Monday, October 20, 2008

Making Tempura in a Fondue Pot

A Japanese classic, tempura consists of foods that are battered and deep fried. One of the most memorable meals I've ever had took place at a tempura restaurant I once visited on one of my tours to Japan. This was an elegant pricey place, well known in the region. Each person had a bamboo cup of tempura batter at their place setting. A large artistically designed platter of skewered foods was set out in everyone's reach. In the center of the table a large cauldron-like pot of hot oil stood ready for frying. Each person dipped and fried their own tempura skewers.

Like most cook-at-the-table meals, the experience provided a relaxed, slow, social dinner. People cook, eat, and converse. What better way to spend an evening?

Using your fondue pot, can duplicate it at home -- cooking and serving the tempura right at the table.

Tempura is limited only by your imagination. Traditional foods included a variety of vegetables and seafood such as shrimp or scallops, but don't be afraid to experiment and such western staples as chicken or even cubes of beef.

The fried food can then be dipped in a traditional Japanese dipping sauce or dipped in salt. In Japan you will often be served salt that's mixed with various seasonings. You can do this at home by using coarse sea salt and mixing in curry powder, hot chiles or paprika to taste. In Japan each plate has tiny piles of the various seasoned salts on it.

Tempura Making Tips

It is very important to make your batter just before frying, so make sure the oil is hot first.

Use ice water in the batter and stir only enough to mix, for if you over-beat the batter you will develop the gluten in the flour and it won't work properly. Tempura batter should be lumpy!

Test to make sure the oil is hot enough before frying your foods. To do this, drop a drop of batter into the oil, if the drop quickly floats to the surface, the oil is hot enough. If it takes its time in floating, let the oil heat longer. Cut food for frying into bite sized pieces of about the same size.

Below are some of my favorite foods for tempura. Feel free to use your imagination and add your own.

  • Shrimp
  • Scallops
  • Calamari
  • Chicken Breast Cubes
  • Steak Cubes
  • Mushrooms
  • Asparagus
  • Japanese Eggplant
  • Green Beans
  • Squash

To cook tempura, spear a piece of food on a bamboo skewer or fondue fork, dip into the batter cup, then deep fry it in the oil filled fondue pot. The length of cooking time depends on what is being cooked. Seafood will take less time (2-3 minutes) than chicken or most vegetables. 4-5 minutes will usually be the most time you'll need to leave anything cook.

Tempura Recipe
Tempura batter is simple -- just flour, ice water and egg. The traditional dipping sauce of soy sauce and mirin is also easy, letting the freshness of the ingredients shine through the delicate coating. Click here for a basic tempura and sauce recipe.

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