Sunday, March 2, 2008

Quick Tempura Dinner

This Spring calls for light fermented foods, so begins a month dedicated to the cuisine of Japan. Black, Red and White misos of various strengths, from strong MUGI (barley-rice) miso to medium soybean-rice miso - these pastes provide the bases for soups. For stock I used fish broth or bottled water. For the solids, I always have some seaweed, tofu, spring onions, carrots and radishes; added to that are one or more of mushrooms, spring potatoes, green peas and sugar snaps.

Tempura is a lovely, sophisticated fun addition. It's a great way to quickly cook shrimp, other seafood morsels and vegetables, and serve them instantly with various tempura dipping sauces. The trick is to prepare the seafood, vegetables and lay out the tempura batter components (never made batter until the oil is hot!). Once you have everything ready to go, the meal is prepared in mere minutes. When I prepare tempura the miso is on the lighter side, with less solids.

I call this LIGHT, yet it involves deep frying. Done properly there is very little fat and the seafood is super fresh, cooked in a flash. Not more than 3-4 minutes stove time and it's ready.

I call this QUICK, yet it has a lot of prep time. You can prepare all the batter mixes, dipping sauces, vinegar sauces, and vegetable bits ahead of time. If you just doing shrimp, other than making them straight, what else prep is there?

I never said this was not messy. Not only can it be MESSY, it rates no less than 5 black-and-crispy fire engines and/or ambulances if you do not have a start to finish oil management plan.


This is a deep frying dish, so make sure you have 1-2 liters of fresh oil handy. It's not that you will be using all of this, but dish is not the "three turns of the pan" oil usage. The best way to stress this is to urge you to invest in a lovely large goblet of quality OIL. Your brain needs it!

ICE - just enough to cover the bottom of a large bowl
(You will put your batter bowl on top of this to keep your batter ice cold)

Optional Condiments on table: Pickled ginger, wasabe, soy sauce, salt, pepper, grated daikon (or other radish bits), sriracha sauce...

Tempura Dipping Sauce - Fancy

2 Tbl soy sauce
2 Tbl orange juice - or lemon juice w/brown sugar to sweeten
2 Tbl Mirin rice wine
2 Tbl brown sugar
1 Tbl extremely fine chopped spring onions
1 tsp sesame seeds (gomasio)

(This makes a different salad dressing - has no oil or vinegar)

Tempura Dipping Sauce - Fancy and Spicy!

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Mirin rice wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 Tbl brown sesame oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
2 tablespoons really finely minced scallions

Tempura Dipping Sauce - Regular

1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock
2-3 Tbl soy sauce
2-3 Tbl Mirin rice wine
2-3 Tbl grated fresh ginger

Tempura Dipping Sauce - Traditional

1 cup dashi soup stock (dashi are bonito flakes, a most indispensable secret ingredient to add savory flavor in any kitchen - do not underestimate the taste-power of dried fish flakes, second only to MARMITE!)
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sugar

Tempura Dipping Sauce - Alternative

1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water
2-3 Tbl seasoned rice vinegar (note: not rice wine!)
4 teaspoons white sugar
1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced
(Add some hot chili to this if you'd like)


There are people who have not tasted Japanese foods but once in their lives, and upon being introduced to Tempura, say "Oh, just like Long John Silver's!". They will appreciate having a spicy, vinegary sauce to go with their Japanese Fish 'n Chips. - most people's metabolisms need and love to have a second spicy vinegary sauce to go along with this.

The Long John Silver Coca Cola Deep Frying Fast Foods OIL Clause:

Long John Silver's has a Nutrition Calendar with numbers for their battered shrimp. It is worth paying attention to this. You in your own kitchen will NOT be using their oil: "100% soybean oil with dimethylpolysiloxane, TBHQ and citric acid", which is also used in other fast food chains, such as MacDonald's. Neither will you be cooking it the way they do. You will be COMBINING with other prescribed items, and that is the secret to health.

