Ahh, tempura, that classic Japanese dish that is somehow both deep-fried and light. It brings all of the joys of fried food without leaving one feeling like they need a nap afterward. How does one create such perfection?
That light, amazing fry of tempura is achieved using a few different simple techniques and ingredients. The batter itself is made from egg, wheat flour, and ice cold water. Sometimes baking soda is used to lighten the batter, and carbonated water can be used as well. When going for maximum crispiness and lightness, I like to use a bit of both.
One of the most difficult parts of this dish to achieve in the bus is the ice cold water, but I assure you that it is very important, perhaps the most important part of the preparation. While carbonation and baking soda may help to lighten the batter, it is really the reaction of ice cold batter and hot oil that creates that perfect fry. So, do your best to use very cold water, and if you are taking a break from frying for a minute, stick that batter in the fridge (or freezer) to keep it cold.
Tempura does still lose its crispiness relatively quickly, so it should be eaten pretty much as it comes out of the fryer. This is a great meal for hosting, as you can tempura fry just about anything and come out with good results. Some of our favorites are shrimp, broccoli, sweet potato slices, onion slices, green beans, scallions, and apples, but the world is really your oyster. Clean out the fridge and tempura fry whatever you find. What’s the worst that could happen?
A tempura platter makes a great appetizer when you are hosting a group, and it is also a great way to prepare sushi fillings on the road. While traveling, good fish can be hard to find, but frozen shrimp and green onions are typically in good supply. And who doesn’t like a shrimp tempura roll or a scallion tempura roll (for the vegans out there)?
1 egg + cold seltzer to equal 1 cup
1 cup flour
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
Vegetable oil (or other high-heat oil) for frying
Whatever you’d like to fry (our favorites below)
Before you start anything else, get everything you want to fry chopped and placed. This is a fast-paced meal once you start going, so you don’t want to be distracted trying to chop broccoli at the same time that you are manning the fryer.
Once all your ingredients are chopped and ready, beat one egg in a measuring cup and add ice cold seltzer water to a total of 1 cup. Add this to a bowl. In a separate measuring cup, add 1 cup flour, ½ tsp baking soda, and ¼ tsp salt. Mix these dry ingredients and then add them to the bowl with the egg and seltzer. Mix this sparingly with chopsticks. It is totally okay for there to be big bunches of flour in the batter–in fact, this is a good sign that you did not overmix it. Mixing the batter creates gluten, which makes the batter heavy, and undoes that beautiful, light, crunchy tempura texture.
Heat your oil in a saucepan or wok to 330-350 degrees. Dredge the food item in flour and then dip it in your tempura batter, trying to get a light, even coating. Drop into the oil. Try to fill the wok without overcrowding it or cooling the oil too much.
Chopsticks are a great tool for poking the frying items around making sure that they cook on both sides and for plucking out items when they are finished cooking.
Each time you add something to the oil, it reduces the temperature slightly, so do your best to keep an eye on the temperature. If it gets too low, let it heat up again before you add any additional items. Frying at too low a temperature leads to a soggy, oily finished product.
Tempura also has a tendency to lose its crunch quickly after cooking, so this meal is best done as you go, with people eating each batch while it is still hot and crisp.
And that’s all there is to it. This is a great time to scour the fridge and try to come up with fun things to fry.
I typically serve the platter with ponzu sauce and sriracha mayonnaise for dipping, but serve whatever sauces you like.