Like anything else that they do the Japanese take something relatively simple, spend a lifetime doing it elegantly, and produce something magical that will drive you nuts trying to duplicate it.
Tempura was introduced into Japan by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The Japanese took the concept, filed the serial numbers off, redesigned the body style, changed the paint color and came up with something totally wonderful and uniquely Japanese.
Tempura is battered and fried food. Usually with a nice dipping sauce. Since this is Japanese the order is backward from what you might expect. Make the dipping sauce first, have everything ready to serve, get the oil just right, then fry and eat immediately.
So, the dipping sauce. For each two or three people:
1 tablespoon of mirin
1 tablespoon of sake
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 teaspoon dashi no moto (soup stock, optional)
fresh grated ginger to taste (optional)
wasabi powder to taste (optional)
There are about a million and one other dipping sauces that you can whip up, but the basic jobbie is the first 3 or 4 ingredients. If you can’t find dashi no moto don’t freak, it’s rather optional.
Stick your water in the refrigerator for a good while. You want the water to be ice-cold, but you don’t want to use ice water. You will get better results from a soft flour of the Southern persuasion than a bread flour, so use Martha White, White Lily or some other Southern flour.
1 egg, beaten
1 cup ice-cold water
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons sake
The normal Japanese method is to use chopsticks to mix up the batter and to mix it just before using. They are right, it works best. Beat the egg, mix in the water, then quickly and lightly mix in the flour. You do want some small lumps, you do not want a completely smooth paste. As a side note, you can spend a good bit of time and money looking for special tempura batter. If you get it, follow the directions. You really don’t need to as this batter works fine. There are also some fairly elaborate batters out there. Experiment as you like.
Two schools of thought on the battering. One school is just batter and fry. The other school is batter, roll in dry flour, then fry. Try both ways and see which one you prefer. You could also do a flour, then batter approach. Do not think that you need to get a thick coat, you don’t. In fact, you generally don’t want to completely cover the object with batter. A thin coat with about 50% exposure of the food is about right. The Japanese don’t overdo anything and this is not like the thick American breading.
Frying temp is 340°F to 350°F. Now a purist will use a mix of sesame and vegetable oil. A true tempura fanatic can tell the difference. I mostly just use canola or peanut oil. This can be strained, cleaned, and reused two or three times. If it smells a bit off, get some fresh.
Anyway, fry for two or three minutes or until golden brown. What to tempura? Just about anything. Shrimp, vegetables cut into thin strips about 1-1/2″ long, anything else that you have on hand. About any seafood or vegetable can be done, just keep the pieces bite size. Broccoli is outstanding.
Like I said, typically Japanese. Simple and elegant. Any fool can learn to do it just by following these simple directions. Any fool can spend a lifetime perfecting this to the high art of a true tempura chef. The results are worth the effort.