Thursday, March 26, 2015

Au Co (Teochew Steamed Taro Cakes)--makes three 9-inch cakes


If you have been following my blog postings you may remember (from my previous posts) my grandmother has ill fitting dentures and she can't chew some food well, especially anything tough or hard. After I learned that my grandmother enjoys eating "au co" (a word for a type of taro cake in Teochew) I made it three times (each batch consists of 3 cakes) during my 3-month visit with her. I rarely made anything more than twice even over a 6 month period but for my grandmother I will make it 10 times if necessary! I don't get to see her often and besides she turned 95 in February and I think she should be able to eat whatever she wants or likes. I first made her au co and noticed she ate most of it but left out a few of the dried shrimp and peanuts which were a bit hard for her. By the second time I made these cakes I came up with a solution to partially grinding the dried shrimp and peanuts. Since then she ate all of the cake. She likes eating these piping hot freshly out of the steamer or lightly fried. When making these you may keep the shrimp and peanuts whole if you like. You can also make these by laying down a design made from whole shrimp and/or peanuts before pouring the contents into the pan. This way once cooked you can flip them out into a dish and the design will show on top. I also lined the cake pan with banana leaves so the cake can come out easily once cooked.

In the United States I can make the taro cake quickly as I have a large shredder and canned coconut milk. However, in Vietnam I had only a small grater and had to render for the coconut milk myself so making these took more time. Having said this I would rather use fresh ingredients because the end product tastes so much better. My grandmother tells me she prefers using garlic leaves in this recipe. However you may substitute with garlic if this is what you have available. For one batch of taro cake I managed to get some garlic shoots. These are the new growth from the garlic. I was not eating them fast enough so they started to grow! These shoots have a strong garlic smell and I used them instead of garlic.

shred the taro
shredded taro
 extracting fresh coconut milk
mixing coconut milk and flour until well blended
freshly harvested banana leaves
(must be washed and cleaned
well prior to using)

cut the banana leaves or parchment paper
to size (bottom of the pan)
(it does not matter if you use several
pieces to line the pan)
flipping the cake onto a platter or dish to remove
from the pan and peel the banana leaf layer off
(do this while the cake is still warm so it can come out of
the pan easily)
frying taro cake pieces
lightly fried taro cake pieces
(great for breakfast or a light snack)
fried taro cake for my grandmother
(she is sitting in her mini-general store)

Au Co (Teochew Steamed Taro Cakes)--makes three 9-inch cakes

Ingredients:

8 oz pork, cut into small cubes
1/3 cup (or 1 oz) dried shrimp, hydrated with water for about 4 hours, squeezed dry
1/2 cup (or 2 1/2 oz) raw peanuts, soaked in water preferably overnight and then gently boiled until soften (about 30-40 minutes)
2 lbs taro (with skin removed), shredded, washed in water, drained, and squeezed with your palms to remove the liquid**
2 scallions or about 1/3 cup, green part only, chopped
1 Tbsp of finely chopped garlic shoots or 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
2 thumb nail size ginger, peeled and grated (about 2 tsp)
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp salt (or according to your taste)
1 tsp sugar
3 cups rice flour
650 mL or about 2 3/4 cups coconut milk
Banana leaves or parchment papers (cut to the size of the bottom of your pans)
Oil for greasing the pans

Method:

1) Put a little pork and a little shrimp into a meat grinder, pulse a few times to grind these items. Avoid over-grinding. Remove from the grinder once done and repeat until all the meat and shrimp are gone.
2) Roughly grind the peanuts. Remove them from the grinder.
3) In a large container or bowl add the ground pork/dried shrimp, ground peanut, taro, scallions, garlic, ginger, and shallots.
2) In a separate medium size container add rice flour, coconut milk, salt and sugar and mix until blended.
3) Pour the liquid into the semi dried ingredients.
4) Mix the contents well with a spatula or whatever tool you have.
5) Prepare your steamer by boiling with plenty of water.
6) Lie the banana leaves or parchment papers in your pans.
7) Lightly grease the bottom and along the inside of the pans.
8) If you have extra whole dried shrimp and whole peanuts that you want to make a pattern then lie these down on the bottom of the pan (this step is optional).
9) Divide the mixture into the 3 pans.
10) Once the water in the steamer starts boiling add the pan (s). Cover and turn down the heat slightly if needed. Steam for about 35-40 minutes. You can poke the cake with a chopstick or fork. If it comes out clean then it is done cooking.
11) Remove and let cool. Take a silicon spatula or any non-metal spatula and slice along the edges of each pan. Use a plate (preferably larger than your cake pan) and put it on top of the pan. Flip the pan over and the contents will fall out. Peel the banana leaves or parchment paper off. May eat while hot.

*I have made similar cakes in the past posting, Steamed Malanga Cake using malanga, a root vegetable that resembles a giant taro. Since the last posting I came up with a few improvements: grinding the boiled peanuts and hydrated dried shrimp, laying down a pattern using the peanuts and shrimp onto the pan before pouring in the batter, using banana leaves or parchment papers to line the pan to easily remove the cakes after steaming, and most importantly getting the proper liquid and flour ratio that is preferred by my grandmother. After steaming the cakes should not be too hard to too soft. If you find that they are too hard then you have added too much flour. If you have soft cakes then you have added too much liquid. Just adjust the ratio (flour to liquid) after you have steamed one. 
*If you use the canned coconut milk from the United States some of the cans are 400 mL. You may add another 250 mL water to the contents. Be sure to shake the can well before opening it.
**When washing the taro shreds and squeezing the water out of it be sure to wear gloves for this procedure. The taro mixing in liquid may cause itchy skin. I learned this the hard way since I did not think that it would affect me since I do not have sensitive skin. I ended up with severe itchy hands for several hours and it was quite unpleasant. You can use cheese cloth to squeeze the liquid out but try not to squeeze it completely dry or your cake will turn out hard.
*If you wait until the next day to remove the steamed cakes from the pan it will be more difficult as it will stick to the pan more.
*You may keep the cake whole or cut into smaller portions and keep these in the freezer. Be sure to wrap each portion in plastic well before putting in the freezer. Before eating you may take it out of the freezer and keep it in the refrigerator overnight or until thawed. 
*Once cooled you may cut or slice the cake into bite size pieces and lightly fried them in a little hot oil. These make a delicious snack and my grandmother loves to eat this with her tea. My mother tells me that I can make a sauce by cooking coconut milk and a tiny bit of salt and drizzle a few spoonfuls over the cake pieces for an even tastier treat. If you add coconut milk sauce then add a drizzle of the Vietnamese dipping sauce.
*If you are using banana leaves (fresh or frozen) be sure to wipe the banana leaves well prior to using. I prefer to use a dish rag or sponge and gently wash the entire leaf with mild soapy water to clean it. I have seen how these leaves grow and so I don't want any extra bug residue on them. Some people will just wipe the leaves but not wash them with soapy water. 
*Be sure the water has come to a boil before you place the pan in to steam. My grandmother tells me  she used to burn an incense (when the water start boiling) as a timer. Once the incense burns to a certain point then she knows when certain food is ready. Those were the good old days!

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