I don’t know what it is but Asian food really is my favorite. So I looked through the Williams-Sonoma Asian Cookbook and decided to make Vegetable and Shrimp Tempura for dinner.
I’d normally make my own beer-batter tempura, but there’s a neat little authentic Vietnamese restaurant in Brunswick called Pho #1, and they have an Asian market attached to the restaurant. Just mumbling through the items on the shelves – literally mumbling – does anyone else feel like because it’s written in English if you say it you automatically understand it? Yea, you won’t. I came across a tempura batter mix called Bot Chien Tom Va Chuoi. No idea what it means, but I thought I’d check it out.
Pre-prepared mixes that only require the addition of water, normally always needs tweaking. After adding the water it asked for, it was still the consistency of bread dough- so then I started to play with it. I threw in a few shots of La Croix soda water, to help aerate the tempura, and a few shots of beer. The carbonation in these ingredients help keep a lighter tempura and make a better breading. I also threw in a few ice cubes. Keeping your tempura batter extra cold helps it stick better to whatever you’re frying. When I finally got to the right consistency, it was a little thicker than pancake batter. I also added a few spices to my liking: cayenne, onion, salt, white pepper, and granulated garlic. The recipe below is just an average, easy tempura batter, so feel free to add what you want for flavor.
For the fryer:
1 bottle oil- peanut, vegetable or canola
1 portobella mushroom (or some baby button mushrooms)
6 baby carrots, halved
1/2 pound Wild Georgia Shrimp
For the dipping sauce:
1 fresh lime
1 cup dashi
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup of or other rice vinegar
For the Tempura Batter, mix all ingredients together, thoroughly. If it has chunks, you will have little balls of dry flour and cornstarch and it doesn’t look as good. Keep it in the fridge until you are ready to cook.
For the Sauce, it’s basically like a teriyaki sauce, with a fresh squeezed lime to tang up the flavor. Also, the dashi adds quite a different flavor as well. You can’t normally buy dashi, but it’s basically a fish stock. Most people might get grossed out by this but I don’t care, you don’t have to add this to your sauce, but you should live a little and just see how it turns out. To make it, take about 10 whole anchovies and sear them off in a pan until they are really hot and crackling. Once seared on both sides, add 2 cups of water and boil until you only have a cup of water left. Strain it and there you go – dashi. Personally, I seared off half that many anchovies and used some anchovy juice instead. The sauce is easy. Throw all the ingredients together and simply reduce the sauce to your preferred consistency. For those of you who don’t know what a reduction, or redux, sauce is- it’s simply a sauce that has been reduced by cooking out the water, which is why the longer it cooks, the thicker it gets.
While the sauce is reducing, go ahead and heat your oil up to around 325 degrees. Putting an eye on med high, then lowering it to medium is normally a good way to go to get the right temperature. Want to know how to check the oil? Run your fingers under water, and flick a very tiny amount of water in the oil- you’ll know the difference in temperature by the crackling the oil makes. Be careful not to let it splash on you, it will burn.
What I did with my vegetables is pretty standard, but you can cut them however you like. I cut the portabella in thick strips and just halved the baby carrots. Yes, baby carrots are a little more expensive, but they’re already peeled and the shape stays consistent. I cut the zucchini in flat slabs and halved the length; however, I would suggest cutting them about 1/4 an inch thick on a bias (diagonal cut).
Now frying tempura vegetables you have a few options before you drop the vegetable or shrimp in the tempura batter. One approach, which I used, is a lot cleaner than the other and it involves dredging your ingredient in flour before you drop it in the tempura batter. Dredging means just tossing your ingredient in flour. The flour sticks to the moisture giving it an additional little layer. The messier way, will provide more flavor.
The second pre-tempura process involves an egg wash. Take four eggs and mix it with equal parts water- or half water and half buttermilk if you have it! Mix it up with a fork and drench your ingredient in the wash, dredge it in flour, then cook it in your hot oil.
It takes a hot second dipping and frying and what not so I started out with the carrots. Because they take longer to cook, they don’t lose their heat. After that I went ahead and fried the zucchini and mushrooms, and ended with the shrimp. For the vegetables, let them fry for about 3 – 4 minutes, until they have a nice golden crust. The shrimp only need about 2-3 minutes. Over cooking shrimp make them taste rubbery so don’t over cook them!
For a nice garnish, keep two of the scallions whole and fry them whole- it will look really nice. Also, save the last one and cut it on a bias for garnish. After you plate your vegetables, pour a little of the sauce on top, and sprinkle the cut green onions. Here’s how mine turned out..