Tempura is one of my favorite Japanese dishes, that was actually introduced into Japan by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Seafood and vegetables are battered and deep-fried and served with a dashi-based dipping sauce. Just like with sushi you are probably not able to obtain the quality of professionally made tempura, but if you follow the recipe it should still be delicious! Making good tempura requires both some skill (to get a light and crunchy crust) and fresh high-quality ingredients. Tempura should be eaten as quickly as possible, so it’s best to make it in an informal setting where you can eat each batch straightaway rather than waiting to serve until everything has been deep-fried. Or you could put the hot oil on a burner in the middle of the table and have everyone deep-fry their own tempura as some kind of fondue.
This time we made shrimp tempura, eggplant tempura and shrim-stuffed shii-take tempura, the latter one of my own inventions. You could also use other vegetables like asparagus, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, shiso leaves, lotus roots, shimeji mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, etc.
Of course you can use instant dashi for the dipping sauce or use bottled tempura sauce, but I absolutely loved the dipping sauce made with freshly made dashi.
14 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined (you can leave the tail on if you like for a nicer presentation)
8 shii take mushrooms
1 tsp dark Japanese soy sauce
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
For the batter
1 cup ice cold water
1 cup sifted flour + more for dusting [you can substitute part with rice flour for a lighter crust]
1 egg yolk
For the dipping sauce
240 ml (1 cup) dashi
80 ml (1/3 cup) mirin
80 ml (1/3 cup) light Japanese soy sauce
1 cup grated giant white radish (daikon)
4 tsps freshly grated ginger
oil with a high smoke point such as peanut oil
Put 6 of the shrimp with 1 tsp soy sauce and 1 tsp ginger into the food processor.
Process until smooth.
Wipe shii-take mushrooms clean and remove the stems (which are tough). Stuff each shii-take cap with shrimp puree.
Wash and dry the eggplant and cut off both ends. Cut into 1 cm (3/8″) slices and halve each slice.
To prevent shrimp from curling, make a few incisions along the belly (being careful not to cut your hand), making sure not to cut the shrimp.
To make the dipping sauce, start with the dashi.
Mix in light soy sauce and mirin. Heat the sauce gently but do not let it boil.
Put grated daikon and ginger in each bowl.
Add the dashi mixture and mix.
Heat the oil for frying to about 170C/340F. It is best to use a pan on the stove for a more even temperature, but I used an electric fryer anyway since it is easier to handle (and if you have a gas stove it would also be a fire hazard).
Combine the ice cold water and the egg yolk in a bowl and mix just a bit.
Add the flour and again mix just a bit. The batter is supposed to be lumpy to achieve a light coating rather than oily and heavy. The batter should be as cold as possible for best results.
Use up the batter in 20 minutes or less. Make new batter if needed.
Put the food to be deep-fried, a dish with flour for dusting, the batter, the deep fryer and a rack for draining close together.
Do not deep-fry too many items at once, to make sure that the oil stays at 170C/340F.
Dust each item with flour.
Dip each item into the batter, shaking off excess.
Deep-fry until golden, about 3 minutes.
Turn the items in the oil for more even cooking.
Let the items drain on the rack to get rid off excess oil. Serve them quickly to eat them as crunchy as possible.
The shii-take stuffed with shrimp is not authentic to my knowledge, but really good!
Tempura is good with crispy but fruity white wine such as a Verdejo from Rueda (Spain) or sauvignon blanc, or a nice champagne.