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Tempura--Cook-Off 22


Chris Amirault
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Every now and then since December 2004, a good number of us have been getting together at the eGullet Recipe Cook-Off. Click here for the Cook-Off index.

For our twenty-second Cook-Off, we're making that familiar non-sushi Japanese restaurant stand-by, tempura. Reading up on tempura for this cook-off, I've learned a few things that surprised me. Apparently tempura is an early version of east-west fusion, in that the dish is often credited as having origins in the Spanish and Portuguese missions of the 16th century. Of course, the dipping sauce and the shredded daikon were uniquely Japanese touches.

Having had mediocre tempura many times, I ate one meal at a tempura specialty restaurant in Tokyo many years ago, and instantly realized -- of course -- that my tastes were bastardized by poor imitations here in the U.S. Though I ate many wonderful deep-fried courses, I also drank far too many wonderful Asahi Dry beers at the prompting of my hosts, so don't remember too much about the preparation save for the huge caldrons of oil, the constant grating of daikon, and the surprisingly small bowls of batter.

In his brilliant, encyclopedic, essential Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, Shizuo Tsuji explains in typically perfect prose that the proper batter is, indeed, crucial:

With tempura, the goal is to achieve a lacy, golden effect with the deep-fried coating, not a thick, armorlike pancake casing. To avoid a heavy, oily-tasting coating, do the opposite of all that you would do to make good pancakes. Make the tempura batter just before you are ready to begin deep-frying. Do not let the batter stand. In fine tempura restaurants, for instance, batter is made in small batches as orders come in. Tempura batter should never be mixed well. It should not be smooth and velvety. It should be only loosely folded together (with chopsticks, which are not an efficient tool for mixing and hence the perfect utensil for the job). The marks of a good tempura batter are a powdery ring of flour at the sides of the mixing bowl and a mixture marked with lumps of dry flour.

Carefully chosen, fresh ingredients, some hot fry oil, and lumpy batter: sounds like a perfect dish for the cook-off novice and veteran alike!

Unless I'm missing something (always a possibility), there's not a lot going on here on eGullet involving tempura. There are a couple of Cooking topics here and here, and there's a brief discussion of the origin of the term "tempura" in the Japan forum here. So I think we'll be forging new ground, folks.

Who's going to start us off?

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I can start us off with a picture!

This was a tempura of a stuffed zucchini blossom (it had been stuffed with pureed zucchini) from last year's Heartland gathering. Both the idea and the actual process of cooking it was entirely a group effort. I was in charge of the deep frying. :biggrin:

gallery_13151_1516_10032.jpg

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Damn, Kristin, that's a thing  of beauty. Care to share recipes? techniques?

the following is from a post by tammylc taken from the 2005 Heartland Gathering thread

The "recipe" such as it is:

Blanch zucchini in boiling water for 10 minutes. Stem, cut in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut into small dice. Cook in butter and olive oil with some kosher salt until browned and sweet. They said 10-20 minutes, but ours went a lot longer than that and never really got brown. But eventually it started tasting really good and that's when we stoppped cooking it.

Stuff into squash blossoms, dip in tempura batter, and deep fry until crispy. Eat immediately.

Great story behind the stuffed squash blossoms. Last December I had dinner at Jose's Minibar in DC, and had this amazing caramelized zucchini dish. There's tons of zucchini in the market right now, but zucchini isn't usually the most interesting thing to cook or eat. Except this caramelized thing, which was amazing and which I thought we could attempt to recreate based on the vague directions I got when I asked about it at the restaurant. At one point yesterday, we leave Fat Guy watching some bags and manning the 2 pm check-in point while we go off to grab some last minute items. While we're gone he calls Cafe Atlantico (where the Minibar is), asks to speak to the chef by name, and says "Hey, this is Steve Shaw from New York. Can I get that caramelized zucchini recipe from you?" The guy on the other end of the phone is happy to oblige, and Steven writes it all down, while simultaneously trying to get far enough from the Chinese Lion Dance group to hear but also stay close enough to the bags to see them. We're not sure if the chef actually knew who Steve was or just didn't want to take the chance of seeming stupid in case he was someone important. Definitely a lesson in chutzpah.

