With so many vegetables in season, now is a great time to experiment with tempura. Tempura is an old Japanese method of battering and quickly deep frying foods. This dish was actually brought to Japan by the Portuguese in the 16th century, but it has long been associated with Japanese cuisine. Since the frying time is so short, and the batter is quite thin, this method of frying foods adds far less fat than traditional western breading or batter.
There are nearly as many recipes for tempura as there are chefs. Some use baking powder, others use vodka. Some recipes call for rice flour, or flour and cornstarch in varying ratios. Eggs are used in some recipes and not others.
After testing several tempura recipes, I found a simple mix of four ingredients that can be mixed quickly and used immediately.
The key to a good batch of tempura is close attention to detail when preparing to cook. Chefs call this “mise en place,” French for “everything in its place.”
First, collect all of the necessary equipment. You will need:
These shrimp are prepped to be battered in tempura and fried.
Steel mixing bowl and a larger bowl filled with ice to nest batter bowl
Large saucepot or Dutch oven for frying (At least 6 quarts, but bigger is better)
Chopsticks, several pairs (or tongs)
Skimmer to remove bits of batter from the oil between batches
Slotted spoon or spider to remove food from oil
Plates lined with paper towels to drain cooked food
2 to 4 quarts of cooking oil (Peanut or Canola oils work well)
Simple dipping sauces (either premade, or a mix of soy, rice vinegar and Sriracha)
Nearly any vegetable can benefit from tempura, but the preparation will vary by ingredient. Zucchini and summer squash can be cut in 3/8 inch slices with no other prep. Many tougher vegetables need to be blanched and shocked (cooked briefly in salted boiling water and then chilled immediately in ice water). Broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes and green beans are all better when blanched and shocked before being battered and fried. This process precooks the veggies and fixes a bright color and taste.
Shrimp, small pieces of fish or other seafood are also great fried in tempura. Other types of protein, such as tofu, lean beef or pork work well too.
Heat the frying oil to 350 F while preparing the vegetables or proteins and dips, and make the batter only after the oil is hot. Be sure to use a large, heavy Dutch oven and fill only half way.
In order to get a light, non-oily tempura, all the ingredients must be kept as cold as possible. This is to prevent the formation of gluten, which makes for a tough coating that will be thicker and absorb more oil. Store the eggs, seltzer and even the flour in the refrigerator until it is time to make the batter. Avoid over-mixing, and use the batter as soon as it is made.
1 cup ice-cold seltzer water or club soda
1 large egg, chilled
1 cup flour, cold
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Crack the egg in a stainless steel bowl nested in a larger bowl filled with ice. Add the seltzer water and mix with chopsticks. Dump in the flour and cornstarch and mix briefly with the chopsticks. Immediately drop a small amount of the prepped food in the batter and then add to the hot oil. Cook until the coating is crispy and slightly golden. This usually takes two to three minutes. While skimming off and discarding any pieces of batter that remain in the pot, allow the oil to reheat to 340 F to 350 F before frying the next small batch.
Like any fried food, tempura does not hold well so it needs to be served immediately. Tempura vegetables and fish is a great dish to cook and serve to company during a cocktail party or small gathering in or near the kitchen. You will be busy cooking, but let folks sample each batch as it comes out.
With advance planning and good preparation, you can impress your guests with delicious and inexpensive food that has an interesting history.
Deep frying has the potential to be the most hazardous method of cooking used in the kitchen. Here are some tips for safe deep frying.
Use a large Dutch oven or sauce pot, and never fill the pot more than half way
Use a thermometer to ensure proper temperature. 330 F to 370 F is ideal for nearly all food
Never allow the oil to smoke. Atomized oil can ignite and create a grease fire
Make sure the cooking area is well-ventilated and keep a fire extinguisher handy
Have a tight-fitting lid to place on the frying container to extinguish fires
Fried food should be as dry as possible to prevent boil-overs
Do not drop food in from a height. This will prevent hot oil splashes
Do not add food with your fingers. Use tongs, chopsticks or a slotted spoon
Fry in small batches. This will allow for better cooking, as well as prevent boil-overs
Used oil can be cooled and filtered for re-use if it has not been overheated
Allow oil to cool to room temperature before filtering
Steve “Mo” Fye is the managing editor and food writer for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @UncaMo.