To the untrained eye, tempura is an unrefined platter made by simply throwing a mix of vegetables or seafood together with batter and deep frying it. Anyone without any sort of culinary experience would be able to do this, right? As it turns out, that could not be farther from the truth in the case of a well-prepared plate of tempura.
What a good tempura chef accomplishes is a crunchy, savoury flavour and texture through finely battering the fruit de mer, and then frying it until a mere lace shell is left. You definitely want to retain the freshness of the seafood or vegetable that you are cooking, while adding the crispy textures associated with any fried food, all while maintaining a lightness throughout. In other words, any heavy tempura is tempura badly cooked.
In keeping with Japanese culinary tradition, using fresh, seasonal ingredients is what keeps the natural flavour of the dish. A typical dipping sauce might incorporate influences from soy, miso, or umeboshi, all of which are prevalent in Japanese foods in general, but there is also the classic yuzu dressing, with a mayonnaise-esque base and the citrus zing from the Japanese yellow, round, acidic yuzu fruit. That said, because the flavours of the dipping sauces and the fried batter are mere garnishes, the most prominent zest will actually be of the primary ingredients themselves.
That’s why it’s of utmost importance to use only the freshest ingredients available to you, whether it is seafood or veggies. Think long and hard about the effort of frying anything that has been in your fridge for more than 36 hours – is it worth producing something that will ultimately have less than ideal freshness?
Setting aside the complexities of all the creatures of the sea, there is a wealth of amazing vegetables to throw in a tempura dish.
With that most important cooking rule out of the way, let’s take an in-depth look at the best vegetable options for this distinctive form of cooking, and some things to know about cooking them.
Generally speaking, different veggies will be available depending on the season. Nevertheless, with the globalised production of food, it is of course possible to import virtually any type of produce practically any time of year. Root vegetables, in particular, come in all shapes and sizes and are universally hearty and dry. For that reason, they fry well in hot oil, retaining their crispness despite being cooked, and so make the perfect candidates. Unlike more moist veggies, which might need to be scored or cut into smaller pieces to avoid their moisture leaking into the oil, root vegetables are lower-maintenance, but on average should be cooked for an additional minute than other veggies (depending on the temperature of the oil, of course).
Some examples of root vegetables good for tempura include:
Truth be told, there are many more options to use for tempura, such as the renkon lotus root, green beans, or even butternut squash. After all, just about any plant can be fried up and served with delicious sauce, so feel free to veer off the beaten path of the classic veggies and experiment!
To try tempura prepared by the experts, visit a Kobe Jones restaurant today. Find the nearest location to you here.