Hurray! It’s National Tempura Day!
Thanks to Foodimentary, a blog that highlights one particular food each day of the year, I am able to celebrate one of my favorite foods with you via this blog post. Japanese cuisine is probably my favorite to eat here in the United States, only because Malaysian/SE Asian food is hard if not impossible to find here. All of my friends know that I would choose a Japanese restaurant over any other restaurant if given the choice. Could I eat it everyday? Probably not, but if I had to eat out at least once a week, I would definitely choose Japanese.
Tempura is an old childhood favorite of mine too. When my mom would take me to my organ lessons back in Singapore in the Singapura Plaza centre, she would sometimes take me for lunch at one of the Japanese restaurants located next to the cold storage supermarket. The one thing that I would get (surprisingly) would be the tempura bento box. Even though now I would claim to be more of a noodle fan than a rice fan, I almost always would get this bento box in addition with a stick of fried fishballs on the way out the door. Even today, my friends and I almost always order a plate of this fried goodness to share when we go out to a Japanese restaurant.
This is a fairly simple dish: battered and fried seafood and vegetables. However, it is not that simple to execute. For one, the batter is less viscous than that of pancake batter even though some people may think it is equivalent. Part of the reason for this is because different flours are used for tempura batter. Below this post is a recipe from Alton Brown off of the Food Network. While he actually uses his own flour concoction, these days it is so easy to find simple “tempura flour” from an Asian grocery store. If you are not easily accessible to one though, then this recipe will help you immensely.
The second part is that the oil needs to be ridiculously hot. Therefore, you cannot use a low-burning oil such as olive oil or grape seed oil. This may put a damper on your desire to be healthy, but let’s face it, anything “deep fried” cannot really be considered to be healthy to begin with. I got by with canola oil but even that didn’t necessarily get me the ideal results that I wanted. As for cookware, well deep frying makes a huge mess. The splatter is the one thing that prevents me from making this every week because it’s such a pain to clean up. As much as I would love to do it traditional style with an iron wok, not only do I not have one, I do not have my mom’s outdoor gas stove. That would help with the spatter immensely! My friend Ailis recommended using a Dutch Oven – this is the same thing that Alton also uses so if you have one, you’re in luck! Also, we both agreed that you have to quickly transfer the dipped-pieces of seafood and vegetable into the pan. Personal experience has led to a lot of fried seafood but not enough fried crispy batter. Fail!
As for the tempura itself, some people like the traditional form where it is just a nice crispy batter skin on the outside. Others like the “Americanized” form where there is panko breadcrumbs rubbed or sprinkled on the outside prior to frying. In addition, the one thing that Alton did not mention is that when you go to a Japanese restaurant, the shrimp tempura pieces are long, not normal shaped. My mom told me a long time ago that in Japanese restaurants, they stretch and pound out the shrimp to make it long and flattened. HAHA, she considered it cheating the customer but it fits a bit better in the box if all the pieces are of one “shape”. If you so desire, I’m sure you could easily take something to flatten out each shrimp to get that shape. I have personally made Yoshizuka-san’s dipping sauce recipe before as a sub for my agedashi tofu dish, and it is fantastic! Anyways, here is the tempura recipe and below one for homemade tempura dipping sauce, let me know how you find them!
Alton’ Brown’s Tempura Recipe
- 5 ounces unbleached cake flour
- 5 ounces white rice flour
- 1 1/2 quarts vegetable oil
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 1/2 cups cold seltzer water
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 5 to 6 ounces sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
- 8 stems flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 pound shrimp, 31 to 35 count, head and tail-on, peeled and deveined
- 1/2 pound tilapia fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces
- Whisk the cake flour and rice flour together in a medium glass bowl and divide it in half. Set aside.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over high heat until it reaches 375 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer. Once the temperature reaches 365 degrees F, whisk the egg, seltzer water and vodka, in a medium mixing bowl and divide it in half. Put half of the mixture in the refrigerator to reserve. Pour half of the liquid mixture into half of the dry mixture and whisk to combine, about 10 to 15 seconds. Some lumps may remain. Set the glass bowl in a larger bowl lined with ice.
- Dip the sweet potatoes into the batter using tongs, drain for 2 to 3 seconds over the bowl, and then add to the hot oil. Adjust the heat to maintain between 375 and 400 degrees F. Fry 6 to 8 pieces, at a time, until puffy and very light golden, about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Remove to a cooling rack lined with 3 layers of paper towels set over a half sheet pan. Sprinkle with salt, if desired. Repeat the same dipping and frying procedure with the green beans and parsley leaves.
- Put the fried vegetables on a serving platter and serve the as an appetizer while preparing the seafood. Whisk together the remaining halves of dry and liquid batter ingredients as above and repeat dipping and frying with the shrimp and fish fillets. Sprinkle with salt, if desired, transfer the fish to a serving platter and serve immediately.
Cook’s Note: Tempura may be held in a 200 degree F oven for up to 30 minutes, though texture is compromised.
Link to recipe here.
Tempura Dipping Sauce – by Setsuko Yoshizuka
- 1 cup dashi soup stock
- 1/4 cup mirin
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 Tbsp sugar
- grated daikon (optional)
- Put dashi, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar in a sauce pan and mix well.
- Bring to a boil on medium heat. Stop the heat and let it cool.
- Serve into individual small bowls. Add grated daikon if desired.
Link to sauce recipe here.