Friday, 9 August 2013

Turning Japanese

I'm still in the lucky position of having great piles of veg ready for eating. The summer sprouting broccoli is up, green and yellow courgettes are everywhere, the red onions and the carrots are all reaching decent sizes

A few of the courgettes had graduated to significantly less appealing marrows. It seems size isn't everything. However, the hens regard marrows as a high treat, so they made short work of the whoppers. The smaller and more tender fruits are much more my thing.

Mark and I had totally failed to do the supermarket shopping this week. We've been popping to the smaller shop at the end of the road for milk and bread and I've been using up the contents of the cupboard and freezer to cobble together meals. The garden has been a great help with this. However, I was getting a bit bored and wanted something new to eat.

I'd read about making vegetable tempura a lot but I've never tried it.  For a start I know nothing about Japanese food aside from having noodles at Wagamama. And for another thing, it looks a bit scary. It's the deep frying. I don't deep fry anything. At all. I like fish and chips from the chippy but that's the full extent of my deep fried dabbling. Partly, all that oil seems pretty wasteful, partly I'm scared it will spatter terribly and burn me, and partly the episode in the first series of Spooks that Mark told me about - I hadn't even watched it - horrified me and I think of it every time I hear the sizzle of fat.

However, that is wussy and daft. It's not wasteful if the veg going in it is free, as long as I am careful and also don't get water near the oil there's no reason it would spit and burn me, and ... well, I couldn't think of anything to banish the Spooks thing but I pushed on regardless.

I picked carrots, broccoli, courgettes and grabbed an onion that had been drying. I washed them all thoroughly to get rid of any insects; I know eating bugs is bandied about in the Guardian as a good form of protein in an overpopulated world but I'm not going for it just now, ta.
I sliced the small courgettes and carrot into narrow lengths, the larger courgette and the onion into disks and left the broccoli florets as they were.

Excuse the rubbish photography - frying dinner and taking quick photos with my phone at the same time mean one or the other will be badly executed. I chose good frying and poor pics as the wise balance.

Anyway, I read a number of tempura recipes that are scattered across my cook books. They all called for sparkling water or, in one case, beer. I don't know about you, my lovely webby mates, but if I am cobbling together a dinner because i haven't done the shopping, sparkling water is not something I will have to hand.  In fact, other than when making a drink with my elderflower cordial that calls for some soda water, my 'water' options are only ever of the tap or tonic varieties, and the latter is only since I discovered how nice a gin and tonic is.

So clearly sparkling water was out of the question.  Then again, tempura is a traditional Japanese dish and I doubt they had sparkling water back in the 1500s. The thing seems to be to keep the batter as light as possible, and both fizzy water and cold water are supposed to help this. But other things help a batter remain light, and they didn't involve a trip to the shops. I went for a 50/50 split of corn flour (cornstarch) and plain flour to achieve that. (I am the sort of person who has corn flour in her cupboards) I added an egg yolk, which 3 of my 4 recipes advised, and ice cold water.  In retrospect popping a couple of ice cubes in the batter would have helped keep it cold for longer as I fried the veg in shifts.  Oh, and I seasoned the batter with salt.
I mixed enough to get it to come together and added enough cold water that the batter would coat my finger when I dipped it in, but only thinly. I dipped and fried the veg a few at a time, for about a minute.
 When I lifted the cooked vegetables out of the cooking oil I placed them on a tray lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.  I actually popped the first few in a lined bowl but that made them go a bit soggy as the heat from each piece sort of steamed the batter of its neighbours. 

I had intended to make a dipping sauce based on soy sauce. Unfortunately, as I rooted about for the sauce I noticed its expiry date was 3 years ago. In the end I just sprinkled a little salt over the top and we tucked straight in. They were just LOVELY. My 11yo, who is usually game for anything, looked at them in disgust. But once he tried a piece it was hard to stop him from scoffing the lot. 

Next time I will make a sauce first - something with a vinegar and chilli kick, I think.  I'd keep the batter cold by either adding ice cubes or having it in my metal mixing bowl sitting inside a bigger bowl lined with ice. I would make the batter slightly thicker, but only slightly. I sloshed a tad more water in than I meant to when I was thinning it down the first time. And I would definitely try it with some prawns or strips of fish as well as the lovely veg if I had any in the kitchen.

Here's my current version of a tempura recipe:
125g corn flour
125g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 large egg yolk 
Very cold water (sparkling if you are feeling all fancy)

Sift the corn flour and plain flour together. add the salt and egg yolk. Stir in just enough water to make a thin batter - I found somewhere around the 1/2 cup/ 125ml level was pretty close. It doesn't matter if the batter is a little lumpy. It makes nice crispy bits on the food that way.
Dip small pieces of vegetables in the batter. Deep fry in hot vegetable oil for a minute or so. Eat while they are still hot.

Do you know what? Even the Spooks thing won't stop me from making this again
J xx

1 comment:

  1. Having read this, while I'm still sure I am going to NEVER deep fry anything (and I've not even seen the Spooks episode) I've really enjoyed making tempura vicariously through your post. Lovely!