It’s Quick


That’s the whole concept of tempura – once the oil is hot enough to begin bubbling, lightly battered food is dipped in it just long enough to flash cook it and to seal in the flavors.  The batter actually protects the food from the oil and ensures the edibles are steamed, not fried, and that they retain their full complexity.  Thus, the food retains a broader range of flavors than with any other cooking method and consequently it has a purer taste.  How very Japanese.

Even better, tempura is ideally suited to nearly any kind of food, the only requirement being that it is of a size easily handled with chopsticks, both in preparation and, closer to our concern here, in eating.  As such, all manner of seafood and vegetables are fair game, as you can see in today’s offering.

Today brings, moving clockwise from the top, shrimp, shitake mushrooms, asparagus, carrots, scallions, green beans, white fish (sea bass) and scallops.  A complete meal, improved, if that’s even possible, by a plunge in the soy-based dipping sauce, coating everything in slightly sweet umami. (Finally! – The first time this Japanese word has been used to describe something that’s actually…Japanese.)

Instructions were found among the pages of the Dining in the Great Embassies cookbook, a collection of recipes chefs at some of the top ambassadorial postings in Washington choose to prepare for embassy dinners.  As such, it’s certain they select dishes that exemplify and celebrate their countries.  Among the thousands of different meals prepared in Japanese kitchens, tempura is one of the few that made its way to embassy guests and, by extension, to you.

Note the Japanese beer at the ready.  Try getting that at a glittering embassy dinner.   …Come to think of it, though, it might not be quite so difficult a find.  After all, the Japanese are all about exquisite manners and, above all, supreme hospitality.  They’d find a way to ensure their guests want for nothing.

Anyway, the secret to tempura‘s success is the batter.  Substantial enough to fend off the oil and to seal in the flavor, yet light enough for subtlety, the batter uses iced water to prevent glutens from forming, thus keeping everything airy.  Some recipes suggest using seltzer to produce the same effect.  Better even is combining the approaches.  Thus, a bottle of club soda went into the freezer until little icebergs began to form.

After that, everything came together rapidly.  The journey from batter, to wok, to plate took but a minute or so.  The transformation from rawness to tender perfection is nearly instant.

*****

Tempura

For the batter:

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup ice water (*1)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the dipping sauce:

  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cold water
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • sesame seeds, for garnish (*2)

For the tempura ingredients:

  • whatever appeals to you, but see note below (*3)
  • oil (*4), poured to a depth of two inches in a wok or deep pan

Prepare the ingredients by cutting the vegetables and fish (if using) into chopstick-friendly sizes.  If you added scallops, halve them horizontally.  If shrimp is included, shell them, but leave the tails on.  Make three deep cuts across the underside, to prevent the shrimp from curling when it fries.  Refrigerate the ingredients until ready to use.

Next, make the dipping sauce.  Combine all the sauce ingredients but the sesame seeds and pour the mixture into a serving bowl.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds, then set aside until dinner.

Finally, prepare the batter.  In a medium bowl, stir together with a fork or with chopsticks the dry ingredients (flour, cornstarch, salt and baking powder).

Meanwhile, pour oil to a depth of two inches in a wok or in a deep frying pan.  Place the vessel over a medium-high flame and heat it until it reaches 360°.  Adjust the flame as necessary to regulate the oil temperature.

Just before the oil reaches temperature, finish the batter.  In another medium bowl, combine the wet ingredients (eggs and ice water).  Pour these into the flour mixture, stirring with a fork or chopsticks until just combined, but still lumpy.

Working with a few pieces at a time (you don’t want to crowd them) dip the ingredients into the batter and allow excess batter to drip back into the bowl.   Carefully lower the batter-dipped ingredients into the boiling oil.  A wire “spider” (so named for the ladle’s web-like structure) is a great tool for this, and for other applications:Spider

Rotate the ingredients once, allowing the batter to brown evenly on both sides.  After a minute or so cooking time, total, the items should be done.  They cook/tenderize quickly, and you don’t want to keep them in the wok too long, else they’ll absorb oil, or even will burn.  A minute or so is sufficient.

