Tempura (Fried Seafood and Vegetables with Ponzu Tsuyu)
When people ask me to suggest a simple but authentic Japanese recipe they can work into their culinary repertoire, tempura is usually my response. It's easy, it's delicious, and it can be made with ordinary cupboard ingredients - nothing more exotic than soy sauce.
Tempura is an izakaya staple beloved throughout Japan, but its origins lie in Kyushu. We know it comes from the Portuguese, but beyond that we can't be sure what the first tempura was like - some early recipes actually describe a dish similar to Nanban-zuke. But this recipe is for tempura in its modern form, with the lightest of batters providing a crunchy enclosure in which the contents essentially steam in their own moisture. This is more a technique than an actual recipe - the specific ingredients I leave up to you. It's a fantastic way to make the most super-fresh seasonal vegetables and fish, and also a great way to use up odds and ends of vegetables left in the fridge. We've all been stuck with a third of an aubergine or four lonely asparagus spears and not known what to do with them. Tempura is the answer.
- For the ponzu tsuyu:
- 100ml dashi
- 100ml ponzu
- For the tempura:
- 300-400g fresh vegetables - asparagus, courgette, broccoli, mushrooms, onion and squash are some of my favourites
- 400-500g boneless and skinless white fish fillets (sole, plaice, whiting, pollock, cod, etc.) or 8 large raw king prawns, shelled and deveined
- 500ml cold sparkling water
- vegetable oil, for deep frying
- 1 egg
- 220g plain flour
- pinch salt
For the ponzu tsuyu:
To make ponzu, mix together 150ml soy sauce, 1tbsp mirin, 1tbsp rice vinegar, juice of 2 limes or 1 lemon, or 2 tbsp yuzu juice and sugar, to taste - start with 1 tsp and add more as needed. Ponzu should be quite sharp; the sugar is just to take the edge off, not to make the pozu noticeably sweet.
Mix together 100ml of dashi and 100ml of ponzu and set aside.
For the tempura:
Watch Tim Anderson making tempura in our video or follow the instructions below.
Prepare the vegetables by cutting them into pieces that will cook quickly, bearing in mind that some vegetables cook faster than others. For example, leave asparagus whole, but cut onions into thick slices and the squash into thin slices. Cut the fish fillets into 3cm strips.
Heat your oil to 180°C in a deep, wide saucepan or wok, or in a deep-fryer. While it's coming up to temperature, make the batter. Combine the sparking water, egg, flour and salt in a bowl and whisk until it is the consistency of double cream. Don't overmix - small lumps are good as they will cause the batter to puff up and become light. It is also important to make the batter just before frying, so that the bubbles stay in the mixture and it stays cold. This will help create a light, delicately crunchy texture without excess oil. If you don't have a thermometer, you can test the temperature by dropping a little batter into the oil; if it sinks and doesn't rise, it's too cold; if it immediately floats and starts to brown, it's too hot; if it sinks for a moment and then floats, it's perfect.
Dredge the vegetables in the batter and fry for just 3-4 minutes, until the batter is a light golden brown. Drain on a wire rack. Repeat this process with the fish or king prawns. Don't crowd the pan as this will cause the tempura to stick together and lower the temperature of the oil.
Termpura is best eaten fresh out of the fryer - ideally, you should eat them as soon as they come out, then go back and fry some more. However you can also keep them hot and crisp in an oven set to about 100°C/80°C (fan)/gas 1/4 with the door open slightly to let out any moisture. Just don't stack them.
Give everyone a little dish of ponzu tsuyu and a small mound of grated daikon and place the tempura in the centre of the table. Enjoy with your hands or with chopsticks. A bowl of rice will complete the meal.