Tempura used to be a dish that required great skill and experience. However, since the birth of tempura powder – mix of flour, starch, rice flour and baking powder – anyone can fry up a batch tempura from the comfort of their own kitchen.

With the powder and a few simple tips, it’s not so hard to make delicious tempura at home. Various specially formulated tempura powders are available at any supermarket or grocery shop. You can cook tempura using any of your favorite ingredients.

When making the batter, make sure to mix the tempura powder with water with a litle ice, and don’t mix it too much. You can also chill the bowl of batter by placing it in a larger bowl with ice in it. The batter is traditionally mixed in small batches using chopsticks for only a few seconds.

Be careful. Over mixing the batter and warm temperature will cause the flour mixture to become chewy and dough-like when cooked.

When cooking shellfish, squid, or hard-skinned watery vegetables, such as bell pepper or eggplant, the skin is usually scored with a knife to prevent the ingredients from bursting during deep frying.

Coat the thin slices of your favorite vegetables or seafood with the batter, then deep fry in a hot oil.

The oil is an important factor of tempura, and helps determine the flavor and smell. Vegetable and canola oils are often used for cooking tempura at home, although sesame oil is traditionally used at many specialty restaurants. Try different types of oils that suit your tastes.

In general, the oil temperature should be 320 – 356 Fahrenheit. You can check the temperature with a drop of batter in the oil. The batter should sink then rise to float on the surface of the oil. If it sinks and does not surface, the oil is not hot enough; if it does not sink at all, the oil is too hot.

Scoop out the bits of tempura with a small mesh scoop. After cooking, let the tempura drain off excess oil on a steel rack.

Here are a few other guidelines:

  • Prepare large, deep pan with plenty of oil. Tempura should be fried in oil that is at least about two inches deep.

  • Wipe the ingredients to be fried well with a paper towel after you wash them.

  • Use cold/iced water for the batter – this helps prevent it from absorbing too much oil.

  • Make the batter right before frying tempura. Don’t use too much batter to coat the ingredients.

  • If you will fry both seafood and vegetables, fry the vegetables first.

Tips for perfect tempura

There are three important factors in frying good tempura – oil temperature, the constancy and quality of the batter and timing, according to Ten-ichi tempura house’s Akira Akashi in Sasebo

The temperature

“In order to cook good tempura you have to keep the oil temperature stable,” he says. “When you are frying, the oil temperature rises so you need to monitor and maintain it at a stable degrees.”

“I usually set at 190 degrees Celsius (374 Fahrenheit), a little higher than the standard in order to make the tempura lighter and crispier,” Akashi says. “The time needed for frying vegetables, shrimp or fish are vary depending on what kind they are, but oil temperature for them can be the same.”

Cooking times range between a few seconds for delicate leaf vegetables, to several minutes for thick items or large “kakiage,” or vegetable and shrimp fritter.

However, not all the expert agree on oil temperature. Tokie Nakamoto of Okinawa’s Nakamoto Tempuraten insists on adjusting the temperature according to the ingredients being cooked.

“Seaweed definitely needs high temperature while potatoes fry better at rather lower temperature,” she explains. “The most important thing about cooking tempura is adjusting the oil temperature.”

The batter

Akashi says using iced water is key to good tempura batter. He says he beats eggs into it first then mixes in the flour last.

The timing

As for the timing, he says the faster ingredients are coated in the cold batter and added to the fryer, the better the tempura will be.

“You have to do it all at once within a second,” Akashi says. “If you dip in the batter too much, or take too much time, the tempura would never come up crisp and beautiful.”

Timing is also important when it comes to removing tempura from the frying pan.

“Deep frying dehydrates,” Akashi said. “The sizzling sound comes from the water evaporating from batter. Listen for the tone of the sizzling, when it changes tempura has yellowed that are cooked to the perfect crisp and tastiness.”

When it comes to that tastiness, tasting tempura is also subject to good timing, according to Akashi. He says that former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, a tempura enthusiast, is known to have once said, “You must eat tempura with (determination and ferocity) as if you were fighting your parent’s enemy.”

“He was right,” Akashi said. “The best time to eat tempura is when it is hot and crispy – as soon as it has cooked. That is how to really appreciate the dish.”

Tentsuyu (Tempura dipping sauce)

  • 1 tablespoon dashi no moto (dried fish soup stock)

  • 1 cup of water

  • 2 tablespoons mirin (sweet rice cooking wine), or 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 2 tablespoons sake or dry white wine

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce

  • ginger root to taste, freshly grated

Boil the dashi in the water for about 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in the remaining ingredients.

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