Remove the ingredients to a paper towel to wick up any excess oil.  Repeat the preceding two paragraphs until you’ve used all your ingredients.  Be sure to allow the oil to get back to 360° before starting the next round.  Arrange food on a platter and serve with dipping sauce.

NOTES:

1 – As you may recall from the intro, some instructions suggest seltzer, because the bubbles make the batter light.  Why not get the best of both worlds?  Buy a small bottle of club soda and stick it in the freezer. Check it occasionally to ensure it doesn’t freeze solid (or, worse yet, burst).  There shouldn’t be much danger of this, though, if you’re at least vaguely vigilant.  After about half an hour, little “icebergs” will form in the club soda.  Perfect – that’s exactly what you want!

2 – Sesame seeds weren’t included in the original recipe above, but they are visually interesting, as they layer the dipping sauce’s surface.  More important, their taste compliments the sesame oil which, traditionally, is the preferred tempura frying element (see Note 4 below).

3 – Choose whatever combination of proteins and vegetables that appeal to you, or which you think your guests will enjoy.  Limit the former to seafood or tofu, as other meats take too long to cook and thus, they become oily.  Besides, seafood is a natural for the Japanese island realm.

In addition to what’s included this week (shrimp, shitake mushrooms, asparagus, carrots, scallions, green beans, sea bass and scallops) you might want to try green peppers, tofu, bamboo shoots, cauliflower florets, yams, shallot rings, and so on, and so on…

4 – Vegetable or peanut oils are fine for tempura, but traditionally, cooks used sesame oil.

28 thoughts on “It’s Quick

    1. Isn’t that a cool twist, Crystal?

      Although the food is submerged in sizzling oil, that isn’t what cooks it. Thus, something employing one of the “heaviest” of cooking techniques ends up being clean and light. An ingenious innovation – in other words, typically Japanese.

      Is it any wonder tempura is something the country shows off at its embassy? Diplomacy – one of fine good cooking’s more unanticipated advantages.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Not at all a silly question, Rachel, as I wondered the same thing! The short answer is “no.”

      The long answer (and you just knew that was coming, right?) is that club soda is just highly carbonated water. Yes, certain minerals are added to intensify and to prolong the effervescence, but the batter smooths away any trace of them. All that’s left is water.

      Oh, and fizz. That’s completely a structural thing anyway, and it serves to make the batter light and airy.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Wonderful basic medley to use with almost any vegetable or fish, poultry, etc. I enjoy your blog even though my visits always leave me craving your mouthwatering dishes (entrees, deserts, appetizers, etc.)

    Love/hate relationship? Maybe. But I’m always returning for more. ♥️💔❤️💔🖤 Maybe I’m a masochist! No. I refuse to believe such a fate! 😙☺️😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh my Tamara, thank you! What sort of host would I be if I allowed such ignominy to befall my guests? That would be most dishonorable.

      Fortunately, and as usual, good food redeems the situation. Going into this recipe, I already was inclined to tempura, as the cooking method is one of the local teppanyaki’s best preparations. The batter is crispy and is of a gossamer lightness. It accentuates the food instead of overwhelming it, which is most unexpected.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. confession time… I LOOOVE tempura but I’m terrible at making it!

    Sooo I decided that until it stops giving me such a hard time I’ll refer to tempura as

    1) a great way to eat things that do behave like those yummy shrimps and mushrooms
    2) a vehicle to carry wonderful dipping sauces especially made with soy sauce like this one.
    and most importantly…
    3) an excuse to have a coooold beer like the one in the pic (bad influence I’d say since now I’m heading to my frige to get one) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have cold beer, Mar? Your advantage. There’s nothing in my icebox right now but sparkling water and clementine juice squeezed a couple days ago. No beer, however. Would you mind sending a care package?

