Asparagus Tempura

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

dipping sauce:

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.

9 thoughts on “Asparagus Tempura

  1. Robert-Gilles Martineau

    Bravo dear Sissi!
    This tempura certainly looks nice and scrumptious!
    One hint: When you drop the tempura into the oil, do it holding one end and drop by “pulling” at the same time so that it will cook evenly!
    Best regards,
    Robert-Gilles

    1. sissi Post author

      Thank you, Robert-Gilles, and welcome! It is my first tempura, so I am extremely happy it looks vaguely edible to you 🙂
      Thank you very much for the tip, I would have never thought about a special way of dropping the food into the oil. I’ll try doing as you say next time.

  2. Robert-Gilles Martineau

    Dear Sissy!
    Upon checking I found out that the Japanese growers do not sell chives with their flowers as the chives themselves become too hard for their taste.
    Now, an idea would be to stew them with meat as they would still contribute taste!
    Cheers,
    Robert-Gilles

    1. sissi Post author

      Robert-Gilles, thank you once more for the answer to my “flowers problem”. I haven’t thought about the taste change, but the chives which have flowers become thicker than the others (mine are twice as thick). My flowers are an unwanted accident which I hoped I could transform into something yummy. Stewing with meat seems a great idea. Thank you!

    1. sissi Post author

      I like it in any form too! I always cook the asparagus only a bit, it always stays crunchy, but tempura batter gives it another layer of crunch 🙂

  3. Shilpa

    Hi Sissi…Your mackerel tempura post led me to this post…and now, I want to make this…I have asparagus and all the ingredients for the dipping sauce but do not have the tempura mix. Can I make it with flour? It looks so appetising and yummy…as always a pleasure to read…My husband though would love to have the mackerel tempura 🙂

    Thanks to you and Nami, am learning so much about the healthy Japanese cuisine…

    -Shilpa

    1. sissi Post author

      Hi Shilpa, you are lucky to have asparagus! I no longer see them here on the markets…
      I have never made the tempura mix on my own. Here is the link do Hiroyuki’s Blog on Japanese Cooking and his post about home-made tempura mix and in general tempura: http://hiro-shio.blogspot.com/2011/05/tempura-making-2.html. I hope it helps.
      Thank you for kind words, I’m very flattered that you put me and Nami in the same sentence about the Japanese cuisine 😉
      Let me know if you have any problems with tempura!

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