How to Prepare Tempura

by Celeste Heiter, Dec 28, 2002 | Destinations: Japan / Tokyo

The technique of frying foods in oil was first introduced to Japan by Portuguese traders over 400 years ago. Japanese culinary masters have since perfected it into a highly evolved edible art form. This delicately battered treat requires skill and concentration, but don't let that stop you from trying it in your own kitchen.

Traditional ingredients for cooking tempura style include large prawns, white fish such as snapper or halibut, Japanese pumpkin, bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms, onion rings, broccoli spears, zucchini, green beans, and shizo leaf. All items should be sliced into thin pieces that can be quickly cooked and easily eaten.

Tempura (4 servings)

8 large prawns, peeled and de-veined
½ pound of halibut or other white fish fillets cut into 1" slices
1 bell pepper cut into ¼" rings
1 yellow onion cut into ¼" rings
8 mushrooms, washed and trimmed
1 carrot cut into 1"x4" slices 1/8" thick
1 Japanese pumpkin, peeled and cut into ¼" slices
1 cup white flour for dredging
Vegetable oil for frying

Tempura Batter:
2 egg yolks
2 cups white flour
2 cups ice water

Tentsuyu Dipping Sauce:
1 cup dashi (see recipe)
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp freshly grated daikon radish
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger

To Prepare the Tempura:

First, combine all tentsuyu ingredients, mix thoroughly and spoon into small individual dishes (one for each guest) so that the dipping sauce is ready when the tempura is served. For a more interesting and attractive presentation, you can also combine only the liquid ingredients and serve the daikon and ginger in little mounds on a separate condiment dish for the guests to mix in themselves.

Next, combine all the batter ingredients, being careful not to overmix. It's okay if the batter is a little lumpy. Work quickly so the batter stays chilled. If necessary, you can divide the batter into two bowls and store one in the fridge until needed.

Dredge all the seafood and vegetables in flour. A good way to do this is to place the flour in a small plastic or paper bag with the fish and vegetables. Shake gently to coat. You can also scatter the flour on a large plate and drag the items through it.

Fill a large wok about half full of vegetable oil and heat to 350 degrees. A good way to test the readiness of your oil is to dribble a few drops of batter into it. If the batter sizzles, it's ready.

Dip one piece of fish or vegetable at a time in the tempura batter. Hold each piece over the bowl to allow the excess batter to drain off and slip them into the hot oil, being careful not to splatter. You can use a fork or a pair of chopsticks for this step, but fingers work just as well.

Do not overfill the wok. Each batch should contain no more than 6 or 8 pieces. The chilled tempura batter should explode into a lacy crust that will turn a pale, golden brown in about 3 minutes.

When crispy and tender, remove the tempura from the oil with a pair of tongs or a slotted spoon and place on a wire rack to drain.

Before adding the next batch of tempura, skim and discard the loose bits of batter from the cooking oil so they do not burn. Work quickly and serve the tempura on a large platter, or place a variety of each fish and vegetable on individual plates.