Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Basics of Tempura

Sorry I have been so quiet this last week. I had a major computer crash -- got a virus and lost everything. But am back up and running! Now on to today's post.

Tempura is a fun food to cook right at the table, Japanese style. If you have a fondue pot (an easy item to find at garage sales and thrift stores if you don't), you already have everything you need.

A Japanese classic, tempura consists of foods that are battered and deep fried. 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 (click here for recipe) 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.

It is important to make your batter just before frying, so make sure the oil is hot first. Always sift your flour first and use ice water. Stir only enough to mix the batter, 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. Below are some photos showing how to cut Japanese eggplant for tempura.

Cutting Eggplant Cutting Eggplant

If desired, you can cut fancy little stars in your mushrooms caps. While this is not necessary, it is traditional in Japan. The photos below will show you how.

Cutting Mushrooms Cutting Mushrooms

Cutting small slits along the under curve of a peeled shrimp will keep the shrimp from curling while it cooks. The photo below will show you how.

Cutting Shrimp

Below are some of our 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.

Like most fondue meals, tempura provides a relaxed, slow, social dinner. People cook, eat, and converse. What better way to spend an evening?

Click here for my Tempura batter and dipping sauce recipes.

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