What is tempura?
Tempura is an assortment of fritters that has been very popular in Japan since the 17th century. This fritter has the distinction of being particularly tasty and digestible. It is probably one of the world’s lowest calorie fritter.
The dough, which is particularly thin and light, preserves the taste of food because it slightly coats the ingredients, unlike most Western World fritters and beignets that are much denser and more caloric.
The principle of frying is to carry out a very quick cooking, which preserves much of the taste of the food because these are immediately cooked in very hot oil. This effectively traps the flavors inside the food rather than letting them escape as is the case in other cooking methods.
There are different types of vegetables and seafood traditionally used for tempura but Japanese sweet potato (satsumaimo), squash (kabocha), lotus root (renkon no mizuni), king oyster mushrooms (eryngii), shiso leaves (ooba) and shrimps are the most common versions.
How to make tempura
The only difficulty of the recipe is to make a good tempura dough, the basic principle lies in a violent shock of temperatures between a very hot oil and a very cold preparation.
First, the flour must be sieved to prevent lumps. The egg is then beaten with ice water to obtain a homogeneous mixture. This mixture is then poured gradually on the flour while whisking continuously.
The tempura dough should be prepared at the last moment to keep it cold. Its consistency should be a little thinner than a crepe batter. The frying oil must be maintained at 350 F.
The food is cut regularly so that the cooking time is the same for all the ingredients. They are briefly dipped in the batter and then drained to avoid the formation of small drops.
They are then immersed in the oil, pieces after pieces, to avoid lowering the temperature of the oil too much.
After a few minutes of frying, the ingredients are ready to be drained on paper towels and enjoyed with a sauce prepared with sugar, mirin, dashi (a traditional broth made from bonito and seaweed kombu) and soy sauce.
What is the origin of tempura?
The method of frying came to Japan with the presence of Jesuit missionaries from Portugal in the seventeenth century. They introduced this technique that was already very popular in the West and that the Portuguese call rebozado.
Moreover, even today, the Portuguese prepare a fritter called peixinhos da horta (small fish from the garden). This fritter is very close to Japanese tempura.
What are the other traditional Japanese fritters?
Tempura can be prepared with white fish such as cod or small fish like smelt. Seafood like shrimp, cuttlefish, octopus or oysters, can also be used.
Vegetables are represented in large numbers, with the most common being lotus root, sweet potato, shiso leaves and squash but also carrots, onions, eggplants, bell peppers, aromatic herbs such as parsley, potatoes and other root vegetables depending on the season and market finds.
Generally, it is sesame oil that is used for tempura. However, as it is not always to everyone’s taste, it can be replaced by any other type of oil that has a high smoking point.
The most commonly used oils in Japan are vegetable oils like sesame, rapeseed and soybean oil. However, other oils can be used, like animal fats that are often used to fry fish.
Corn oil and sunflower oil are also quite common. However, there are more rare oils such as cottonseed oil, saffron oil or even olive and nut oils, considered extremely luxurious.
Another important point is that in Japan, it is forbidden to dispose of used oil in the toilet, it is instead solidified with a special product and thrown in the trash.
If the Japanese are big fans of tempura, there are other very typical fried foods such as tonkatsu, boneless pork chops breaded with panko breadcrumbs and fried.
Karaage chicken, fried chicken served in bentos. Shrimp ebifrai, also breaded in panko and served with mayonnaise or udon noodle soup.
- 10 large shrimps
- 1 tablespoon potato starch
- 3 tablespoons sake
- 1 Japanese sweet potato (satsumaimo)
- ⅛ pumpkin
- 2 inch piece peeled and precooked lotus root (renkon no mizuni)
- 2 king trumpet mushroom (eryngii)
- 4 leaves shiso (ooba)
- White vinegar
- 2 large eggs cold
- 1½ cups ice water
- 2 cups all-purpose flour sifted
- ¾ cup dashi
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 daïkon radish grated
- 2 tablespoons potato starch
- 1 teaspoon flour
- Sesame oil or vegetable oil
- Remove the shrimp head. Remove the shell by keeping the last segment of the shell and the tip of the tail.
- Devein them.
- Make two small slits under the back of each shrimp. Hold each shrimp with both hands and fold gently backwards to make them as straight as possible.
- Remove all the dirty water in the tail by holding the end of the knife and moving it from left to right, a very important step because the water held in the tail can splash during frying.
- Sprinkle the potato starch on the shrimp to reduce the odor and remove any residual dirt.
- Rinse them thoroughly with clear water.
- Drain, put in a large bowl and then coat with sake, rubbing with your hands.
- Let stand for 10 minutes then discard all the liquid. No need to rinse again.
- Drain well and set aside.
- Mix the dashi, soy sauce, mirin and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Then lower the heat and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and reserve.
- Cut the Japanese sweet potatoes into thin strips and soak in room temperature water for 30 minutes to remove excess starch.
- Drain and dry thoroughly with paper towels.
- Cut the kabocha squash and the lotus root into thin slices.
- Dip the lotus root in 1 quart of water and add 2 tablespoons of vinegar.
- Slice the king oyster mushrooms thinly.
- Cut the ends of the eggplant, then cut in half lengthwise. Then cut the aubergines into very thin slices lengthwise.
- Sift the flour over a large bowl.
- In large bowl, combine the eggs and iced water.
- Whisk the mixture and pour it over the flour gradually, mixing very quickly.
- The batter must not be mixed for too long and must be prepared immediately before frying.
- Divide it in half, one for shrimp and the other for the vegetables.
- In a fryer or deep skillet, heat a large volume of oil bath to 350 F.
- While the oil is heating, add the potato starch into a large freezer bag, then add the shrimp.
- Close the bag and shake well to coat the shrimp with starch.
- Remove the shrimp from the bag and dust well to remove the excess starch.
- Dip the shrimp in the batter and coat them well.
- Fry the shrimp for about 1 minute on each side or until golden brown.
- Do not overload the fryer; leave at least half of the surface of the oil empty.
- Drain the shrimp on paper towel.
- Serve the shrimp tempura with hot sauce and grated daikon.
- Begin by frying the root vegetables because the temperature of the oil should be a little lower than that of other vegetables.
- Thoroughly dry all the vegetables before dipping them into the tempura batter.
- For the root vegetables: In a fryer or deep skillet, heat a large volume of oil at 320 F for 3 to 4 minutes. And fry them for 1 to 2 minutes.
- For the other vegetables and the mushrooms, heat the oil to 340 F and fry them for 1 to 2 minutes or until golden brown.
- For the shiso leaves, sprinkle the flour on the back of each leaf and dip only the back of the leaves into the tempura batter.
Fry for 15 seconds in the oil at 340F / 170C.
- Serve immediately.
It is very important that the tempura batter remains very cold.
It is the contrast of temperature that allows a quick and perfect frying, bringing all the crunchiness, and preventing the oil from penetrating the ingredients, which makes it possible to preserve the flavor and the color of the vegetables.