What could be better than devouring tempura if you are craving something tasty yet super crispy? Tempura is a popular dish in Japanese restaurants. It is made by coating seafood and vegetables in a light, airy batter and frying them to perfection.
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The great thing about Japanese tempura batter is that it is easy to prepare, and you’ll have your fresh and crunchy tempura ready in no time. Plus, practically anything that can be deep-fried can be coated in tempura batter.
Although shrimp tempura is the best and most popular, fish filets and chicken tenders work for this too. Also, you can coat and fry a range of vegetables in tempura batter, including mushrooms, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and bell peppers.
What is tempura batter? How do you make tempura batter? What ingredients do you need? Stay glued to learn more.
Brief History of Tempura Batter
Tempura has quickly become a global favorite, both as a street food staple in Japan and a restaurant mainstay in countries far beyond its borders. According to history, Portuguese missionaries in Japan during the Muromachi era (the 16th century) introduced the Japanese to the batter style used in tempura.
However, note that deep-frying with flour batter was already a well-established culinary technique in Japan earlier. Therefore, the true birthplace of tempura is debatable.
Some sources say tempura comes from the Portuguese word “tempero,” which means ‘seasonings,’ while others reference the Kanji definition (Japanese-Chinese characters).
What’s evident is tempura became popular among the Japanese during the early Edo period. In fact, by the end of the era, tempura restaurants and shops had opened and were beginning to carve out a niche for themselves. Today, most of the world’s best tempura houses are located in Japan.
Ingredients for Homemade Tempura Batter
The list of ingredients for an authentic tempura batter is short and easy to find. The main ingredients for classic tempura batter are water, eggs, and all-purpose flour.
However, nowadays, you can add different ingredients (e.g., beer or starch) to improve the flavor and texture of the batter.
We add vodka, potato starch, and carbonated water to make our tempura crisp. The potato starch makes the batter lighter and fluffy. If you use only all-purpose flour, your crusts will turn out thick and soggy due to the flour’s high gluten content.
On the other hand, vodka helps to remove excess moisture in the batter, while the carbonated water makes the tempura bubblier and lighter in texture. These ingredients will improve the flavor of your tempura and make the skin extra-crispy.
Where Can I Find Readymade Tempura Batter Mixes?
Yes, you can find premade tempura mixes for sale online or at your local grocery shop. Some popular brands to try include Kikkoman tempura batter, Mr. Hung tempura batter, and Dragonfly tempura batter.
What Can You Deep Fry In a Tempura Batter?
One of the main reasons we love preparing tempura batter is that we can use it to fry almost anything in our fridge. Here’s a list of edibles you can fry in the tempura batter.
The shrimp tempura, also known as Ebi no Tempura (海老の天ぷら), is the most popular tempura. However, you can also use it for other seafood like:
- Sea eel
Vegetables and Seaweeds
Starchy root vegetables like lotus roots and sweet potatoes are ideal for vegetable tempura. Other popular tempura vegetables to deep fry include:
- Bell pepper
- Green beans
- Japanese mushrooms
- Japanese pickled ginger
- Shiso leaves
- Shishito peppers
- Shiitake mushroom
When choosing tempura vegetables, avoid tomatoes, cucumbers, and other watery vegetables. Watery vegetables won’t stick to the batter, and the moisture will cause them to burn easily during cooking.
Meat and Eggs
Most people don’t use meat when preparing tempura because it is considered too heavy for the dish. However, using eggs and chicken (chicken tempura) is common in Oita Prefecture.
Tetsuya Dipping Sauce
If you want to enjoy eating your shrimp tempura, then use some Tetsuya dipping sauce. This sauce is made from mirin, soy sauce, and dashi.
You can add even more flavor to your tempura by squeezing fresh lemon juice over the top. You can eat this crispy tempura batter in just about any way.
Helpful Tips When Making Tempura Batter From Scratch
While the actual process of making the tempura batter is simple, the trick is to avoid overworking it. Here are some tips to help you get crispy batter:
- Choose your flour carefully. All-purpose flour is the most commonly used flour for making tempura batter. However, some people find low-protein flours like cake flour and rice flour or a mix containing corn starch yield better results. To save time, you can also purchase pre-mix tempura flour from your local grocery store.
- It is important to keep all your ingredients cold to get the tempura crispier, light, and fluffy and prevent the gluten from overdeveloping. This includes your flour, water, egg, and even bowl. Plus, note that cold batter doesn’t absorb excess oil as it fries.
- Don’t add ice cubes to the batter.
- Don’t make the tempura batter ahead of time. Doing so will cause gluten to form and ruin the dish. So, only prepare the batter ingredients when you are ready to begin frying.
- Make sure to use chopsticks to mix and avoid overmixing the batter since this can cause gluten formation and ruin the texture of the tempura.
- Lightly coat your ingredients in a bowl of potato starch before dipping them in the batter. This helps the batter stick to the ingredient.
- To make tempura, deep-fry the ingredients in neutral cooking oil at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until lightly golden. Use an instant-read thermometer to get an accurate temperature reading.
- The batter won’t become dark brown since it contains potato starch. Therefore, you can pull out the tempura when it becomes crunchy and light gold.
Tips for Preparing the Shrimp
Clean the shrimp by removing their heads and rinsing them under fresh running water. Hold the shrimp horizontally (with the belly up) on your cutting board. Next, straighten the shrimps by scoring very shallow vertical cuts on their bellies (about 1/8 inch deep).
