Whether it’s placed on top of soup noodles, rolled up in maki, presented as an appetizer, or served as the main course in a meal, tempura is a very versatile and delicious addition to any Japanese meal. Surrounded in a deep fried batter that is light and crispy, tempura can be made using vegetables as well as fish, and is commonly seen on Japanese restaurant menus both in Japan and abroad. But, you don’t have to always go to a restaurant to eat this! Tempura can definitely be made at home with lots of success!
In anime, tempura is found in many series, whether it’s tucked into a bento, served as a donburi, placed atop noodles, or eaten as a side dish in a Japanese meal. Off the top of my head, I know instances of tempura can be seen in Usagi Drop, K-On!!, Hanasaku Iroha, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Nichijou, and Sora no Woto…. And there are many others!
About the recipe:
Deep frying using large amounts of oil can be a daunting process, so it’s important to have all your ingredients ready to go before you fire up your oil. Since making tempura is all about organization and timing, this means cutting all your vegetables up, preparing your batter ingredients, and arranging your workspace before cooking.
As for utensils, all you really need is a pair of chopsticks to dip the vegetables in the batter and fry in the oil, and a small fine mesh strainer to help remove any stray pieces of batter from the oil between batches of frying.
There are two important things to keep in mind while deep frying tempura: the temperature of your oil, and ensuring your batter is cold.
The general guidelines for temperatures is 320°F (160°C) for root vegetables, and 338-356°F (170-180°C) for other vegetables and mushrooms. I like to use a thermometer clipped to the edge my my pot to monitor the temperature of the oil. This helps to ensure that the oil is always at the right temperature for whatever item I am frying.
It’s also important to note that each type of vegetable will require in a slightly different temperature and cooking time in the oil, and that you should not put too many vegetables into the oil all at once as it may cause the temperature of the oil too drop quickly. The amount of items being fried at any one time should only occupy up to 50% of the surface area of the oil.
As for the batter being cold, the secret to a light-as-air crispy batter is to limit how much wheat gluten is formed, since if too much gluten forms, the resulting batter will be more doughy and chewy when fried. Gluten is formed if the batter is over mixed, but is prohibited by cold. Therefore, to prevent gluten, the bowl of batter can be placed inside a larger bowl that is full of ice, in order to keep it nice and cold. Ice cubes could also be added into the batter to ensure coldness. In addition, having all your ingredients cold before you make your batter also helps.
Sometimes seltzer water is used in place of regular water, since the carbonation helps to add air to the batter. And, of course, do not over mix the batter! Basically just mix the ingredients together using a pair of chopsticks for a few seconds, and no more than a minute. It’s perfectly fine if there are lumps of flour in the batter. Only make the batter right before you are ready to start frying.
And, in case you’re not sure how to eat tempura, here are some serving suggestions:
- Arranged on top of rice, as a donburi
- Rolled up in sushi
- With soup noodles, such as tempura udon or tempura soba
- Served as a side dish or appetizer
One last tip: Make sure to wear an apron while deep frying! It goes without saying that hot oil is… well, it’s hot, so it’s best to wear an apron, and even long sleeves and pants! If you get oil on your clothes, I find that washing the area in dish soap immediately helps to prevent oil stains.
About the ingredients:
You can use a great variety of vegetables to make vegetable tempura, but since they are placed into hot oil to cook, it’s always good to make sure you choose vegetables that do not contain a lot of moisture. Root vegetables are particularly suitable for tempura for this reason. If you do use a vegetable that contains more water, such as eggplant or bell peppers, it’s good to score the skin or cut into smaller pieces to prevent any water from bursting out while in the oil.
Kabocha is often labeled as a Japanese pumpkin, and is available in may stores, particularly in the fall. There’s no need to peel it. Just scrub it clean with a vegetable brush, pat it dry, remove the seeds, and cut into slices. If you can’t find kabocha, you could use pumpkin or butternut squash instead.
Carrot is my personal favourite when it comes to tempura…. I like to cut it into 2 inch matchsticks, dredge a small handful through the batter, and fry it together in the oil. The batter glues all the pieces of carrot together in the oil, creating a sort of carrot fritter! Yum.
Japanese eggplant can also be used, though it can be tricky to cook because it has a high water content. You can either cut it on an angle into disks or, if using very small eggplants, leave the stem intact and cut in half lengthwise. Cut lengthwise towards the stem in 3 or 4 places, leaving the upper inch or so intact.
Fresh shiitake mushrooms (or other mushrooms) make for good tempura as well. Simply wipe clean using a damp paper towel (mushrooms tend to absorb water, so do not rinse in water).
Other possible vegetables could include: green beans, shiso leaves, lotus root, and broccoli.
Makes 4 servings
For the batter:
- 1 cup ice water
- 1 egg
- 1 cup cold all purpose flour, sifted
- 1/4 small kabocha, cut in half, seeds removed, and cut into 1/4 inch slices
- 2 carrots, cut into 2 inch matchsticks
- 1 Japanese sweet potato, scrubbed clean and cut into 1/4 inch slices
- 1 Japanese eggplant, cut at an angle into 1/4 inch slices
- 1 green bell pepper, cut into 2 inch pieces and skin scored
- 6 fresh shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean and stems trimmed
1. Prepare all of your vegetables and set aside. Heat oil in pot. For root vegetables, the oil should be about 320°F (160°C). For other vegetables and mushrooms, the temperature should be slightly higher, at 338-356°F (170-180°C).
2. When the oil has reached the appropriate temperature, mix the water and egg together. Slowly add water egg mixture to the flour. Mix using chopsticks for a few seconds (no more than 1 minute), until the flour is just incorporated into the liquid. Lumps of flour may remain, but do not over mix. Place batter bowl atop ice to keep cold.
3. Starting with the root vegetables, remove any moisture using a paper towel, and dredge each piece of vegetable in the batter using chopsticks to coat evenly. Remove from batter with chopsticks and place gently into the oil.
The amount of items being fried at any one time should only occupy up to 50% of the surface area of the oil. Cook until golden and crispy, turning the vegetables over halfway through the cooking time.
4. Remove from oil and arrange vertically on a wire rack or paper towel placed on a rimmed baking tray. Using a fine mesh strainer, remove any stray pieces of batter from the oil. Bring the oil back to temperature and continue frying.
Serve immediately while still piping hot.
Source: Just One Cookbook