Leave it to the Japanese to figure out how to make deep-fried food light and delicate. The secret to great tempura batter is to use cold bubbly water and to leave the batter a bit lumpy. Shiso, a Japanese herb from the mint family, tastes a bit more like basil. You should be able to find it, fresh or frozen, at most Asian markets. If you can’t find shemeji mushrooms, try enoki instead. In fact, try all sorts of different veggies (see note). Remember not to overcrowd the wok as the oil temperature will drop, resulting in soggy tempura.
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 cup (250 mL) dashi stock
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) low-sodium soy sauce
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) mirin (Japanese cooking wine)
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) sake
For the batter
- 1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) kosher salt
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) vegetable oil
- 1 cup (250 mL) cold sparkling water
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) ice water with ice
For the tempura
- Cornstarch, for dredging
- Vegetable oil for deep-frying, about 4 cups (1 L)
- 10 shrimp (21/25 count), peeled and deveined with tails left on
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut diagonally into 1/4-inch (6 mm) slices
- 1 Japanese eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) slices
- 10 snow peas, left whole
- 8 to 9 shiso leaves
- 10 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
- 1 bunch shimeji mushrooms, separated into small bunches
- For the dipping sauce, bring the dashi to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the soy sauce, mirin, and sake, then reduce the heat and simmer for a few minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and keep warm.
- Make the tempura batter. Sift together the flour and salt in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, beat the egg with the vegetable oil using chopsticks, then add the sparkling water and the ice water along with the ice. Add the flour all at once, and stir briefly, just enough to combine. The batter should be lumpy and slightly thinner than pancake batter.
- Line a plate with paper towels, and fill a bowl with cornstarch. In a wok or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil to 325°F (163°C) over medium-high heat.
- Holding the shrimp by the tail, dredge the shrimp, shaking off the excess, then dip into the batter, again shaking off the excess. Immediately drop into the hot oil. Continue with the remaining shrimp. Deep-fry until they are crispy and barely golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the oil using chopsticks, a slotted spoon, or a spider, and drain on the paper towels.
- Do the same for the vegetables, dredging in cornstarch and dipping in batter, except using chopsticks this time. Deep-fry until golden brown and crispy.
- Serve immediately with dipping sauce.
Note: Also try making tempura with bell peppers, enoki mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli florets, daikon, and green onions.