Chai Tow Kway (菜头粿; Fried Carrot Cake)

Monday, 15 April 2013

If you're looking for a good chai tow kway recipe, you've come to the right place. How do I convince you my CTK is good? By comparing to one that's bad, here, from The Little Teochew in a guest post for Rasa Malaysia.

I've read many recipes for various sorts of steamed cakes made with rice flour, such as chwee kueh, orh kueh, lor bak gou, pak tong gou and, of course, chai tow kway. What's the one common feature they all have? The batter is cooked on the stove before it's steamed. The Little Teochew, unlike everyone else, mixes rice flour with room temperature water, then steams the batter straightaway. Why do the rest of us do extra work? Because unless the batter is thickened before it's steamed, the rice flour would sink and form a hard layer at the bottom of the cake. If you steam rice flour batter without thickening it first, your kway is doomed for failure.

Besides thickening the batter before steaming, recipes for steamed rice cakes have another common feature. What's that? There's a bit of oil in the batter. TLT's recipe, unlike everyone else's, has no oil. An oil-less cake would be gritty, not smooth.

The Little Teochew says,
"Feel free . . . to adjust the proportions of radish, [rice] flour and water.  Unlike baking, there are no hard and fast rules to making [chai tow kway], and a  little more (or less) here and there will not hurt."

A little more or less of water will not hurt? Sorry, that's utter nonsense. The amount of water determines how firm or soft the kueh is. Nobody wants to eat CTK that's too hard or too mushy.

My CTK recipe is adapted from Honey Bee Sweets' chwee kueh recipe, which has none of the a-bit-more-or-less-won't-hurt nonsense. She tells her readers to boil 1,020 ml of water, allow 20 ml for evaporation, and use 1,000 ml to make the batter. The chwee kueh made with her recipe is, I tell ya, as good as the best money can buy.

If you don't change the amount of water and cook the batter before steaming it, could TLT's recipe work?

No way. Why? Because her water to flour ratio is wrong. I estimate her recipe has only 2.9 parts water (including the juice released from a craaaazy amount of radish) to 1 part rice flour. In comparison, my
orh kueh uses 4.2 parts water to 1 part rice flour even though orh kueh is set a bit firmer than chai tow kway. With a ratio of 2.9, TLT's chai tow kway would be way too hard.

Why do I compare TLT's CTK to my orh kueh instead of CTK? Because my orh kueh, like her CTK, is made with only rice flour. My CTK, in contrast, is made with a mix of rice flour, cornflour and wheat starch. When you use only rice flour, the cake is harder. With a mix of cornflour and wheat starch added, it's softer (all other things being equal). And it's slightly gooey after it's fried. You'll never get the soft gooeyness if you use only rice flour, no matter how much water you add.

Why does TLT steam the radish for 30 minutes? God only knows. I just boil mine for 5 minutes.

The texture of the rice cake depends on not only the balance of flour, starch, water and oil, but also the consistency of the batter after it's cooked on the stove. Thicker batter makes a harder cake, and vice versa, even if the ingredients are exactly the same. You must therefore learn to judge when the thickness of the batter is just right. With my recipe, the kway is very soft but not mushy if the batter is cooked to the right consistency.

To get the frying part right, you need good quality ingredients. How fragrant is the garlic you buy? What about the spring onions, chai poh, eggs, fish sauce and light soya sauce? Your CTK can't possibly be fragrant if the ingredients are substandard. Good quality stuff would need just high heat and sufficient time to brown properly to give you kick-ass CTK.

After steaming your kway to perfection and carefully selecting the best ingredients to fry with, your efforts will go to waste unless you use the right wok. You should use one that's well-seasoned or the kway will turn into mush as you try your damnest to pry it loose.

How do you tell if your wok is well-seasoned? If you need to ask, then it probably isn't! In that case, please do what The Little Teochew recommends. Which is? Use non-stick, of course. I tend to think non-stick is for wimps but I'm sure that's just me. Anyways, did TLT actually make the CTK in her photos? If she did, why is her recipe so bad? Heheheh . . . heh . . . . Maybe she bought the CTK from some hawker centre! Oh well, it's none of my business. I just make CTK my way.

Source: adapted from Honey Bee Sweets' chwee kueh recipe
(Recipe for 4 portions)
250 g grated white radish
480 g water

150 g rice flour
12 g cornflour
12 g wheat starch
¾ tsp salt
2 tsp vegetable oil
220 g water
100 ml lard, melted
replace with vegetable oil if you're a Muslim, Jew or wimp; if you're Muslim or Jewish but not a wimp, use duck or goose fat
40 g minced chai poh (菜脯; salted radish), Twin Rabbit brand
rinse twice; soak 2-3 minutes in enough water to cover; taste and soak longer if too salty; drain 
20 g garlic, peel and mince roughly
2 tsp light soya sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
sambal (chilli paste) to taste

4 eggs
2 tsp light soya sauce, add to eggs and whisk thoroughly
200 g bean sprouts, rinse and drain thoroughly
40 g spring onions, wash and chop roughly

To make steamed kway, place radish in a small pot. Add 480 g water. Weigh pot and contents. Take note of weight. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, till radish is soft, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Remove cover. Wait till evaporation stops, about 10 minutes. Weigh pot and contents again. Weight should be lower by 100 g. Top up with water or discard excess liquid as necessary.