      The shrimp and mushrooms are the top two items om my plate too, though I’m keen to try the asparagus again in a few months when it’s just-picked and is absolutely glorious.

      Want to know a trick for keeping the shrimp straight, as pictured? Before removing the shell and battering the shellfish, insert a thin bamboo skewer in the flesh along the spine, then remove it after cooking, but before serving. This keeps the shrimp from curling and gives it a novel shape. I learned this hack from a chef at the local teppanyaki. Apparently, chefs in Japan have been doing this for centuries.

      Like

  3. I might could argue that chicken or a good cut of steak cut thin enough would work for the protein. I’m sure it would prove to be a tasty experiment anyway. I’m learning so many new cooking things to try. Maybe you should write a cookbook. I can see it now: “Famous journalist pens award winning cookbook on the sly under the alias, The Terrified Amateur.” It will see millions worldwide. One wise reader, however, will have known the truth all along! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Though the press clamors for her insights, nobody can find the wise reader, either. Never thought to look in Trinidad, did you, guys?

      Good instincts on the alternate proteins, JoAnn! The chicken is a given because, hey, it’s poultry. As for the steak, could you imagine wagyu shaved so thin it barely retains its shape? You’d have a Korean Hot Pot type situation going on, except a thousand times more luscious.

      And with this stroke of brilliance, JoAnn launched her groundbreaking teppanyaki – the first in Trinidad – and changed the culinary world forever.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah but you are awesome when it comes to meting out a great ol’ ego boost my good friend!

    I would be sort of lying if I didn’t admit that when I was thinking of ‘thinly sliced beef’ I wasn’t picturing a great recipe for steak Diane that I made a few years ago. It was a Jacques Pepin/Julia Childs recipe. It was fabulous! The steak was cut so thin it seered in an instant.

    On an unrelated note, I can’t believe how many typos I see in my past comments. I swear I read through them. It’s just so weird!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good description, JoAnn – imagining your stake Diane is fabulous! If you ever orient your blog in a foodie direction – or even if you favor us with an occasional food-forward post – might I suggest the first topic?

      Oh, let’s not discuss typos, OK? It’s shameful. For every minute spent typing, correcting, retyping and backspacing takes five. Even then, I rarely catch everything before hitting “Send.”

      Honestly, I tend to skip over others’ typos too. Point is, I understand what they communicate. Why let an annoying game of “Gotcha!” step all over their message?

      Besides, how unsporting – actually, how obnoxious – would it be for me to ignore my 99% to obsess over everyone else’s 1%? Do I understand what the other person is saying? Then what’s the issue?

      Well, it looks like we talked about typos after all, didn’t we?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha ha, stake Diane. 😂
        Thanks for making me feel better in regards to the typos! It’s a real frustration of mine that typos can be so sneaky and cunning as to repeatedly not get caught!

        I’m so happy to report that I’ve managed to find a place to get great cuts of steak at reasonable prices. Fabulous! Steak is what’s for dinner tomorrow. 😋

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ha, I knew you’d appreciate that! I think WP must’ve auto-corrected whatever it was I typed to “stake.” However, it never would’ve happened in the first place had I not messed up “steak.” When I caught the error, I left it in, as I knew it’s precisely the sort of thing you need to see!

        Wow, how’d you make it into steak heaven? Honestly, I figured that T&T’s scarcity of grazable land meant dreams of filets and porterhouses would’ve tormented you forever. Sure, Trinidad offers other compensations, but I feared a mouthwatering sear needed to wait until you returned to the States. Instead, tonight (by the time I type this) you celebrate the art of grilling. Oh, do tell!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Congratulations, JoAnn, though I really am not surprised. An artist’s heart pulses your soul, enlivening your writing and your photography, among other things. Why wouldn’t this spark other creative endeavors, such as cooking?

        Besides, if anyone has been jonesing for a stake so long all of her creativity is cranked up to “10,” it’s you.

        Liked by 1 person

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