After ramen, tempura is probably one of the most famous Japanese foods outside of Japan. Lightly battered and fried seafood, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, green beans, kabocha pumpkin and whatever else you can imagine are dipped in a sauce and enjoyed with an airy crunch. In Japan, there are entire restaurants devoted to making only tempura, but you can easily recreate Japanese tempura in your own kitchen with a few simple ingredients.
The secret to expertly light and crisp tempura is a cold batter and piping hot oil, this juxtaposition helps make tempura light and crispy instead of greasy and soft. At home, I use Nisshin Tempura Batter which I buy at my local Japanese market Heisei Mart, in J-Town a Japanese Mall located at 3160 Steeles Ave E, Markham, ON L3R 4G9, but you can easily make your own at home. Photos via Spice City
If you do live in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and haven’t been to J-Town, it’s worth the visit even to just poke around and learn about different ingredients. The mall is comprised of the grocery store, a beauty shop, butcher and seafood shop, tea shops and a few restaurants. A lot of the meat is sourced from Ontario Mennonite farmers and the grocery is small, but has all of the necessary ingredients for Japanese cooking. I even found a jar of yuzu kosho, a blend of citrus zest, garlic, chile, and salt, some cooks are calling this condiment their secret weapon!
Recipe adapted from Japanese Cooking 101
Shrimp, fish and/or veggies of your choice: Sweet potatoes, kabocha pumpkin, asparagus, mushrooms, green beans, eggplant, onion, okra.
3/4 cup (95g) cake flour
1 teaspoon (5g) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (180ml total) water with 3-4 ice cubes
oil for deep frying
Preparation for the Vegetables:
Use the freshest ingredients you can find and cut them into pieces of the same size (1/4″ thick slices) to avoid uneven cooking.
Preparation for Shrimp:
Take off the head and shell, but keep the tail. Remove the sand vein and make small diagonal cuts (about 1 half-cut about every centimeter) along the shrimp’s abdomen to help keep straight when fried.
Preparation for Tempura Batter:
Put cake flour, baking powder and salt in to a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Add the ice water into the flour mixture and stir with chopsticks or a fork (not a whisk) about 10 times. It’s okay to have lumps in the batter.
Heat the oil to very high temperature. Dip vegetables and shrimp in batter, and deep fry until they float and are cooked through. Turn once so that both sides are nice and golden. See oil temperatures and frying times below
After frying, drain the oil very well by placing the cooked tempura on a paper towel lined strainer or plate before transferring to the serving dish.
Examples of Frying Times:
Vegetables: 320-350F on each side for 1 minute. Total cooking time is 2-2½ minutes.
Seafood: 375F Fry very quickly around 10 to 20 seconds. If you use frozen ingredients, defrost them first and wipe off any water using paper towel, frying times for frozen seafood are 30-40 seconds.
Leafy vegetables: Like spinach leaves or Mitsuba (Japanese herb) 320F. First, sprinkle some plain flour on both sides of the leaf before dipping in the tempura batter mix. This technique holds the batter to the leaves.
The best sauce to serve with tempura is called tentsuyu, it is easy to make and keeps well in the refrigerator, so you can make a lot at once and reserve the rest for noodles, vegetables, meat, tofu or more tempura:
(Sauce for Tempura)
6.7 ounces of water
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons mirin
1 handful of bonito flakes
Put all of the ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil for about 3 minutes. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Allow the tentsuyu to cool before using.