Tempura: it’s a Bento Box sidekick and a stand-alone entrée that keeps company with teriyaki and hibachi. A traditional Japanese preparation of vegetables, shellfish or seafood coated ever so gently in an airy batter and deep fried to crispy perfection, it’s one of those dishes that seems tricky to make but is, in fact, easier than you think. The technique is all about timing, so have your ingredients assembled, your oil bubbling and your batter at the ready. Just be ready to eat your tempura while it’s good and hot.
Any mix of seafood and vegetables will work. Cut your ingredients into uniformly bite size pieces so they cook evenly. As for shellfish, you’ve probably had shrimp most often; save some prep time by asking the seafood spot to peel and clean them for you, tails on. Other options such as squid, scallops or a firm white fish will all fry up nicely. Choose veggies that are likely to hold their shape and go for the ones you like. Broccoli, onions, peppers, asparagus, eggplant, carrots, and sweet potato all hit the mark.
You’re looking for a batter that will create a crispy and delicate exterior to tempura. Take your time here with these tips in mind: (1) Make the batter right before you start frying. (2) Use ice cold water. (3) Do not over mix the batter, as you don’t want to activate those glutinous proteins in the flour. Traditionalists use chop sticks to gently combine the batter, which should be lumpy. And, when you dunk your chosen ingredients into the batter, less is more.
When choosing an oil, select one that has a neutral flavor like canola, grape seed or light sesame. The secret to success is getting the oil hot and keeping it at a consistent temperature, between 360° to 375° on a deep fry thermometer. No thermometer? Throw some flour in the pot—if the oil sizzles up immediately, you are good to go. Keep the oil consistently hot by not overcrowding the pan, and check the temp as you cook.
To get you started, here’s a recipe you’re gonna love:
1 onion, peeled and cut into wedges through the root
2 cups broccoli florets
1 sweet potato, sliced ½ inch thick
1 red pepper, cut into 1 x 2 inch strips
8 large shrimp, cleaned, tails on
Neutral oil such as canola or grapeseed for frying
1 cup flour sifted, plus more for dredging
1 cup ice cold water
2 egg yolks
½ cup low sodium soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
¼ cup water
2 teasopon sugar
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1-2 cloves finely minced garlic
Prepare the vegetables and shrimp (simple prep cook/ boil).
For the dipping sauce, combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer to a bowl and let cool before serving.
Fill a deep skillet or wide saucepan with oil to a depth of about 2–3 inches. Heat the oil over medium to a temperature of between 360 and 375 degrees. Check with a deep-fry thermometer. You’ll know you’re there when a pinch of flour tossed into the oil sizzles up immediately.
While the oil is heating, place some flour on a plate for dredging and line a sheet pan with paper towels for draining; set both aside.
Combine 1 cup of water with 1 cup of ice. Let sit for a minute and then measure 1 cup of ice cold water. Place two egg yolks in a medium-size mixing bowl and mix with the ice-cold water.
Add flour and combine with chopsticks by gently jabbing the mixture until just incorporated. It should be lumpy. If you don’t have chopsticks, try using two forks or spoons, but do over mix and do not whisk!
Dredge the vegetables and shrimp in flour very lightly, tapping off excess. Quickly dip ingredients into the batter and immediately place into the hot oil. Do this in several batches; you don’t want to overcrowd the pan.
Cook until the bubbles form around the tempura and the batter turns golden brown, about two minutes, turning once. Remove tempura from the oil and place on the paper towels to drain. Serve immediately with a dipping sauce.
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