tempura featuring catfish and butternut squash

tempura featuring butternut squash, plated

The deep-fried flavors of tempura are enhanced with dipping sauce. Prepare that first and get it out of the way before proceeding.

The typical sauce, like this one, is made from a standard dashi base. 50% of the liquid is this most common of all fish soup bases made from kombu, a large flat dried kelp, that can make it's own standalone seafood broth, sort of like kelp tea, in combination with bonito flakes, which are a dried type of skipjack tuna that has been sliced super thinly, shaved actually, with a razor sharp mandolin tool, into nearly transparent flakes that virtually melt within the kombu broth. Handfuls of these airy dried fish flakes are dumped into the kombu tea-broth, soaked for about 10 minutes then strained out. Sometimes, the exhausted flakes are left in. They don't hurt anything. However, you don't have to mess with kombu or with bonito for your kombu bonito dashi. Bonito dashi is marketed in various ways, as you can imagine, much like Lipton's soup in individual packages. This dashi here was made the copout way using one of those packages. I had 1/2 package sitting in there with the regular kombu and bonito flakes and thought, "Eh, why not?" It turned out stronger than what I was aiming for so I diluted the finished soup.

For the tempura sauce, add 25% soy sauce and 25% mirin, which is a sweet rice wine. Test it. If you don't care for the flavor, adjust with more mirin or consider adding a little sugar, say, 1/8 teaspoon, or maybe honey. I suppose you could also substitute fish sauce for the dashi, which is basically an anchovy concoction. There you go, anchovies and water, if nothing else.

But you don't have to settle for just one dipping sauce. Here's where you can really impress a date. Make two or three different sauces with various flavor profiles. Just throw them together in small amounts and set aside in an arrangement of bowls. Powdered mustard in one, fish sauce in another, wasabi in another, water down a Hoisin sauce then adjust the flavor, with grated ginger, Sriracha, garlic, those sorts of things. Pretend you know what you're doing. Allow your date to taste and to suggest adjustments, drag her into it, allow them to feel useful and creative while learning something.

Kombu = kelp
Bonito = katsuobushi = skipjack tuna
dashi = soup
Sriracha = popular Asian red chile sauce

tempura dipping sauce

The purpose of this tempura was to feature butternut squash. It's very good in tempura form, as is sweet potato, but they must be cooked first otherwise they will not have enough time in the oil to finish. A few minutes in the microwave with a little water was sufficient to soften them for tempura. I also steamed the green beans while I was at it. The rest of the ingredients were just things I had on hand, onion, mushrooms, catfish works particularly well, and shrimp.

tempura ingredients

The batter can be prepared any number of ways, but it must be cold. Today I decided to use beer because I was in the mood to finish the bottle. This ale worked especially well. If I hadn't used beer, then lighten the batter by including a trace amount of baking powder along with whatever combination of flours you use. I like to use a combination of milled flours; rice flour, corn starch, regular wheat flour, all three at once. Any one can be used alone, results vary. The tempura ingredients are coated first with dry flour before being dipped into the batter made with the same flour mixture. This helps the batter adhere. So, you can mix together the dry ingredients in one bowl, then divide that between two bowls and add a whipped egg and additional cold liquid to one of the bowls to form a thin batter. Thin batter is better. Glumpy thick batter is uncool for tempura. I like to flick off most of the batter before dipping it into the hot oil.

* egg whipped
* beer, soda/tonic water, cold tap water
* rice flour
* corn starch
* wheat flour
* salt
* baking powder in tiny amount if not using beer or soda/tonic water
* any dry flavoring that strikes your fancy, or not.

tempura batter

If you ever watch a Japanese cook prepare tempura, you'll notice they don't actually deep fry them, rather, they shallow fry tempura in a wide low cast-iron pan. After adding the battered ingredients the cook stands there and drips more batter directly into the oil onto the edges of the frying ingredients which are floating creating artistically bizarre elaborated leg-like designs of extra fried batter onto the original coated piece that looks like splatters. I do not do that. Tempura is messy enough without all that extra glopping batter added to the disaster already occurring in the kitchen. I'm too much a klutz as it is, and this makes an even greater mess of the oil, and so the oil must be continuously skimmed and raked between batches. But I tell you what, do this with a friend for fun in the kitchen and you'll change their lives permanently with a whole new understanding of how these apparently magical culinary exploits are pulled off, and it will affect their understanding of all fried foods thereafter.

Oil at 350℉. I use a instant-read thermometer to keep it dead on, but that's probably not necessary. You can test with drops of batter. I also turn the handle of the pot inward because I'm just too clumsy to have handles sticking out from pots with hot oil. I also never fill the pot more than 1/2 full of oil. See? This is one idiot that manages to learn from mistakes.

tempura being deep fried

Conclusion: Butternut squash is superb as a tempura ingredient. I should have used more.

No comments:

Blog Archive