So, armed with the instructions for caramelizing the zucchini, Steven and I start discussing various presentation options. As I'm leaving the market I pass someone selling squash blossoms. I've never had them myself, but I know that they are frequently stuffed and deep fried, so I figure that they might make a great container for our caramelized zucchini mush and buy two small buckets worth. We decide on a tempura batter and convince Kris to staff the wok for the frying (Kris-Japan-tempura - it seemed the right thing to do). This was definitely our most ambitious and most tasty dish of the night.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Here's a pic of my humble Tempura attempt:

Tempura.jpg

I haven't got my notes at hand, but it was pretty straight forward ... flour+eggs+icewater=intentional lumpy batter. The fried items are strips of chicken breast, mushrooms, bell pepper, sweet potato, broccoli, fake ebi. Served with Tentsuyu (dashi/mirin/soy dipping sauce and grated daikon). Nothing fancy, very yummy though.

Christian Z. aka ChryZ

[ 1337 3475 - LEET EATS ] Blog

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Helenjp made tempura while she was blogging in January, post with pictures here. When I read that, I actually thought I could do it and wasn't so scared anymore. Not that I've done it yet though :laugh: Maybe this cook-off will finally get me going!

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This is fortuitous, Chris-- the very night before seeing this, I'd made tempura udon for dinner. (Shrimp, & onion slices on top of the soup.)

I've been working on tempura in general; maybe this Cook-Off will help keep me on track!

Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ●  Twitter    Instagram

 

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My favorite tempura in restaurants has always been sweet potato. Do you have to parcook the potato to get it right? It's usually sliced thin, but not wafer-thin like a potato chip or anything. Does it cook through from just the frying?

What is the traditional fat medium for tempura?

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My favorite tempura in restaurants has always been sweet potato. Do you have to parcook the potato to get it right? It's usually sliced thin, but not wafer-thin like a potato chip or anything. Does it cook through from just the frying?

What is the traditional fat medium for tempura?

I parboil the sweet potato first. It allows you to cook slices of a nice size quickly without overbrowning the tempura batter.

I'm not sure what the traditional fat medium is, but I've had excellent results with vegetable/canola oils.

My personal favourite is aubergine/eggplant. Ymmmm, might be time for some in honour of the cookoff.

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.

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Can anyone give a good recipe for the batter? I think I know the basics, but every recipe I've come across seems to be a little different. For instance, some use just egg whites; some use whole eggs. Some use baking poweder; some use cornstarch.

My attempts so far have been less than satisfactory.

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Here's a pic of my humble Tempura attempt:

Tempura.jpg

I haven't got my notes at hand, but it was pretty straight forward ... flour+eggs+icewater=intentional lumpy batter. The fried items are strips of chicken breast, mushrooms, bell pepper, sweet potato, broccoli, fake ebi. Served with Tentsuyu (dashi/mirin/soy dipping sauce and grated daikon). Nothing fancy, very yummy though.

Beautiful tempura, ChryZ!

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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For the batter I use a low protein cake flour and ice water in pretty much equal amounts, usually 1 to 2 cups each and 1 egg yolk. Mix it very quickly and leave it lumpy. Keep the batter very cold, putting it over ice water if it will be used for a long period of time. If possible try to keep the ingredients chilled as well.

Keep the heat as steady as possible, cooking only a few pieces at a time.

Most professional shops in Japan cook with 100% sesame oil. For a while I was adding a splash of sesame oil to my canola oil but I don't think it changed the taste so I have since stopped.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Basically, equal amounts of flour and (egg + water).

For example, put one egg in a cup (one cup in Japan is equivalent to 200 ml), add water to the 200-ml level, transfer the content to a bowl, and mix well BEFORE adding flour.

In Japan, there are regional and personal preferences to tempura batter and oil. In Kansai (Western Japan, including Osaka), they don't put eggs in their batter, and they use salad oil, thereby resulting in whitish tempura. In Kanto (Eastern Japan, including Tokyo), they put eggs in their batter, and they use sesame seed oil, resulting in golden brown tempura. Note, however, that sesame seed oil is quite expensive and many people in Kanto do use salad oil (and add some sesame seed oil, as torakris did).

My mother used to add baking soda to her batter. Some people add beer and carbonated water (preferably sugarless because sugar makes the tempura brownish) for the same effect. Some add potato starch, rice flour, and cornstarch to make crispy tempura.

My wife says she doesn't put eggs to her batter, just one part flour and one part water. No baking soda or potato starch. To make sweet potato tempura, she likes to add some salt to her batter so that it can be eaten without tentsuyu.

Professional tempura chefs, who know how difficult it is to make good tempura, recommend using commercial available tempura flour. I wonder if you can get it in your area.