Let's take a look at "100% soybean oil with dimethylpolysiloxane, TBHQ and citric acid":

TBHQ, or TERT-BUTYLHYDROQUINONE is used as an antioxidant for unsaturated vegetable oils and animal fats. It can be used in combination with BHA. It is added to a wide range of foods, with highest limit permitted for frozen fish. It is used to enhance storage life. For industrial use, TBHQ is used as a stabilizer and is added to varnishes, lacquers, resins, and oil field additives.

In high doses, TBHQ led to stomach tumors and damage to DNA for lab animals. Prolonged exposure to TBHQ may cause cancer. While this is for high doses and lab rats, I have trouble with the idea that something you can only handle with protective clothing, per the Material Safety Data Sheet, is going in my food. You can find TBHQ in a wide variety of fast food menu items, especially anything fried or cooked in oil.

Hmmm! What about Soybean Oil?
Soybean oil is very popular because it is cheap, healthful and has a high smoke point. Soybean oil does not contain much saturated fat. Like all other oils from vegetable origin, soybean oil contains no cholesterol.
Well, that's what it started out as, today it's been GMO'd, and:

Food use of soybean oil Soybean oil is also used by the food industry in a variety of food products including salad dressings, sandwich spreads, margarine, bread, mayonnaise, non-dairy coffee creamers and snack foods. The high smoke point of soybean oil allows it to be used as frying oil. Soybean oil is often hydrogenated to increase its shelf life or to produce a more solid product. In this process, unhealthy trans fats are produced which may raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Food manufacturers are now trying to remove trans fats from their product. For this purpose, scientists are breeding new varieties of soybeans containing oil that does not need to be hydrogenated.
Good gawd, will they NEVER STOP their madness?!

RULE: Properly deep fried foods are very healthy but if you eat a deep fried product prepared with messed up oils (from food industries that fund ever more crazy messing-up of our basic food ingredients) - it will KILL you sooner than later - but, do NOT throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak - proper deep frying is HEALTHY!

If you do not have wasabe, try making a Hot Mustard sauce, or have a chili fish vinegar sauce ( e.g., Sriracha sauce, which is an Asian (Thai) hot and spicy chile sauce with garlic for dipping) on the table. Sriracha is made from chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. Be forewarned, it clocks in on the Scoville rating at around 2,000 units. I add some to a dashi-soy mix.

The fact is you really do need the VINEGAR and PEPPER to help digest the deep fried fat. There is nothing wrong with a good dose of fresh healthy OIL in your body as long as it is balanced.

A borrowed note on Japanese Vinegars:

I got these from LUNCH IN A BOX:

Sanbaizu (three-flavored vinegar) is one of the four main vinegar dressings in Japanese cuisine, made with rice vinegar, soy sauce, dashi (bonito stock) and sugar. The other vinegar dressings are:

Nihaizu (two-flavored vinegar) with vinegar, soy and dashi
Amazu (sweetened vinegar) with vinegar, dashi and sugar
Ponzu dressing with citrus juice, vinegar, soy, mirin, bonito flakes and konbu

  • Sanbaizu #1 (sweet vinegar dressing)
    3 Tb rice vinegar
    1/4 tsp soy sauce
    2 Tb sugar
    1/2 tsp salt
    1.5 Tb dashi (bonito stock - instant is fine)
  • Sanbaizu #2 (sweet vinegar dressing)
    1/3 cup rice vinegar
    1/2 tsp soy sauce
    1.5 Tb sugar
    1/4 tsp salt

TEMPURA BATTER - Beer and Straight up

1 egg
1 cup very cold Asahi beer or 1 cup iced water
3/4 cup mix of all purpose flour, and if you like, use less flour and make up the rest with a bit of baking powder, corn starch, spices such as cumin, parsley as you like

(I've settled on using 1/2 whole wheat flour and 2 Tbl cup kudzu root powder and 2 Tbl corn starch with cumin, garlic powder, CHILI PEPPER POWDER, and other dried herbs (parsley, basil, tarragon, depending...)

