Admittedly, I love fried foods. I hate to say it, but I do. I even have a built-in deep fat fryer in my home kitchen.
Of course, I’m not alone. Fried foods are among the most irresistible foods known to man. That they’re not considered one of the healthiest? Well, nothing is perfect.
So what do you do on those occasions when your body has ingested just about as many healthy meals as you can stand? What happens when you’ve finally decided to cave in to that little fried food devil on your shoulder who has been whispering heinous things in your ear like “chicken fingers, French fries, fish & chips,” and most heinous of all, “deep fried shrimp”? Well, if you’ve decided to throw all dietary caution to the wind, you might as well make it worth your while and do it right.
Tempura originated in Japan, but it’s said that Europeans actually introduced the idea to the Japanese, who adopted it and refined it into a style of cooking.
Typically, a tempura meal is one of fish, shrimp, and vegetables served with a dipping sauce.
Unlike breading, however, tempura is a batter, the simplest one imaginable. Actually, just flour and water will work, but for me, the BEST tempura batter has a couple of tweaks that make it even better.
Unlike many recipes where it’s all about the ingredients and their proportions, the perfect tempura’s real secret lies as much in your method of making it.
To make the BEST tempura, you want to do this:
Use ICE cold water (or soda/seltzer water) and keep the batter cold.
Don’t mix it too much. Leave small lumps. The purists use chopsticks to mix.
Make your tempura batter JUST before you use it.
Fry in 350 F oil.
As for the ingredients, to make the BEST tempura, use these:
Cake flour or all-purpose flour (low-gluten flour) — I also like rice flour, and sometimes I mix it in ½ and ½ with either of the above flours. You can also use a tablespoon of cornstarch per cup of flour to lighten the batter and add crispness.
Soda or seltzer water instead of tap water — The carbonation will make the batter lighter and lacy-like (which is good).
Sea salt (avoid using iodized salt) — It tastes better.
NOTE: Adding a pinch of baking powder to your tempura batter to make it light isn’t necessary, but you will see recipes that use it.
To egg or not to egg. That is the question.
Many tempura recipes use eggs, either whole, yolks or just the whites. As the BEST tempura is light and crisp, I avoid using products in the batter that make the final product chewy and less crisp. Therefore, I use a low-gluten flour and only use egg whites, which I beat until frothy before adding my flour, water and salt.
My last recommendation is for your frying oil.
Use neutral oil. Either canola or vegetable is fine. If you’re looking for something even MORE authentic, my recommendation would be peanut oil with a splash of sesame oil (about 1 TBSP sesame oil per cup of peanut oil).
OK, so here is what we have:
Tempura Batter (makes about 2 cups) or enough to batter a meal for 2 people
1 Cup Flour / Flour Mixture (see above)
1 Extra-Large Egg White
¾ Cup Soda / Seltzer Water
½ tsp Sea Salt
Preheat your oil to 350 F. Be sure your pot has sufficient room to accept your batter-dipped foods and cook them without the boiling oil spilling over the edge. That would NOT be good.
Have a second bowl with another cup of your flour mixture to pre-flour your products before dipping in your tempura batter.
Pre-cut fish into 1” x 2” pieces and not too thick (about ½” to ¾” at best). Vegetables (all raw) such as green beans should be whole; broccoli and cauliflower should be 1” florets; and sweet potato and eggplant should be cut in small wedges or sticks. Shrimp should be peeled and de-veined, with the tail on.
Now, in a small bowl, beat the cold egg white until frothy and add the remaining ingredients.
Mix with a fork or chopsticks until generally mixed with small lumps. DO NOT OVERMIX.
NOTE: Depending on your preference, a thicker batter (like the consistency of a pancake batter) will coat easier but be chewier when fried. A thinner batter (almost like heavy cream or egg nog) will give you a lighter, crispier final product.
Flour each product and then place it in the tempura batter. Briefly shake off excess and place them (carefully) in the hot oil. Avoid crowding the products or placing them one on top of another.
Fry about (3 to 5 minutes) or until crispy and light golden in color. Then remove with a skimmer and drain excess oil off of the products by placing them on absorbent paper towels.
Serve immediately with a dipping sauce of choice.
There are MANY different dipping sauces to enjoy, from sweet and sour to soy sauce and hoisin-sauce-based recipes. Below, are links to a few of my favorites: