Tempura (天ぷら), batter-coated deep-frying, belongs to “agemono (揚げ物)”, or Japanese deep-frying methods. Tempura is used with different vegetables, mushrooms, seafood and fish and the resulting dishes are covered in crunchy, bubbly, thin layer of extremely light and transparent coating. Even though its preparation steps are ridiculously easy, tempura has a reputation of the most difficult agemono method, the lumpy consistency of the batter being the hardest part to achieve (especially for someone used to smooth, Western-style batters). However, this lumpiness and ice-cold temperature are crucial if one wants to achieve the typical tempura dish look, crunch and taste. Even though the tempura batter – composed of yolks, flour and water – can be easily made from the scratch, the ready-to-use dry mixture is quicker, it can be bought in every Japanese grocer shop and allows making very small batches (like the one below). This shortcut is also probably the best to start with, given the difficulty of this method.
I must admit I have had the tempura mixture in my kitchen for at least a year. I tried it only once, the attempt was a complete failure and discouraged me for quite a long time. However, admiring the bean sprouts in tempura, featured on Hiroyuki’s Blog and thanks to his kind tempura recipe translation and explanations, I decided to give it another go. Scared of repeating my tempura failure I also re-read the detailed instructions in my Japanese cooking reference book by Shizuo Tsuji (Japanese cooking. A simple art) and started experimenting. Bean sprouts tempura proved very quickly to be definitely not for the beginners, but the green asparagus, one of my favourite vegetables and in season now, was a huge hit. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed my asparagus tempura, I am sure I haven’t managed the correct “bubbly” tempura coating and only hope it will get better in time. My not-so-perfect tempura was crunchy, light and brought out the asparagus delicate taste so well, it is now officially my favourite asparagus recipe. In short, the devil is not so black as he is painted and I should have reopened my tempura mix a long time ago!
Tempura is usually served with the below dipping sauce (taken from Shizuo Tsuji’s book). However, if you don’t have the necessary ingredients, the asparagus is delicious dipped in raw yolk with a bit of salt and pepper or in a soft-boiled egg. I also enjoyed it with my last year’s hot and smoky strawberry sauce.
There are two tempura methods. The first one consists only of dipping the food into the batter, while the second requires coating the food in the flour before the dipping step. I have chosen the first one for my asparagus. I used only the upper half of thin (5-7mm thick) green asparagus and cut this part in two in order to achieve bite-sized pieces. If you want to use the thicker parts too or if your asparagus is thicker, you should blanch it first for 1 minute, transfer it quickly into cold water, dry thoroughly and then dip into the tempura batter.
Preparation: 20 minutes
Ingredients (serves two as a starter, side-dish or a snack):
10 x 5-7 mm thin green asparagus upper halves (or 2/3, only the lower very hard parts removed)
3 tablespoons tempura mixture+ 3 tablespoons ice-cold water
(a couple of tablespoons flour if following the second 2-step method)
oil for deep-frying
60 ml dashi (Japanese stock)
20 ml mirin (sweet cooking sake)
20 ml soy sauce
a couple of tablespoons grated Japanese radish (daikon)
1-2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
Preheat the oil to about 170-180°C.
Prepare the asparagus tips and pat them dry.
Combine very roughly and quickly the tempura mix with ice-cold water (the chopsticks are here perfect, since they will not produce a smooth batter, but a lumpy one).
Check the oil temperature by dropping a bit of the batter. If it stays only a bit under the surface and then quickly moves up and starts bubbling, the temperature is good.
Dip the asparagus in the batter and deep fry for about one minute.
Drain with a slotted spoon and put on paper towels before serving.