1/4 cup of the above flour mix for flouring shrimp and vegetables

Mix eggs and ice water or beer in a bowl, and 1/2 to 3/5 cup add flour to the egg mixture.

You want the consistency of heavy cream. The batter should be runny enough to light coat seafood and vegetables dipped in it. Test with the back of a spoon - it should be thick enough to coat the spoon.

What if you don't have BEER ... or an EGG...

Tempura Batter - Wolfgang Puck

1/4 cup rice flour (you can use all purp, or unbleached white, even wheat for this...)
3 cups soda water, plus more if necessary (Use regular bottled water...)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon baking powder (this is instead of the egg)
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (some this ends up on the bottom of the oil pot as red dots!)

"The quantities here make enough to coat about a dozen shrimp and a dozen scallops, or other bite-sized pieces of seafood, plus an accompanying assortment of vegetables that you like. "

"First, make the Tempura Batter: In a small bowl, stir together the rice flour and 1/2 cup of the soda water until blended. Set aside. Into a medium bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. Stir into this mixture the remaining 2 1/2 cups soda water, salt, and cayenne; then, stir in the rice flour mixture. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it to rest in the refrigerator at least 1 hour before use."

to go with his tempura... as the alternative dipping sauce. What a great idea.

HOT CHINESE MUSTARD SAUCE modified from PUCK's original cuz his had hard to get ingredients.

2 tablespoons Chinese dry mustard (or Colman's English Mustard Powder)
Pinch turmeric
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons water (umm, I'd use soy sauce)
1/4 cup liquid from bottled pickled ginger


We are not running a fancy restaurant where we buy bottles of pickled ginger just to harvest the juice. From Uncle Phaedrus Consulting Detective and Finder of Lost Recipes we offer his lost pickled ginger case file:
Pickled Ginger

1/2 cup fresh ginger -- sliced paper thin
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar

Stir all ingredients together in non-reactive stainless steel pan or glass
saucepan and bring to a boil.

Let mixture cool to room temperature and chill overnight. (Pickled ginger
keeps for several months in the refrigerator.)

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup peanut oil
1 tablespoon chili oil
1 tablespoon toasted Asian-style sesame oil

While the batter is resting, make the Hot Chinese Mustard Sauce: In a bowl, dissolve the dry mustard and turmeric in the rice wine vinegar and water. Stir in the pickled ginger liquid, lemon juice, and sugar and whisk until well blended. In another bowl, combine the peanut, chili, and sesame oils. Whisking continuously, slowly pour the oils into the mustard mixture until emulsified. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

That's it for all the best batter AND dipping recipes.

Panko - Japanese breadcrumbs (do not use any other)


Large Shrimp with tails on, deveined. Get a bag of uncooked shrimp tails on and take out what you will be preparing, let them sit in the refrigerator to defrost.

After defrosting, you have to straighten the shrimp with your fingers, nick each side 2-3 times with a knife, and press the back of the shrimp without breaking the tail off, or else it will curl up when frying. Then stack them on paper towels to dry, coat in flour...

...if the oil is hot, NOW make the batter ... dip shrimp in batter, rain the panko on, and quick deep fry it.

Any variety of fish cut into small pieces will do nicely as well.

All the tempura cooks agree, if you drop a little tempura batter into the oil and the batter comes back right up it's 360 degrees F or over. If it it goes half way to the bottom and then back up (it does the bob-thing) it's about 340 degrees F and the right temperature for the carby veggies - a bit higher for the protein rich seafood.


Suggested Equipment:

Candy Thermometer with clip
Deep pot, dutch oven cast iron preferably
Wire basket
LONG wooden chopsticks
Paper towels
Paper bag
Lotsa oil - if you do not have a 2+ qt (2 liters) bottle of good oil handy, fouggedaboudit.
Nerves of Steel (just kidding!)


