Friday, 16 March 2012

Tempura - deep fried vegetables and seafood in a light crispy batter

My sister came over for lunch on Saturday so I thought I'd cook one of my favourite recipes for her. She loves her Irish grub so sometimes it's hard to get her to try different types of food. But I knew she'd love this as it's an easy transition into the world of Japanese food! She devoured it all so I can safely say that this dish will be enjoyed by all, both the conservative and the adventurous type. She has a prawn allergy so I included some cod fillet pieces in the tempura mix too. I love this recipe because it's versatile. You can use your favourite vegetables, seafood or even meat for this recipe. The options are endless!

I remember my Japanese homestay mother taught me how to make Japanese tempura. She said that the secret to a light and crispy tempura batter is to make sure that the water is ice cold and the mixture is not over-beaten.

1 aubergine - thinly sliced (1cm thick)
1 sweet potato - peeled and thinly sliced (1cm thick)
Red or green pepper - cut into square pieces
Cod fillet - cut into square pieces (skinned and boned)
Large king prawns - remove the head and the shell, leave the tail and devein using a tooth pick. Then, make a few little cuts with a sharp knife on the belly and back of the prawn and pull the prawn to straighten.

Tempura dipping sauce
1 cup of water
1 tsp instant dashi stock (Japanese cooking stock) or homemade dashi*
1/4 cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
1/4 cup soya sauce
Grated ginger or Japanese radish called daikon (optional)

Basic tempura batter
1 egg
1 cup ice water
1 cup plain flour

vegetable oil for frying (oil temperature 180 degrees Celsius)

*Click here to see my recipe for homemade dashi.


Tempura dipping sauce
I like to prepare the dipping sauce first so everything is prepared when the tempura is ready. If you do not have time or the ingredients to prepare the dipping sauce then you could just serve the tempura with soya sauce or sprinkle with salt (preferably sea salt).
  1. Pour a cup of water into a small saucepan. 
  2. Add the dashi stock and the mirin and then bring to the boil. 
  3. Reduce the heat and add the soya sauce. Remove from the heat after a few minutes. 
  4. Put the tempura dipping sauce in a serving bowl and add the grated ginger or grated Japanese radish (daikon) to taste.
Basic tempura batter
  1. Place the egg in a medium size bowl and beat using chopsticks or whisk.
  2. Pour the ice cold water into the bowl and mix with the egg.
  3. Sieve the plain flour and add to the water and egg mix. Mix lightly leaving small lumps in the mixture (at this stage you could sit the medium sized bowl filled with the batter into a larger bowl filled with ice to keep the batter cold).
How to cook the tempura
  1. Place all prepared vegetables, prawns and cod pieces on a large plate and dust lightly with sieved flour on both sides.
  2. To check the oil is hot enough, drop a small bit of batter into the oil and if it comes up right away then the oil temperature is ok. 
  3. Gently dip a few pieces of the vegetables or seafood into the batter, shake off the excess batter and place in the oil (try to fry the vegetables first and then the seafood).
  4. Only fry a few pieces in the oil at the time to ensure that the oil temperature remains hot. The pieces should be turned only a few times until they have a nice light golden colour. This usually takes a few minutes.
  5. Place the fried tempura on a plate lined with kitchen towel to absorb the excess oil.

How to eat:
This dish is better served immediately because the tempura will become cold and soggy very quickly. If you really need to delay serving then you could put them in a preheated oven for a little bit. I normally serve the tempura on a large serving plate along with the dipping sauce so everyone can help themselves. Then, I give each guest a bowl of Japanese white rice.

  1. Add a dash of sake (Japanese rice wine) or even Guinness for an Irish twist to the batter mix to add taste and also to make the batter more crispy. 
  2. Place the water in the freezer until it is very cold before mixing with the egg. This helps make the batter light and crispy.
Why not:
Try tempura with a bowl of soba noodles or udon noodles instead of rice.

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