Pok book, though it should be! I personally think it’s one of the better dishes I’ve had at any of Ricker’s restaurants. In fact I was bemoaning the fact that it wasn’t in there when my husband reminded me about the other cookbook we have. I was so excited – I had totally forgotten about it! In regards to the cakes themselves, I’m happy to know they freeze well. I just kind of threw the leftovers in there hoping!

  3. This reminds me of a Vietnamese dish called bot chien! I was in Portland a few weeks ago and had Ike’s Fish Sauce Wings for the first time. I was in heaaaven!!

    • Ha! I checked out your PDX visits and even though I live here, I was jealous b/c I haven’t had those wings since January. They are just SO good! They are the next recipe I’m making from the book — I can’t hold off any longer. They will be mine!

        • Oh yes, I promise! I have done a few Pok Pok posts already — slowly making my way through the book (at least the easiest recipes!). One was the fried egg salad — did you have that there? It is absolutely incredible. Super simple but so balanced – sweet, spicy, umami goodness. It’s one of my favorite dishes at Pok Pok and now I’ve made it like 7 times at home. =)

      • I’m doing Chinese tonight — tea smoked duck, crispy Peking-ish duck with those little mitts you made in one of your posts once, soft shell crabs with chive sprouts and braised pork belly with Chinese slaw. This would’ve worked perfectly into that menu if I wasn’t so bloody over-extended already!

        • That sounds awesome! I drove to Tacoma after work today (visiting the fam) so my dinner was a frozen Amy’s cheese tamale. I’d devour ALL of that delicious Chinese food right about now — especially that pork belly.

  4. Your title caught my eye because I’ve long been daydreaming of making a sweet spice cake with daikon instead of carrot. But this savory dish looks amazing — I love the idea of this vegetarian option, and the texture looks perfect. Yum!

    • Oh! That’s a fun take on daikon! I have never even thought about using it in a dessert before. This is just so delicious, I can’t recommend it enough. I love that it’s a vegetarian dish too considering I already eat plenty of meat. Its all about the combination of the eggs with the crispy cakes. I think I could eat this for a week straight and still be happy!

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