John explains how to create the classically Japanese dish, that really isn’t Japanese at all.
by John Pope on May 2, 2012
Let’s start out with this:
IMPORTANT NOTE: Tempura is not a Japanese creation!
Yes, we all think they made it up themselves, but actually Tempura was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in the mid 16th century. Any history book will probably tell you what the Iberians were doing there, but to be honest I have no interest at all. I am however very glad that took tempura with them, and that the Japanese have stuck with it and exported it back to the rest of us.
For anyone who not only didn’t know that it wasn’t Japanese but also doesn’t have a clue what it is, tempura is a dish made up of deep fried vegetables or seafood in a crisp fluffy batter, as well as the name of the batter itself.
Tempura batter is light, fluffy, crisp, and I ♥ it.
As part of lunch the other day I had tempura vegetables, they were in a less than spectacular chain of pubs in the UK, and yet they managed not to bugger them up and they tasted great. They managed this because apart from tasting great, Tempura is stupidly easy to make.
What to tempura
The great thing about tempura is that you don’t have to stick to tradition, and you can basically cook just about anything in it, from lobster to ice cream. Personally I just love tempura batter, and to a certain degree what is in the middle doesn’t really matter too much, as long as it is is wrapped up in that crispy goodness.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be adding recipes for some different tempura dishes to the site, so check back for those. In the meantime, be a bit creative and throw anything you like in there.
Carbonation or no carbonation?
You will find that a lot of recipes for tempura use carbonated water instead of still water.
In England you will often find fish fried in a beer batter, and a some other batters use tonic water. All of these recipes use carbonated liquids for the same reason.
The science in this is super simple. What we are trying to end up with is batter that is as light and fluffy as we can, and what makes batter light and fluffy is having air in it. When you use carbonated water (or any other carbonated liquid) to make batter, then the bubbles in the liquid leave tiny spaces in the mixture which fill with air, and give you a lovely light batter.
Traditional tempura recipes don’t use carbonated water, possibly because they didn’t have it in the 16th century, and if you are careful it is possible to make good tempura with still water.
The following recipe will work perfectly well with either still or carbonated water, so feel free to try both and see which result you prefer.
Tempura batter recipe
- Ice cold water200ml
- Egg yolk 1
- Plain flour 90g
In a large bowl, mix together the cold water and the egg yolk, using a fork or a pair of chopsticks.
Add the flour a little bit at a time, gently mixing it in until the flower is all incorporated.
That’s it, dip whatever it is that you are cooking into the batter to coat it, and fry for 1 to 2 minutes in oil at about 180°c.
Notes on the recipe
As you can see above, making tempura is incredibly simple, there are just three important points to bear in mind before you start:
The water used in the batter must be VERY COLD, preferably iced.
The batter must not be overmixed. Just use your fork (or chopsticks if you have them) for literally a few seconds to combine the ingredients. Lumps of unmixed flour are fine and perfectly normal. Overmixing so that gluten is released and your batter goes sticky is not fine, as this will make your tempura heavy greasy.
Only make the batter when you are ready to fry it. Tempura batter is not like pancake batter which will be much better if it is left alone for half an hour after mixing. If you don’t use the tempura batter straight away then it will lose all of its fluffiness and become thick and heavy.