American restaurants generally offer something for everyone, using a wide array of ingredients and cooking methods. To do this, kitchens are filled with an army of chefs, sous chefs, line cooks, pastry cooks and so on. To a Japanese chef, this is truly a foreign concept. In Japan, chefs train for their entire lives to master the art of a single technique.
In Hamamatsu, Japan, there is a well-known tempura restaurant called Tenkin. This small restaurant has only one chef. He is such a master of tempura that he tests the temperature of the oil by placing his fingers into it before dropping in the food. Another tempura restaurant, Tsunahachi, in Tokyo, is much larger but still has only one chef who fries the food, while two sous chefs quickly prepare and batter the ingredients for the chef. To them, tempura isn’t just a cooking technique – it’s a craft.
With so many chefs devoting their lives to this craft, the recipes for tempura vary as much as our grandmothers’ marinara sauces.
Chefs use well-guarded tricks and secret ingredients to make each of their batters unique. But for the rest of us, a reliable and delicious tempura batter is all we need. Over the years, I’ve developed a few tricks of my own and combined them with a few secrets gleaned from the handful of Japanese chefs with whom I’ve had the honor of working.
This recipe seems overly complicated, I know. You’re thinking: “Can’t I just use a fork? Is it really important that I chill the water?” The answers are definitively “no” and “yes,” in that order. These intricate details are what contribute to tempura batter that is light and airy, that barely clings to the food itself and preserves the natural beauty of the individual ingredients. Overmixing the batter with a fork or whisk will break down the glutens and create a thick, doughlike batter. Using chopsticks lessens the likelihood of overmixing and leaves behind little clumps of flour that give you those wonderful air pockets in the fried batter. Keeping the batter cold also prevents glutens from overdeveloping. If you can’t fry the batches quickly enough, you can place your batter over a bowl of ice water to keep it from getting warm.
In the end, if you find that your batter is heavy or mushy, add some more cold water to thin it out and try not to agitate it. Also, don’t overcoat your ingredients – tempura is light and delicate. You’re not frying beer-battered onion rings, after all.
Cassy Vires is the owner and chef of Home Wine Kitchen. She received her culinary training in Houston and has a knack for reimagining classic dishes.
Tempura Green Beans with Tentsuyu Sauce and Daikon
Some of the ingredients may need to be sourced from a specialty market. The authenticity they bring to the dish, however, makes them worth the extra trip. This appetizer will soon become the most popular guest at your party. You may want to make a double batch!
- 1 4-inch piece of kombu seaweed
- 4 cups cold water
- 1 cup bonito flakes
- 1 cup mirin
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp sugar
Tempura Green Beans
- 2 quarts peanut or sesame oil
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup rice flour
- 2 eggs
- 1½ cups tap water, chilled
- 1½ cups soda water, chilled
- 1 lb green beans, trimmed
- shredded daikon radish
- green tea salt, bamboo salt or shiso salt
| Preparation – Tentsuyu Sauce | Lightly wipe the seaweed with a damp towel. Combine the seaweed and cold water in a medium pot and soak for 20 minutes. Bring the water to a boil. Add the bonito flakes and immediately remove from heat. Steep the mixture for 5 minutes and then strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Press the ingredients to extract as much flavor as possible.
Return the strained liquid to the pot and add the mirin, soy sauce and sugar. Bring to a simmer and whisk until the mixture is thick and flavorful. Set aside until ready to use.
| Preparation – Tempura Green Beans | Heat the oil in a large pot until it reaches 380°F to 390°F on a high-temperature thermometer. Combine the two flours in a large bowl. In a separate small bowl, combine the eggs, tap water and | 1 | soda water. Whisk to combine. Add the egg mixture into the flour mixture in a slow, steady stream, | 2 | whisking with a pair of chopsticks until just combined. The batter will be lumpy and should be of medium thickness – neither pasty nor runny. If it is too thin, it won’t adhere to the vegetables properly. Add a bit more rice flour, 1 Tbsp at a time, until it is thick enough to coat a spoon but still runs off easily.
| 3 | In small batches, dip the green beans into the batter and toss to coat. Remove from the batter and allow excess batter to drip off. | 4 | Carefully place the green beans into the hot oil and use chopsticks to constantly turn and move them. Fry until golden-brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the green beans and drain them on a paper towel-lined plate.
Repeat the process with the remaining green beans. Between each batch, be sure to spoon out any bits of batter remaining in the oil to prevent burning and allow the oil temperature to return to at least 380°F before adding more green beans.
| To Serve | Place the tempura green beans on a large serving platter and garnish with finely grated daikon radish, specialty salt and tentsuyu sauce.