In the wide range of Japanese cuisine, there are few foods that compare to tempura. While sushi and ramen are rapidly growing in popularity around the world, it is perhaps tempura that has truly entered the gastronomic psyche of the west.
While the history of tempura is generally traced back to its introduction by Portuguese traders in the 16th century, Japan has made this dish its own.
How Tempura is Made
Tempura batter is actually a relatively simple recipe made from egg, flour, and water. Some recipes may also include baking powder, while other variations may call for ice water (or keeping the bowl cool with an ice bath), or using seltzer water.
One of the important steps to follow is to keep the mixing to a minimum. Over mixing the batter can lead to the end result being more fluffy than crispy. In Japanese cuisine, the mixing is done lightly with chopsticks, which sometimes leaves clumps in the batter.
Before dipping ingredients into the batter, dust them with flour to help the batter adhere to the ingredients. Dip in the batter, and deep fry in hot oil. In Japan, each region has its own preferred oil for cooking tempura. Some regions favor untoasted sesame oil, while others use neutral oils so as to not affect the taste of the ingredients.
Types of Tempura
Popular types of tempura in Japan include shrimp tempura (ebiten) or chicken tempura (toriten) for proteins, but it's also not uncommon to see white fish as well. For vegetables, anything goes! Most often, tempura is made with what is fresh and in season. Whatever you choose to go with, make sure to pat everything dry before starting. Dry ingredients will allow a better hold for the batter, and will avoid too much moisture from soaking into the batter as it fries.
How Tempura is Served
Common preparations include serving tempura over a bowl of rice (tendon), or on its own on a platter. It'ss common to have tempura served with grated daikon radish, salt (sometimes flavored with matcha or yuzu!), or with a dipping sauce known as tentsuyu.
About the author:
Michael is originally from Chicago, IL in the United States, but has lived in Japan for seven years in Niigata and Hokkaido. He is an avid home chef, baker, and coffee enthusiast, but his one true love is ramen. Ever in pursuit of the perfect bowl of noodles, you can always find him by listening for the tell-tale slurp of ramen being enjoyed!