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7th January is National Tempura Day


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Jump to:-    What is Tempura?   |   History of Tempura   |  How to make Tempura Batter  |  Ingredients used to make Tempura  | Steps to Cooking Tempura  | Tempura Recipes



What is Tempura?


Tempura is the generic name given to food including vegetables, meat, poultry, fish and seafood, which is coated in a light batter and quickly deep fried. Generally the foods are cut into small pieces and the cooked tempura is served hot often with a dipping sauce.



History of Tempura


Whilst Tempura is generally regarded by most as a traditional Japanese dish, it is interesting to note that it was actually introduced to Japan by early Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in the mid 16th century.


Although it may seem a strange dish  to be introduced, and not particularly Portuguese,  it is perhaps more understandable when you consider that the Jesuit priests would strictly observe religious Ember Days, "quattuor anni tempora "  when they would abstain from eating meat, so seafood was the natural replacement and what nicer way than to be battered and deep fried.

Despite the Portuguese missionaries having been expelled by the late 1500's, tempura continued to be cooked and eaten in Japan and by the 18th century, it had become a popular dish, often sold from wheeled carts in the streets.


Today there are many tempura restaurants in Japan called tenpura-ya, which stick to the age-old custom of chefs cooking and serving the tempura  in front of the diners, ensuring the freshest of  ingredients and the finished dish is served.  Tempura is also served as part of a meal and  is also a popular ingredient in take-aways or convenience store bento lunch boxes.


Tempura is also popular in many other parts of the world where chefs and home cooks use local non-traditional foods such as courgettes and broccoli.

Tempura Batter

The batter used for tempura must be very light and thin enough to give the ingredients being used an almost see-through crispy coating. Although special  tempura flour is available in specialist stores,  it is very easy to use everyday ingredients to achieve a good tempura batter.


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The main ingredients are flour, cold water and a little salt however as with many recipes, different chefs will have their own versions which may include eggs or the use of carbonised water, cornflour, baking powder and even ice plus added seasonings such as pepper, paprika, curry powder, ground cumin and turmeric. 


Wheat and gluten free flours can also be used to make tempura batter. The batter should be quite thin - about the consistency of un-thickened double cream.


Whichever batter recipe you choose to make, it is very important to follow a couple of rules to ensure the batter is light and crisp


1. Always use ice cold water dropping a few ice cubes in if necessary to bring the temperature down then re-measure the required amount of water


2. Only make the batter when you are ready to fry the tempura - preferably preparing the solid ingredients  before you start making the batter


3. The batter ingredients should be mixed together as briefly as possible to prevent the gluten in the flour from being over worked which leads to a more stodgy batter coating.


4. Mix the liquid ingredients together first, then whisk in the flour with a fork as quickly as possible. Its perfectly ok to leave very small lumps of flour in the mixture which add to the crisp texture once fried


5. Never allow the batter to stand for any length of time


Preparation of Ingredients for Tempura

Traditional Japanese tempura is made with ingredients such as prawns, squid, eel, Japanese aubergines, kabocha squash and white sweet potato. However many foods lend themselves to cooking tempura style. So long as it can be cut into relatively small pieces and withstand a short high frying temperature without losing its shape, the possibilities are endless.


Most raw vegetables such as carrots, mushrooms, green beans, capsicums, butternut squash and even okra make great tempura as do thin slivers of raw fish, chicken and beef.  Just remember to keep the pieces small enough so they cook through in a couple of minutes to ensure the batter doesn't brown too much.


Make sure the food is relatively dry so the batter sticks to it and dry on kitchen paper if necessary.


Sample of ingredients which can be used for Tempura plus preparation sizes


Asparagus Small - whole
Large - cut into lengths
Aubergine (Eggplant) 6mm/" thick slices (halved if very large)
Beans (Green) Small - whole
Large - halved cut into lengths
Beef Bite sized pieces up to 12mm/ " thick. Dust with flour before coating
Broccoli Cut into small florets Butternut Squash up to 12mm/ " thick
Capsicums up to 12mm/ " thick slices or strips Carrots 6mm/" thick slices or sticks
Cauliflower Cut into small florets Chicken Bite sized pieces less than 12mm/ " thick. Dust with flour before coating
Courgettes less than 12mm/ " thick Slices or sticks Fish Bite sized pieces up to 12mm/ " thick. Dust with flour before coating
Mushrooms Small - whole
Large - halved or quartered
Okra Halve lengthways
Plantain Peeled, up to 12mm/ " thick slices Prawns Whole, peeled. Leave the tail on to make placing in the oil easier
Onions up to 12mm/ " thick slices Scallops Small - whole
Large - halved
Squid up to 12mm/ " thick rings or strips Sweet Potato 6mm/" thick slices or batons


Cooking Tempura


An  important factor to producing crisp tempura is in the frying. These are  deep fried. The oil should be heated to 190C/375F to ensure the tempura cooks quickly enough and doesn't soak up too much oil.  Do not bother using olive oil or other expensive oils: ordinary vegetable oil such as sunflower is all that is required.


To further encourage this, it is imperative that you don't overload the pan as this lowers the temperature of the oil resulting in greasy tempura. Only add a few pieces at a time which should cook in 2-3 minutes.


You can tell when the oil is at the right temperature by dropping half a teaspoon of batter into the oil. If it drops just below the surface then bounces back up to the top then it's at the right temperature. If it sinks to the bottom and slowly rises, the oil is not hot enough. If it skims across the surface, the oil is too hot.


If you are cooking a large quantity, it's also therefore a good idea to pre-heat the oven to low so that when the first batch has been made and drained on kitchen paper, it can be placed in the oven to keep warm and crisp whist you make the rest. If possible try to keep the oven door ajar which will also facilitate keeping the batter crisp.


Steps in preparing and cooking tempura


1. Prepare the solid ingredients, if necessary cutting into thin (maximum 12mm/" thick or less for dense ingredients such as potatoes and carrots)  bite-sized pieces.  All but the largest of prawns can be left whole. Dry the ingredients on kitchen paper which helps the batter adhere to the food


2. Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer (or large saucepan) to 190C/375F and preheat the oven if necessary


3. Make the batter as quickly as you can - do not over-mix


4. Once the oil is at temperature, dip a few pieces of the ingredients into the batter, SHAKE OFF THE EXCESS BATTER (the food should only have a very light batter coating) then carefully place directly into the hot oil. Do not place onto a frying basket  although if you have a basket, it is useful to have it lowered in the fryer before adding the tempura to make removal and draining of excess oil easier


5. Once the batter is light, crisp and golden brown, about 2 minutes, drain on kitchen paper then, if required, place in the oven to keep warm


6. Bring the oil back up to temperature if necessary before frying the next batch



Tempura Recipes


Below are just a few tempura recipes including basic tempura batter recipes to help get you started


Tempura Batter Recipes

Egg Tempura Batter Recipe

Ice Tempura Batter Recipe

Lager Tempura Batter Recipe

Vegan Tempura Batter

Wheat Free Tempura Batter


Full Tempura Recipes

Courgette Tempura    HT  Veg  HD  ACC  15mins

Chicken Tempura   HT  MC  Japanese  15mins

Dairy Free Chicken Tempura      HT  MC  15mins

Wheat Free Chicken Tempura     HT  MC  15mins

Vegetarian Tempura    Veg  HT MC  25mins

Aubergine Tempura    HT  Veg  HD  ACC  30mins

Chilli Prawn Tempura    HT  MC  30mins

Eggless Seafood Tempura    HT  MC  30mins



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