Batter up! Tempura is lightly fried

July 28, 1993|By Jimmy Schmidt | Jimmy Schmidt,Knight-Ridder News Service

Today's lesson: Modern-style crispy tempura frying.

* Why tempura fried food tastes so good: The thin, almost translucent batter transfers heat from the oil immediately into the food. The juices from the food turn to steam and do the real cooking. The steam keeps the fats from entering the food. The result is light and delicate fried food.

* Advantages: The crispy thin batter contains a small portion of the fat found in traditional heavy frying. The thin batter also allows the flavor of the vegetable, fish, shellfish or poultry as well as the spices and seasonings to shine through.

* Tricks of the trade: The secret to great tempura is to keep the batter thin and ice cold. The batter should be made with ice water and is best if held in a bowl over ice.

* Preparing your tempura foods: Use vegetables, fish, shellfish or poultry. Cut the foods into small portions -- even bite-size -- that will cook fast.

* Preparing the tempura batter: The easiest way is to buy packaged tempura mix, which usually is mixed with egg white and ice cold water. The mix is available at most specialty grocers and some supermarkets. Or follow the recipe below.

* Preparing the frying oil: Traditional Japanese tempura relies on a blend of special oils, typically peanut and sesame, to impart an Asian flavor. For modern, lighter, American tastes, I prefer a low-cholesterol blend of canola and olive oil; olive oil adds a delicate flavor. Heat the oil to 375 degrees in a deep, heavy skillet or saucepan filled just enough to cover.

* The cooking begins: Dip chilled prepared foods in batter one piece at a time, allowing excess batter to run off. Carefully ease foods into the hot oil, making sure they don't touch in the pan. Cook until golden, turning as necessary to ensure all surfaces are evenly crisp. Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately or keep hot in a warm oven. Foods will soften while waiting. Skim any food particles from the oil between batches.

*

PTC Try your techniques with a recipe for tempura soft-shell crabs and scallion aioli sauce.

Soft-shell crabs with lemon tempura

Serves 4.

Canola or olive oil, or equal parts of both, for frying

2 cups tempura mix (see below)

3 tablespoons finely grated fresh lemon rind

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh lime rind

salt to taste

1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste

12 soft-shell crabs, cleaned (see cook's note)

2 lemons, cut in half

1/2 cup parsley, washed, dried, chopped

1 cup scallion aioli sauce (see below)

Fill a large, heavy, deep skillet with oil to a depth of 3 inches. Heat over medium-high to 375 degrees. In a medium-size bowl, combine tempura mix and lemon and lime rinds. Season with salt and red pepper flakes.

Dip crabs in the batter, then remove to a rack set over a cookie sheet to allow excess batter to drip off. Lower crabs into the hot oil and cook until golden, about 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels, then transfer to a large bowl. Squeeze lemons over the crabs, add parsley leaves and toss. Divide onto serving plates. Drizzle with aioli sauce and serve.

Note: Clean crabs by pulling the key (lower belly flaps) and opening the body shell. Remove the lungs and guts, then replace the body shell. Snip the face, if you choose. Keep refrigerated until ready to cook.

Tempura mix

Makes about 2 cups

1 large egg yolk

2 cups ice-cold water

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

In a medium bowl. combine egg yolk with ice water and baking soda. Whisk in the flour very slowly to avoid lumps. The batter should be just thick enough to coat the food.

Note: One large whipped egg white may be substituted for the egg yolk.

Scallion aioli sauce

Makes 2 cups

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 bunch of scallions, green part included, chopped fine

1 cup virgin olive oil

salt to taste

Tabasco sauce to taste

In a microwave-safe dish, combine lime and lemon juices and egg yolks with 1 tablespoon of water. Heat the egg yolk mixture at high (100 percent power) for 15 seconds or so until it begins to expand. Remove from the microwave and mix well with a clean fork. Return to the microwave for 15 seconds and mix well, repeating until the mixture reaches 170 degrees as read on a small instant thermometer. This should take about five or so heating processes.

In a blender, combine yolk mixture, mustard and scallions. On high speed, gradually add olive oil in a steady stream until thick. Season with salt and Tabasco. Refrigerate until ready to use. Can be made two days ahead.

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