I got these from a number of different sources:

  • Be sure to choose a pan that's larger in circumference than the heat source to minimize the risk of flares. Many experts feel a Dutch oven made of seasoned cast iron is ideal.
  • In Japan, they deep fry in a wok, but I usually use a pot, because it's more stable on an electric stove and I'm nervous around hot oil.
  • If you don't have an electric deep fryer, invest in a wire frying basket - and a candy thermometer with a clip.
  • Make sure you have a lid nearby. If the oil bursts into flames, pop the lid on. Oil fires will go out if you smother them. Have aloe vera gel around in case you burn yourself.
  • Always use fresh oil if you can.
  • Never fill your pot more than half full of oil.
  • You need the oil deep, deep enough to immerse your food without touching it the bottom. A few inches, a lot, make sure you have a large bottle. You will need to top off during batches.
  • Remember you'll need at least 3 inches between the surface of the oil and the top of the pot to allow room for the oil to bubble up.
  • Get that clip on candy thermometer. If you don't have a thermometer, a you can drop a cube of white bread into the hot oil. At 350*F (175*C) the bread fries to a golden brown in about 1 minute; at 375*F (190*C) it takes about 40 seconds.
  • When the oil's hot enough, you'll see swirls forming at the bottom of the pot. I look for that, and then I plunge a wooden chopstick into the oil; bubbles should form all around the submerged stick.
  • Do not let the oil smoke; this is a sign that it's too hot, can flash soon, and it'll give your food a burnt taste. Make sure you can quickly move then entire pot to a cold burner and regather your wits.
  • On that note, make sure the vent is on, the doors to the smoke alarms are closed. There is nothing more nerve-wracking than a too sensitive smoke alarm that goes off if it hears you whisper "make me some dark toast, honey" when you've got a pot half full of near smoking hot oil.
  • Make sure the cats are stowed. Especially when there is seafood around, they'll be circling the floor around your hot pots like sharks.
  • To remove fried foods from hot oil opt for an Asian wire mesh skimmer, a slotted spoon or a pair of tongs.
  • Placing a clean brown paper bag beneath the paper toweling will absorb the most oil from the freshly fried foods.
  • Dispose of your used oil with care. Don't pour it down the drain: our sewage systems have enough to deal with without that. Let the oil cool completely, and then pour it into an empty bottle or jar and throw it away in the garbage.
  • Really, COULD you re-use your oil? No, yes, maybe... Never more than once or twice, and then only if you are using a similarly flavored food, and it is finely strained to remove old food particles.


You do not want to use a vegetable or fruit that will release its water into the 350 degree hot oil!!!

Carrots, potatoes, daikon, yams, sweet potatoes, parsnips, cauliflower, broccoli, turnip, green onions, any root vegetable, mushrooms...

Cut these into thin slices - you might want to parboil the potato roots a bit first... dip in the seasoned flour, then into the tempura batter, then into panko (or just the panko) and deep fry in the hot oil. 2- 3 minutes, 4 at most.

Fry in batches, and remove with tongs, chopsticks, slotted spoon or basket, and put on a plate with paper towels - remove paper towels - and place in pyrex dish in warm oven on extremely low to keep warm while rest is cooking.

The prep is worth it. You can do large parties so well with this. When prepared properly, the tempura absorb much less fat than you would think.

From the moment they are lifted from the wire basket - they give off such delicious smells, are so appealing, and eaten so quickly - all gone so fast I have never managed to snag photographs.


My oil management plan is to cool the oil and strain back into a reserved oil bottle. I re-use the oil twice for Tempura within 5-7 days. Then I'm done with Tempura for the season. It's too addictive.


I was kidding up there about the mess, cleanup is a breeze.

If you are disposing of the oil, cool and bottle it, as per usual, and place the bottle in the trash. The best way to cleanup lots of oil is with lots of soap,right? Nope, in fact, most cooks know that "a puddle of oil on your kitchen floor can grow bigger and even more slippery when mixed with soap and water."

Sprinkle salt and/or any remaining flour on the oily deep fry pot and wire basket. Let them soak, then add just a drop or two of dish-washing liquid, HOLD THE WATER!, then wipe with paper towels or a dry rag.

Now, wash as usual.


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