How to Make the Perfect Tempura
One of the most popular dishes in Japan, Tempura is the name for foods that have been cooked in a crispy batter. There are many different types of tempura, with prawns and vegetables, such as aubergine, pepper and mushrooms, being amongst the most commonly used ingredients. Often quite a colourful dish, tempura are also enjoyed because of their very quick cooking time! Tempura is a dish in itself, but it can also be served with a variety of noodles or rice. On its own, tempura is often served with a dipping sauce and garnished with some daikon radish grated over it.
The key to good tempura is in the batter, which is best when light and crispy. Prepare the batter immediately before frying for the best results. Use chopsticks to mix the batter mixture rather than a whisk, as using a whisk can activate glutens in the flour, which will make the batter too bready and chewy. Plus, the batter should be left slightly lumpy and with air bubbles to ensure a truly crispy bite. When frying the tempura, the oil should be heated to around 180 degrees C, and most ingredients will be ready within a minute or two at this temperature! It is important that the oil is this hot, as any cooler and the batter will just absorb the oil, but any hotter and the batter will burn. You can check with a deep-fryer thermometer or by dropping a small spoonful of batter in. If the batter sinks about halfway into the pan and then floats back to the top, then the temperature is right.
Image Credit: Jeremy Keith
Popular Tempura Ingredients
While almost any ingredient can technically become a tempura dish, these are some of the most popular foods to be used as tempura.
By far the most popular tempura ingredient, shrimps or prawns will be found on any tempura menu.
One of the most popular vegetarian tempura options, the aubergine is cut into slices or rounds before being battered and fried.
Seafood is typically used in tempura, with fillets of white fish being one of the more commonly used types. Japanese whiting, goby and whitebait are often used in such dishes.
Kabocha (Japanese pumpkin)
The Japanese pumpkin has orange flesh but with a green skin that is often left on and eaten when cooked. Wedges of kabocha are battered and deep-fried, providing a sweet-tasting tempura bite.
Satsumaimo (sweet potato)
A type of Japanese sweet potato, Satsumaimo have yellow flesh and a purple skin. Like with the Japanese pumpkin, the skin is left on the vegetable when it is cooked and eaten, adding extra texture to the tempura. The sweet potato is sliced thinly to be served as tempura, and also offers a sweeter flavour.
Mushrooms are another popular veggie option for tempura. Many different kinds of mushroom are used in this dish, however, shiitake mushrooms are always a very common choice in Japan.
A specific type of tempura, the Kakiage sees slices of vegetables and seafood combined together in a batter and deep-fried in balls. This is often eaten as a side dish or starter or added as a topping to noodle dishes.
To make great tempura, you will need:
100g plain flour (plus extra flour in a bowl for coating the ingredients)
200ml ice cold water (water needs to be as cold as possible for the best batter)
Oil for deep-frying (canola, sunflower, corn are best)
Vegetables and Seafood fillings of your choice
- Prepare all of the ingredients you are going to use as tempura, ensuring that all vegetables are cut to the size you want and that the shrimp or fish is ready to be battered and fried.
- Start heating up the oil to 180C, so it is ready for frying as soon as the batter has been made.
- Start making the batter by sifting the flour into a small bowl to remove clumps and make it lighter.
- In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg so it is not quite mixed together fully.
- Add 200ml of ice cold water to the egg bowl and then the flour. Mix together using chopsticks, but do not overmix – it is good if the batter remains a little lumpy with dry flour for this recipe. The batter should be used straight away.
- In a separate bowl of flour, lightly coat each ingredient in flour and then dip into the tempura batter. Fry immediately until golden and crispy.
What is your favourite thing to fry as tempura? If you would like to try other Japanese cuisine, then take a look at the range of delicious treats available at our Japanese supermarket!