A light batter is made of cold water (sometimes sparkling water is used to keep the batter light) and soft wheat flour (cake, pastry or all-purpose flour).Eggs, baking soda or baking powder, starch, oil, and/or spices may also be added. Tempura batter is traditionally mixed in small batches using chopsticks for only a few seconds, leaving lumps in the mixture that, along with the cold batter temperature, result in the unique fluffy and crisp tempura structure when cooked. The batter is often kept cold by adding ice, or by placing the bowl inside a larger bowl with ice in it. Over-mixing the batter will result in activation of wheat gluten, which causes the flour mixture to become chewy and dough-like when fried.
Specially formulated tempura flour is available in worldwide supermarkets. This is generally light (low-gluten) flour and occasionally contains leaveners such as baking powder.
Tempura generally does not use breadcrumbs (panko) in the coating. Generally fried foods which are coated with breadcrumbs are considered to be furai, Japanese-invented western-style deep fried foods, such as tonkatsu or ebi furai (Fried prawn).
Thin slices or strips of vegetables or seafood are dipped in the batter, then briefly deep-fried in hot oil. Vegetable oil or canola oil are most common, however tempura was traditionally cooked using sesame oil. Many specialty shops still use sesame oil or tea seed oil, and it is thought that certain compounds in these oils help to produce light, crispier batter.
When cooking shellfish, squid, or hard-skinned watery vegetables such as bell pepper or eggplant, the skin is usually scored with a knife to prevent the ingredients from bursting during cooking, which can cause serious burns from splashing oil.
Oil temperature is generally kept between 160 and 180 degrees Celsius, depending on the ingredient. In order to preserve the natural flavour and texture of the ingredients, care is taken not to overcook tempura. Cooking times range between a few seconds for delicate leaf vegetables, to several minutes for thick items or large kaki-age fritters.
The bits of batter (known as tenkasu) are scooped out between batches of tempura, so they do not burn and leave a bad flavour in the oil. A small mesh scoop is used for this purpose. Tenkasu are often reserved as ingredients in other dishes or as a topping.
- Seafood: prawn, shrimp, squid, scallop, anago (conger eel), ayu (sweetfish), crab, and a wide variety of fish
- Vegetables: bell pepper, kabocha squash, eggplant, carrot, burdock, green beans, sweet potato, yam, potato, renkon (lotus root), shiitake mushroom, pumpkin, mushrooms, bambooshoots and okra.
Serving and presentation
Kakiage is a type of tempura made with mixed vegetable strips, such as onion, carrot, and burdock, and sometimes including shrimp, which are deep fried as small round fritters.Cooked bits of tempura are either eaten with dipping sauce or used to assemble other dishes. Tempura is commonly served with grated daikon and eaten hot immediately after frying. The most common sauce is tentsuyu sauce (roughly three parts dashi, one part mirin, and one part shoyu). Alternatively, tempura may be sprinkled with sea salt before eating. Mixtures of powdered green tea and salt or yuzu and salt are also used.
Tempura is also used in combination with other foods. When served over soba (buckwheat noodles), it is called tempura soba or tensoba. Tempura is also served as a donburi dish where tempura shrimp and vegetables are served over steamed rice in a bowl (tendon) and on top ofudon soup (Tempura Udon).