How to Make Perfect Tempura

Light as a Feather: How to Make Perfect Tempura

The key to achieving perfect tempura is to make a seemingly imperfect batter. These instructions are from the November 2012 article Light as a Feather by Harris Salat

Fill a deep, twelve-inch cast-iron skillet with about two quarts canola oil to a depth of at least one inch. Heat the oil over medium heat to 360°, checking it with a deep-fry thermometer placed in the skillet. Maintaining a consistent temperature is important: If the temperature is too low, the batter will absorb oil and won't crisp up; too high, and it will burn.

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While the oil is heating, place one-half cup of cake flour on a plate for dredging, and line a sheet pan with paper towels for draining; set both aside. Place two egg yolks in a medium-size mixing bowl.

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Mix the yolks with two cups of cold water. Add one-quarter cup of ice cubes. (Keeping the liquid ice cold will reduce gluten development in the batter.)

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Add two cups of cake flour. (Low-protein cake flour helps minimize the formation of the glutens that can lead to a bready crust.) Grasping four chopsticks, their tips pointed down, stab at the flour to combine it with the liquid until a loose, lumpy batter forms, about thirty seconds. Do not whisk, and do not use a fork; you want the batter to be barely mixed, so as not to activate the glutens. Pockets of dry flour should be visible in the liquid, which should have the consistency of heavy cream. (Mix the batter just before cooking, so that the flour particles have limited time to absorb moisture.) In the heat of the oil, that moisture will quickly dissipate, enhancing the tempura's crispiness.

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To cook, start with the shrimp. Lightly dredge the shrimp in flour. This will help the batter adhere.

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Dip the shrimp quickly into the batter. If the batter appears watery, sprinkle a little flour on top, but do not mix it in; dipping the ingredients in the batter will be enough to combine the flour with the liquid.

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Just before frying, add one-quarter cup of toasted sesame oil to the frying oil. If the oil temperature lowers, allow it to rise back to 360°. Quickly lay each shrimp in the oil; separate them from one another with chopsticks. Tiny, brisk bubbles will form around each shrimp.

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While the shrimp cook, dip your fingers into the batter and drizzle some directly over each shrimp so that the batter adheres to each piece. This process, called hana o sakaseru, will make the tempura even crispier, leaving crunchy, enticing tendrils on the surface of each piece. Use a slotted spoon to remove loose batter from the oil. (These bits of batter can be saved and used, as they are in Japan, as crunchy garnishes on salads and noodle dishes.) Cook the shrimp until the bubbles around them grow larger and less intense, and the batter turns golden brown, about three minutes. Remove the shrimp from the oil, and place them on the paper towels to drain.

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To maintain consistent oil temperature, cook the rest of the ingredients in small batches. Cook vegetables at 350°, about two and a half minutes for most, and two minutes for bell peppers, asparagus, and leafy ingredients such as shiso and parsley. Serve the tempura immediately, with a dipping sauce or seasoned salt.

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