Friday, December 28, 2012

Japanese home cooking: Tempura

Fried food that is light, airy, and crisp.  
Really, what can be better than that?

I spent a week at my parents' home for the holidays.  During my visits, my mother always indulges me with the Japanese home cooking I grew up with.  Last night was no exception: she served a delicious meal of tempura. 

Tempura is a very popular Japanese dish made of vegetables and/or seafood that have been battered and deep-fried.  Ingredients in traditional tempura include bell pepper, carrot, eggplant, green beans, pumpkin, sweet potato, prawn, shrimp, and white fish.  Really almost any kind of vegetable and seafood will do, but in keeping with the Japanese culinary tradition, the use of seasonal, fresh ingredients is key.   

I recently discovered that the origins of tempura can be traced back to the Portuguese.  During the 16th century, Portuguese missionaries and traders made frequent visits to the country to establish trade and export Christianity.  While in Japan, the Portuguese also introduced batter-coated deep frying, which came to be incorporated into the Japanese diet as tempura.

Adapted from my mother Naoko's recipe.  Serves 4-6

Vegetables and/or seafood of your choice

Cut, wash, and dry the vegetables and seafood. (Slice the 
bell pepper and eggplant into strips, cut carrots into matchsticks, leave green beans whole (just cutting off the tips), peel and slice onions into rings and pumpkin and sweet potato into rounds.  Remove heads and shells from prawns and shrimp leaving tails intact and devein.  Rinse the fish (any white fish fillet can be used) and leave whole or cube.)  Lay your veggies and seafood on a paper towel to extract any residual moisture.

Tip: Drying the surface of the ingredients completely helps keep the batter crisp as well as stick better to the ingredients.  Also, most recipes don't call for this, but my mother lightly flours the ingredients before dipping them in the batter.  To do this: Place about 1/2 cup of flour in a paper bag.  Place a handful of ingredients at a time in the bag, close, and shake to coat.

Heat vegetable oil (about 4-6 cups) over high heat until it reaches 375 degrees.

Prepare the batter. Combine 1 large egg, 1 cup cold water, 1/2 - 1 cup all-purpose flour, and a pinch of corn starch.  Mix using chopsticks for only a few seconds, taking care not to over-mix.

Tip: Make the batter only once you're ready to begin deep-frying.  Use cold water for the batter, as this prevents the batter from absorbing too much oil. Also, leave lumps in the batter.  Batter turns heavy and thick, and becomes chewy and dough-like when fried, when allowed to sit too long or stirred too much (over-mixing results in activation of gluten).  

Dip each ingredient in the batter to give it a thin, almost transparent coating.  Drop ingredients one at a time into the oil.  (Smaller pieces like the matchstick carrots should be fried in little bundles.) Fry in small batches (no more than 6-8 pieces at a time).  Fry until pieces are puffy and very light golden, depending on the piece about 1-2 minutes. 

Transfer pieces to paper towels or a draining rack to drain.

Serve, piping hot, with dipping sauce of your choice.

No comments:

Post a Comment