Tempura is no stranger to those in love with Japanese cuisine. It’s so popular that all Japanese restaurant owners seem to have their own tempura recipes.
What Is Tempura?
Tempura (天麩羅) is a type of deep-fried food, but with a coating so light that it’s almost transparent. Almost anything can be made “tempura”, but the common ones are shrimp, squid, eggplant, taro, and zucchini. In this tempura recipe, we use shrimp, taro, and broccoli.
Although tempura is often treated as a snack, sometimes it’s eaten with hot rice/ramen and a bowl of miso (味噌) soup. With a drink, it can be a simple but wholesome meal.
A Fail-Proof Tempura Batter
Unlike conventional deep-fried foods, making tempura batter can be intimidating. You want to get just the right consistency. Sometimes it doesn’t stick to your food; sometimes it sticks too much. When it sticks, sometimes it’s not light, crisp, and airy. Don’t worry. We’ve got you.
To start off, a tempura batter has egg, water, and flour.
Some tempura recipes call for cold water, and to be careful not to mix too much when you stir the flour in. All of this is to avoid the formation of gluten in all-purpose flour, which can make your tempura chewy and not crisp. We found that by using cornstarch (which is gluten-free), you can use room-temperature water and stir however you want.
As to the ratio among these ingredients, the one that worked best for us was 4 tbsp cornstarch, 2 tbsp water, 1 egg yolk. It turned into flakes once dropped into hot oil and was thick enough to stick to the food.
A common question that comes up is whether to season the batter or not. In this recipe, we don’t, because there is so much flavor in the special tempura sauce. We’ll talk a little more about that later.
Once cooked, serving this hot and immediately is a must. Tempura will become soft and wilted when left to cool down.
Similar to the popular breading stations, you can set up a little assembly line. First coat the shrimp and veg with cornstarch. It absorbs moisture from your food and creates a dry surface for the batter to stick to.
Then, of course, dip them in the batter. At this point, you need to have the oil hot and nearby, because you will be frying them immediately after dipping. We recommend simmering the oil from the start, once you have just finished prepping your raw ingredients.
When the oil’s hot, feel free to drop in your battered goods gently. You’ll notice the batter scattering across the pot, and it’s your job to drag the piece you’re frying (with a pair of chopsticks) to “catch” these fried “flakes”. The more they stick, the better your tempura will turn out, look and taste. Or, if you’re a bit lazy, ignore these flakes and scoop them out later. They’re always fun to nibble on.
When the batter hardens and turns pale yellow, wait for another minute, and they’re done. Take them out, place them onto a cooling rack, and serve them with sauce immediately once the batch is finished.
Prepping Food for Tempura
Shrimp in tempura often have a straight shape, not curled up like those in mimosas or shrimp scampi. To achieve this shape, as you remove the shell, make horizontal incisions on the back and front of the shrimp. This breaks the “abdominal muscles” that shrink when they are cooked, leaving you with typical tempura-shaped shrimp.
With squid, prep them similar to how you would in other dishes. We like to cut it into round, bite-sized pieces for convenience and more surface area for batter.
Remember to slice your taro, zucchini, or eggplant thinly. Taro or starchy vegetables take longer to cook, so cut them into slices with half-an-inch thickness to get the best results.
Tempura Sauce— Tentsuyu
A typical tentsuyu sauce is made by reducing soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and dashi. To make dashi, you need to purchase katsuobushi (dried, fermented, and smoked tuna) and simmer it in water to create an umami broth. If you don’t have it on hand, chicken broth (salt-free) works fine.
Unlike your typical dipping sauce, tentsuyu’s consistency is quite thin. When you dip your tempura in, it coats just a thin layer but is really flavorful. We recommend just dipping it once and don’t try to have more sauce on the tempura as it will be too much. You’ll see what I’m saying once you have a try.
- 4.7 oz raw shrimp (should yield 2 oz shelled)
- 4 oz broccoli
- 2 oz taro
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 2 tbsp water room-temp or cold
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 cups canola oil (*)
- In a small pot, combine soy sauce, mirin, chicken broth, sugar, and oyster sauce, and simmer for 5 minutes.
- In a frying pot, simmer oil over medium heat. When you see bubbles but haven’t finished coating, reduce the heat to low.
- In a medium bowl, coat the shrimp, broccoli and taro with cornstarch. Dust off excess cornstarch and place them onto a wide tray, not touching one another.
- In that same bowl, whisk in egg yolk and water until there are no lumps.
- Piece by piece, coat your cornstarched shrimp, broccoli, taro with the batter and gently place them into the oil. Drag them along the surface with a pair of chopsticks to catch any “flakes” that form.
- Place them onto a cooling rack once they look golden. Each piece needs 5 minutes of frying.
- Serve them immediately.