Our “food mood” is determined by more than just flavors. Texture also plays an important role. When light and crispy, but not greasy tug at your heartstrings, tempura is perfect! Japanese chefs spend many years perfecting their tempura technique, but we can create a very good home rendition, too.
Shrimp is number 1 for tempura, but other fish and seafood also work great, especially squid (calamari), smelt, and scallops. You can also opt for just veggies, from 1/8” slices of root veggies like sweet potatoes and parsnips, to green string beans, asparagus, broccoli florets, rings of sweet bell peppers or sweet onions, shiitake mushroom caps or slices, and ¼“ strips of zucchini.
Super Simple Tempura
1 lg cold egg, only slightly beaten
1 c icy cold water (or carbonated water)
1 c cold, twice-sifted flour (or ¾ c flour and ½ c cornstarch)
Prepared veggies, seafood, or fish
Oil for frying, at least 2” deep and preheated to 330-350°F
Beat water into the egg; then gently stir in flour for just 15-20 seconds, leaving small lumps. Immediately dip prepared items gently into batter and then into hot oil. Drain briefly on paper towels and serve hot with favorite dipping sauce.
Frying times & temps:
330°F for veggies; 2-3 min for root veggies; 1 min for mushrooms & squash; 30-40 seconds for light items like pepper slices
350°F for proteins; 3-4 min for pork & chicken; 2 min for shrimp; 1 min for squid & fish
To test oil temp without a thermometer, drop a bit of batter into the hot oil near the edge of the pan. At 350°F it will come right back up. At 340°F it will go to the middle of the pot & come right back up. At 330°F it will go to the bottom of the pot & slowly come back up.
When it comes to success tips, think Super Simple:
1-To prepare fish & veggies, dry with paper towels before dusting with cornstarch.
2-Keep all batter ingredients icy cold till ready to use.
3-For icy cold water, pour water into measuring cup from glass filled with ice & water.
4-Carbonated water can yield a lighter & bubblier tempura texture.
5-Some folks advocate replacing ¼ c of the water with ¼ c cold vodka for crispier tempura.
6-Less is more, particularly when it comes to beating the batter.
7-Use chopsticks, rather than a whisk, and barely combine flour into your egg mixture. This keeps gluten production low and leaves plenty of little lumps, which add to tempura’s crispiness.
8-Fry in untoasted sesame oil or vegetable or canola oil with a touch of sesame oil for flavor.
9-Fry in batches, allowing only half the oil’s surface to have ingredients.
10-Turn items frequently during frying for even cooking.
11-Use a wire mesh tool to remove batter bits from oil between batches.
For a dipping sauce, use what you like… a basic “duck” sauce, sweet & sour sauce, or sweet Thai chili sauce work just fine. For authenticity, make a Tempura Dipping Sauce:
¾ c dashi soup stock (or ¾ c water & 1 tsp dashi powder
3 T soy or tamari
2 T mirin
2 tsp sugar or granulated monk fruit
Combine in small saucepan & bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Then serve warm for dipping tempura items.
NOTE: Dashi is a basic Japanese soup stock. We can also get it in a powder form. It is typically a combination of kelp seaweed and dried bonito flakes or sometimes shiitake mushrooms.
Too many words! In all honesty, it’s easier and faster to make tempura than to read this article. Do not be intimidated. Tempura is yummy!!!