Text and Images by Stefanie Chao @ Makansutra
Tempura is a well-known dish today, served in almost every Japanese restaurant we know and frequent. Yet, this wonderfully crisp and lightly battered food remains a mystery to some. What makes tempura so alluring and different from its panko-crusted cousins?
The answer, according to experts, is all in the flour and the batter. Tempura flour, inexpensive and easily found in Japanese marts and even $2 discount stalls, consists of flour with a low-gluten content and additional leavening. Mixing it lightly with iced water just before deep-frying, ensures a light crust that will remain attractively crisp, even when the dish is cold. The mixing of the batter is also an important technique – a light stir or two with chopsticks will suffice as overdoing it yield a hard and tough texture. Lastly, sprinkling the surface of the batter with additional flour results in everyone’s favourite parts of the dish – the crispy corner bits that many adore.
Cleverly using vegetables such as lotus root and lady’s fingers with corners and crevices to catch batter to crisp up in the hot oil are secrets practiced in an expert’s kitchen. Use vegetables such as eggplant, mushrooms and even sweet potato or any other vegetables that have a smooth surface and scoring the mushrooms and slicing the vegetables to fan it out also creates crevices for the batter to cling on to.
The rules to a perfect tempura may sound daunting but none of your friends will complain when it is diligently executed. Even vegetables will seem so much more delectable.
Plate it for desired look and effect
Tempura (serves 2 to 3) Recipe courtesy of Amelia Seko
Ingredients: 4 large prawns, shelled and deveined 4 fresh shitake mushrooms, scored 4 lady’s fingers (okra), trimmed at edges and fibrous veins removed 15cm length of lotus root, peeled and sliced to 1cm thickness. ½ an eggplant, sliced and fanned out (score vertically and finely across but do not cut through. When done, spread and fan out gently)
Score mushrooms before frying
Batter: 1 egg yolk 150ml iced water 200g tempura flour plus extra for dusting and dredging later
Method: 1) Heat oil to temperature of 170 degrees Celsius. 2) While the oil is heating up, combine the egg yolk and the ice water in a bowl and mix gently. 3) Add in the flour all at once but DO NOT stir. Instead, combine lightly with a few strokes of a chopstick to form a lumpy batter. (Well-stirred batter would give you a fish and chip texture.)
Ensure batter is lumpy, not smooth through
4) Top up the batter with flour and keep doing so throughout cooking process, when necessary. 5) Dust all ingredients with flour before dipping into the batter, so the batter clings well.
Dust ingredients with flour
Coat in flour before dipping in batter
6) Deep fry the batter-coated ingredients for a few minutes until golden brown. 7) Plate up the tempura in an attractive stack and decant dipping sauce into a side bowl. 8) Finally, squeeze excess moisture from grated daikon, form a mound and top off with a tiny amount of ginger on top with some bonito flakes to resemble a little snow-capped mountain. Serve immediately.
Grate radish to create a mount of moist mash
Dipping Sauce: 300ml Primary Dashi (see recipe below) 2 tbsp light Japanese soy sauce (Usukuchi) 2 tbsp Japanese soy sauce (shoyu) 4 tbsp mirin Handful of bonito flakes
4cm length of Daikon, peeled and grated finely (radish) Thumb size piece of ginger, peeled and grated finely. Bonito flakes
Method: 1) Combine dashi stock, soy sauces and mirin in a saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. 2) Add handful of bonito flakes and let it boil for 3 minutes. 3) Immediately remove from heat and strain. Keep warm
Primary Dashi: 1 piece Kombu (dried kelp) 1 litre tap water 1 cup bonito flakes, loosely packed
Method: 1) Place kombu in the pot with water, bring to the boil. When water boils, remove the kombu, otherwise the stock will be bitter. 2) Stir in bonito flakes and boil rapidly for 3 minutes. 3) Turn off the heat and let it infuse for 5 minutes. Strain, discard solids