Whilst radish is simmering, assemble rice flour, cornflour, wheat starch, salt, oil and 220 g water in a wok. Stir batter till smooth. When radish is ready, add radish liquid. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, till batter is creamy. Add cooked radish. Continue cooking and stirring, reducing heat to low as batter thickens, till batter is thick but not thick enough to hold its shape. Pour batter into 18 x 5 cm round cake pan. Level and smooth top.

🌹If you have difficulty smoothing the batter, that means it's too thick and your kway will be hard. If the top is smooth without human assistance, the batter is too thin and your kway will be mushy.

Steam batter over rapidly bubbling water till cooked, i.e. inserted skewer comes out almost clean. This takes about 40 minutes.

Remove cake from steamer. Leave till cool. Refrigerate overnight. Cut into bite-sized pieces.

To fry kway, heat well-seasoned wok till very hot. Place 1/3 of lard in the wok. Heat till just smoking, swirling so that lard coats bottom of wok.

Add steamed kway. Spread in a single layer. Fry over high heat till lightly golden. Turn over. Drizzle with a little lard. Fry till second side is also lightly golden, stirring to check if it is.

Add chai poh and garlic. Drizzle with more lard. Stir to mix thoroughly. Drizzle with 2 tsp light soya sauce and 1 tsp fish sauce. Stir thoroughly. Alternate frying and stirring till kway is nicely brown and aroma of chai poh is released, drizzling with more lard when wok looks dry.

Add eggs, followed by yet more lard. Turn over when bottom of eggs is golden brown,  pressing lightly with spatula after flipping to help eggs stick to kway. Fry till golden brown again.

Add sambal. (If you prefer black CTK, add sweet sauce now, about 1 tbsp per portion.) Stir till thoroughly mixed.

Add bean sprouts, then more lard. Stir till bean sprouts are heated through but not wilted.

Add spring onions, leaving aside 1 tbsp or so. Stir through. Quickly taste and, if necessary, adjust seasoning with pinch of sugar if too salty or a few drops of fish sauce if too bland. Plate, sprinkle with remaining spring onions and serve immediately.


Jeannie Tay said...

Looks authentic enough:)

Phong Hong said...

Way to go, KT! Loads of lard! The kosher version isn't going to taste as good :) I don't know how to make chai tow kway (only know how to eat) and I trust what you say. Your video demo is very good and if I am so inclined to fry up my own CTK, I will come to your recipe.

Karen said...

Hi KT,
Can i replace wheatstarch with just only cornflour?

kt said...

Hi Karen, no.

Karen said...

Thanks KT for the reply. Looks like I will just drool over yours...
Love your blog...again thanks for sharing...

Christine said...

KT - excellent recipe for Chai Tow Kway - make it last nite and fry it this morning. Eating Chai Tow Kway remind me of Singapore - missed all those hawker's food. I tried two recipes from you and you never failed me. Keep up the good work.
Christine from Sugar Land, Texas

jo* said...

Hi! Googled to find a fried carrot cake recipe and found your blog. All your recipes and pictures look so awesome! That's annoying leh. Such a perfect cook.......

Sam said...

Your blog looks good but why did you have to hate on TLT so much? This is the best time I've come across bitchy behaviour in food blogs. The food blogging community is a professional and courteous one, or so I thought! To each her own, I say. Let the readers judge the recipe results for themselves.

Sam said...

The first time, I mean.

kt said...

You must be one of those who would praise the naked emperor's birthday suit, because you are so professional and so courteous.

Michelle said...

It's HER blog Sam! She can love, hate whatever recipe she wants in her own blog. And from the language that was written, I don't see anything unprofessional or personal slandering. In Tigress' opinion, Little Teochew's recipe is simply not good and she explains why she thought so. You can open your own blog and discuss, professionally, about what kind of language you would like to see in the blogosphere, ok? It's not professional to come into someone's house and says the owner is bitchy. Rude, rude, rude on your side Sam!

Jeannie Tay said...

How about replace with potato starch? can turn to goo also?

kt said...

Sorry, never tried potato starch.

G said...

i must say that i agree with sam. while i understand KT's rationale behind some of the pointers that she has given, and recognize that readers will find those useful, i see no need in naming names ( and even going so far as to provide a direct link!) and using hurtful language like " utter nonsense' and "anal". If KT's blog post on CTK written with the sole purpose of enlightening people on the secret behind good CTK ( by discussing the different methods commonly used to cook CTK), why does it sound like a personal attack? your uncourteous reply to sam is just another case in point.

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