Tempura! Hello, old friend.

In Recipies on March 19, 2012 at 9:02 am

[Our introduction to libertarianism will continue. In order to maintain balance in all things, we need a little “R and R” from serious things.]

It had been many years since Mrs. Phyne Dyner and I last enjoyed tempura made at the table. The Japanese classic was a favorite of ours during our dating years and in our early married lives. We still have our original Taylor and Ng wok set from those days.

Making tempura is a bit of work. But it’s also a lot of romantic fun to cook mouth-sized bits of fish, chicken, and vegetables at the table. And, because each morsel is cooked individually, tempura is a slow-paced and relaxing meal.

While we still have our original wok, I opted to modernize buy cooking our tempura in a small, electric fondue pot.

The move was brilliant!

The little fondue used a fraction of the oil needed to cook in a wok. It’s Teflon coated interior made cleanup a breeze. And there was no Sterno or alcohol fuel to overheat the oil. The pot fit nicely on our small round breakfast table and the setting made for a very intimate dining experience.

Tempura foods usually involve seafood. Our Invisible Friend has an ancient edict prohibiting us from eating squid, shrimp, or scallops. So, we substituted chicken, whiting, mushrooms, scallion pieces, as well as chunks of zucchini and yellow squash. If you live under so such edict, by all means, enjoy your tempura with the seafood you love.

Each diner gets a small bowl of rice and several dipping sauces are passed around as the foods, covered in a puffy and flakey coating, emerge from the hot oil. Sips of warm sake fill the moments between little bursts of flavor.

Tempura is clean, adult fun and you simply must try it soon.

First, you need to prepare your foods. Everything must be truly bite-size so that it cooks evenly and thoroughly. Chunks of mushroom, squashes, sweet potato, scallion, and florets of cauliflower and broccoli are typical. Place each veggie in its own small bowl and refrigerate until its time to cook.

Next, cut up about 4oz of chicken per person and about 5oz of fish or seafood. I find that a very light marinade for each adds to the flavor. So, I sprinkle a bit of ground ginger over the chicken and then give it (just) a drizzle of soy sauce. I sprinkle the fish with a tiny amount of white pepper and then drizzle a little rice vinegar over it. All meats must be refrigerated until its time to cook. Besides, colder foods make better tempura.

Now make your dipping sauces:

Wasabi is an absolute must-have for tempura. I’m not a fan of the stuff in tubes, so I make mine from the powdered wasabi available at most Asian markets. Mix about 1 TBS, each, of lemon juice and water. Then add this mixture (by the teaspoon) to equal volumes of powdered wasabi. The result should be a fiery, bright green paste. A little goes a long way!

Another favorite sauce is made of equal volumes of mirin and rice vinegar. Mirin is a very sweet Japanese cooking wine. You’ll find it at large grocers or Asian markets. Don’t try to substitute any other kind of vinegar. Rice vinegar is slightly less acidic and has a good amount of salt in it.

Our final sauce is a simple 1 to 1 mixture of soy sauce and rice vinegar. Add a pinch of ground ginger. Mix well.

Now it’s time to make our dipping batter.

1 C unbleached flour

1 TBS cornstarch

1 tsp baking powder

1 egg white

ice water

Mix the dry ingredients and then add the egg white. Slowly, add the ice water until you get a thick, lumpy batter (like for pancakes). Do not beat smooth! Allow the batter to stand in the fridge for a bit. When it’s time to cook, place a large ice cube in the center of the batter.

Prepare about 1-2 cups of white rice per person. Place a bottle of your favorite sake in hot water…and heat the sake to about 105F. Put peanut or canola oil in your wok (or fondue) and heat to 350-375F. Now, move all of your foods to

(Photo: Yale University)

the table.

Spear a morsel with a fondue fork and shake off any excess moisture before dipping it in the cold batter. Shake off excess batter and plunge the food into the hot oil. When the coating is golden and fluffy, the food is done. Remove the food to the bowl of rice and “de-fork” it. While it cools, start cooking your next piece (something different). Drizzle a tiny amount of one of the dipping sauces over the food in your rice bowl and dab a bit of wasabi on the top.

Wash it all down with tiny cups of sake or hot tea.



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