Alternatively, you can place skewers along the shrimp’s body to hold them straight when frying. Scoring the belly, though, keeps the shrimps pretty straight, at least in my experience. Spread a thin layer of potato starch over the shrimp so the batter will stick to them.
Shake off any excess before lowering the shrimp into the hot oil carefully. For extra-crispy shrimp, dunk your hand in the prepared batter and carefully sprinkle it over the shrimp as it fries.
You can also use chopsticks or spoons if you don’t want your hands covered in batter. This method of preparing shrimp is called “Hana o sakaseru” in Japanese. Using this traditional process helps ensure that the tempura tendrils all the way down the shrimp’s body are extra crispy.
Easy Japanese Tempura Batter Recipe
- Mixing bowls
- Measuring cup
- Paper towels
- Cooling rack
- Heavy-bottomed pot
- All-purpose flour ¾ c
- One large egg
- Potato starch ½ c
- Chilled vodka ¼ c)
- Chilled carbonated water ¾ c
Vegetables and Shrimp
- Peeled and deveined shrimp ½lb
- Evenly sliced and prepared vegetables 2 c
Tetsuya Dipping Sauce
- Mirin ¼ c
- Soy sauce ¼ c
- Water 1 c
- Dashi mix 2g
Step One: Preparing the Shrimp and Vegetables
- Clean and remove the head of your shrimp. Devein the shrimp by pulling the vein via the hole left when the head was removed. Straighten the shrimp neatly on a paper towel-lined plate to dry.
- Next, wash your vegetables and allow them to dry off before dunking them in the batter.
- Cut your root vegetables into ⅛ even slices so they can cook properly. Keep the top of your eggplants intact and slice the vegetable from the middle down to the bottom. Your eggplant slices should look like a fan. For kabocha, slice the vegetable into half, remove the seeds, and then slice it into ⅛ inch pieces. For zucchini, remove the tops and slice the vegetable lengthwise into ¼-inch-wide strips.
Step Two: Preparing the Tempura Batter
- Double-check and ensure that all your ingredients are dry and moisture free. This step is very important.
- Get your heavy-bottomed pit, pour about two inches of clean new oil from the pot's bottom, and heat to 350 °F. You can fry using sesame oil (for a delicious and nutty aroma) or canola oil. However, note that frying at medium or low temperatures (between 320-340°F) will cause the batter to sink before coming back up.
- Next, pour the flour and half your potato starch into a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Save the remaining potato starch for coating your ingredients just before dipping them in the batter.
- Grab another bowl and add your cold vodka and egg. Mix thoroughly and then stir in the carbonated water.
- Now carefully add the wet batter to the bowl and then use your chopsticks to stir quickly for one to two minutes. Lift the mixing bowl and try moving it around in circular motions while stirring.
- Be careful not to overmix the batter; otherwise, you'll end up with chewy tempura. Ideally, your batter should have some lumps in it.
- Get a separate shallow mixing bowl and pour in ¼ cup of potato starch. Spread a thin layer of potato starch over the vegetables and shrimp.
Step Three: Frying the Shrimp
- Hold the shrimp by the tail and dunk it into the batter. Ensure that the shrimp is thoroughly covered.
- Next, carefully lower the coated shrimp into the hot oil and let it fry. This is the right time to dip your hands into the batter and sprinkle some over the shrimp as it fires. Remember, this step makes the tempura extra-crispy.
- Turn the shrimp after one minute and allow it to fry until light golden brown. Remove the shrimp from heat and allow them to cool on a paper towel-lined rack.
Step Four: Frying the Vegetables
- Carefully pour the battered vegetables into the oil and allow them to cook. Note that vegetables require only about one to two minutes to cook. Eggplant takes one minute to cook, while kabocha and root vegetables take about two to three minutes to cook.
- Ensure the vegetables cook properly by turning them regularly. Once cooked, remove the vegetables from the oil and transfer them to a paper towel-lined rack to cool. Your cooked vegetables should have a pale blonde color.
Step Five: Preparing the Tetsuya Dipping Sauce
- Pour one cup of water into a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat
- Next, add your mirin, soy sauce, and dashi mix to the pot and allow it to boil for one minute.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and serve the dipping sauce in a small sauce dish.
The Impact of Starch on Tempura Batter
The amount and type of starch you use for frying affects the crispiness of tempura. Wheat flour with a higher protein content produces a more robust crust due to the high amount of gluten in the batter.
Note that gluten is great at soaking up fat and moisture. As a result, if your crust has a higher protein content, it will turn out oilier and chewier. Bread flour has high protein content (12-16% protein), while all-purpose flour has moderate protein content (10-12), which is why the latter is commonly used for tempura batters.
The developed gluten makes it possible for the batter to stick to the food without resulting in an overly oily or chewy crust. However, too much flour will produce a batter with a very tough crust, and too little flour will produce a fragile crust.
In case you didn’t know, you can lower the gluten level of the batter by combining wheat flour with other flour that contains less or no gluten at all.
Rice flour, cornstarch, and pastry flour are good examples of low-gluten flours. Cornstarch and rice flour don’t absorb fat and moisture as much as wheat flour. Plus, they make the fried batter crispier and less greasy.
Tempura batter is easy to make, and the necessary ingredients are quite easy to find. All you need are vegetables, shrimp, all-purpose flour, and water. You can refer to my tempura batter recipe listed in this article to make delicious tempura.
However, ensure you read through and follow each step carefully, so you don’t overwork the batter. Enjoy your delicious tempura batter.