Finally, don't forget that thinly coated, crispy tempura made by a professional tempura chef may not always be what you are looking for. I sometimes crave for thickly coated, dense sweet potato tempura my mother used to make because that's what I grew up with. You know what I mean...

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I was making fried chicken today... since the oil was hot:

gallery_25849_641_474463.jpg

I didn't use a recipe - just kept adding things until the consistency seemed right. Flour, salt, egg and club soda. I fried in canola - and think I'd add some toasted sesame oil to the batter next time.

What about dipping sauce choices? I didn't have much at home - so it was basically mirin and tamari. What is typical?

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What about dipping sauce choices?  I didn't have much at home - so it was basically mirin and tamari.  What is typical?

1. Tentsuyu, typically a mixture of mirin, soy sauce, and dashi (1:1:4)

2. Worcestershire sauce! :shock:

To the surprise of Kanto people, many Kansai people like to eat tempura with it.

3. Salt, matcha-jio (matcha and salt), yuzu-jio (yuzu and salt), etc. Cool! :cool:

4. Just soy sauce :biggrin:

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ludja, thanks for your kind comment.

Mina-san, regarding the frying oil: so far I only used plain vegetable oil. I definitely like to try sesame oil, but I'm not sure which kind. So far I only used those fragrant sesame oils, for salads or as topping of dishes/soups and I was under the impression, that one shouldn't cook them too hard. Are there certain sesame oils geared toward frying? Cold pressed or toasted prior to pressing?

Christian Z. aka ChryZ

[ 1337 3475 - LEET EATS ] Blog

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I didn't tell my wife anything about the cook-off, but today, she said she wanted to make tempura for supper. My son and I got some shiso (perilla) leaves and parsley from our yard, and some udo stems and leaves, yomogi (mugwort) leaves, and one asparagus shoot from fields nearby. My wife did all the tempura making.

gallery_16375_5_2933.jpg

Top plate: Shredded yomogi leaves and kounago (small fish)

Right plate: Udo stems and leaves

Left plate (clockwise from top): Parsley, shiso leaves, mugwort leaves, and asparagus (hard to tell from the photo)

We ate the tempura with soumen (thin noodles), using separate bowls for tempura and soumen (our favorite style).

Well, we usually make tempura with other ingredients, such as kabocha (squash), sweet potatoes, onions, and carrots, but it's sansai (wild plant) time of the year right now, and we all like sansai, especially my son. Believe or not, he said, "I'm happy!" Not all ten-year-old Japanese boys are like that. :biggrin:

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ludja, thanks for your kind comment.

Mina-san, regarding the frying oil: so far I only used plain vegetable oil. I definitely like to try sesame oil, but I'm not sure which kind. So far I only used those fragrant sesame oils, for salads or as topping of dishes/soups and I was under the impression, that one shouldn't cook them too hard. Are there certain sesame oils geared toward frying? Cold pressed or toasted prior to pressing?

That depends. Some restaurants mix equal amounts of cold pressed and toasted sesame oils, some use 100% toasted oil, and others mix 70% cold pressed oil and 30% toasted oil,

according to this (Japanese only).

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Saturday night was tempura night. I made some quick pickles to go with:

gallery_39576_2195_51651.jpg

It's also nice to have something to nosh on while waiting for the next wave. For condiments, I put out some sea salt, soy, limes, and a Thai-inspired dipping sauce:

gallery_39576_2195_49765.jpg

Here is the first round:

gallery_39576_1_48249.jpg

Ended up with shrimp, sweet potato, scallion, chile, ginger, and mint. I had some enoki that I totally forgot about, as well as some thin-sliced braised pork belly that I finally remembered at the end (sorry, no pic).

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Looks swell, Meez! Can you give a recipe for your pickles? In Recipe Gullet, even?!?

Thanks, Chris. I didn't really do quantities, but you can find details here.

I've been meaning to say, I like your sig; I had even considered it for mine at one time. The first time I played that album I was actually in my kitchen doing just that. I stopped, looked over at the stereo, and thought, did he say what I think he just said?

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Well, I finally got around to doing some tempura last night with whatever I had in the house.

gallery_13912_991_11511.jpg

We have Italian eggplant, zucchini, red yams, onion and asparagus. I gotta say, asparagus tempura is highly addictive.

I love doing tempura, although the smell of frying in the house can be somewhat off-putting.

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.

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