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The Science of Tempura Japanese Batter

The Science of Tempura Japanese Batter

What is tempura and how to make the perfect tempura batter? Some science tips will let you know how to prepare this Japanese recipe to fry fish or vegetables.

By FDL on

At times, happiness can be a sound: “crunch”. That’s what you hear when you bite into a tasty fried morsel or, better still, a perfectly made tempura: "Crunch", followed by a flavour that explodes on the palate. You chew it quickly already anticipating the pleasure of biting into another crisp morsel. But what is tempura? Tempura is a typical Japanese recipe often served and enjoyed at a restaurant table because few of us would dream of trying to prepare it ourselves. And yet, tempura is not so complicated to make even though we have to know what we are dealing with.

Basically, tempura is method for frying fish or vegetables, using a very light batter made from chilled water, flour and eggs. In brief, it may appear to be a normal fry-up, but you cannot imagine how many little secrets are involved in turning out the sort of tempura you enjoy eating at your favourite restaurant. Let’s start from the oil: as we already told you in our article dedicated to the science of frying food, it is important to use a quality oil, preferably olive or peanut. In this case however, keep an eye on the temperature which should be higher than usual, around 190-195 °C. In fact, tempura calls for brief immersions and therefore higher temperatures to cook the food in less time.

The real secret of perfect tempura, however, lies in the batter: how to get it thin, light and ready to pass the “crunch” test? First and foremost, use very cold sparkling water: the bubbles do in fact help make the mixture light, while the low temperature makes the batter adhere to the food. Then, add vodka to the water. Odd, isn’t it? When water comes into contact with the flour, it forms gluten: this is a sticky substance that is very important for a successful tempura, but if we overmix the batter, this will result in too much gluten and a “gluey” effect that absorbs oil and makes the fried food heavy. Hence the vodka: a liquor consisting of 60% water and 40% alcohol, and the latter does not form gluten. This is the way to avoid an excess formation of gluten, which keeps the batter fluid so that it entirely covers the food we are going to fry. Prepared in this way, the outer surface of the fried food is thin, golden and very very crisp. So, what about putting what we have learned into practice?

Our recipe explains how to make a typical prawn tempura, the most mouth-watering version but also the most “challenging” for an accomplished chef. We need plenty of peanut oil, two cups of type 00 flour, half a cup of cornstarch, 1 glass of vodka, 1 glass of very cold sparkling mineral water, 1 egg and salt to taste. And of course prawns: with this amount of batter, we can prepare about a dozen nice big ones. The first thing to do is to heat the oil in a frying pan. In the meantime, mix the flour and cornstarch in one bowl, and the vodka and egg in another bowl, adding the sparkling water only at the last minute. When the oil is ready, we pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl with the flour and mix thoroughly. The batter is ready: dip half of one prawn (only half, remember) into the batter, letting any excess drain away before putting the prawn into the oil. Let it fry for two to three minutes at the most. As you fry the prawn, use wooden chopsticks to turn it over and, once cooked, place it on absorbent kitchen paper. Tradition has it that prawns should be fried one by one, so that the oil has time to return to an ideal temperature but, with a little experience, you will be able to fry a few morsels at a time. What counts most is that when you taste your tempura, your face will light up on hearing that magical “crunch”. Even in your own home.

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