Frying Rage: Controlling Your Tempura

How many people enjoy being punched in the gut? Probably the same number that enjoy having to pay sushi restaurant prices for tiny pieces of delicious seafood and fried vegetable chips. Many of us on a budget would make it ourselves if we knew how.

Knowing how to make tempura yourself cuts the cost dramatically and makes it affordable for the budget-minded college student. This column will delve into how to make tempura-style vegetables and tempura ahi tuna in nori paper.

(Step 1) To save some money on lavish sauce ingredients like bonito flakes and kombu that traditionally , but using existing ingredients you will find in an average working kitchen pantry. Combine a 1/4-cup of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of mirin (rice wine), 2 tablespoons of sriracha and a minced green onion. Whisk it together and set aside.

I can sense some laughter from the peanut gallery for making a sauce not using the traditional tempura recipe. But when you’re trying to stay within a budget, sometimes getting creative means you’ll be able to afford that pristine cut of fresh tuna that will make you forget how many sources of umami your sauce is derived from.

(Step 2) Choose vegetables low in water content. Zucchini, summer squash, asparagus, snow peas and green bean are great examples for this application. But you can also experiment with shiso leaves, sweet potatoes and carrots, as well as other low moisture vegetables with great success.

The most important thing when using these vegetables is cutting them down to a size that will allow quick cooking time. Cut your vegetables small enough that they will cook through by the time the outside gets to a nice crispy golden-brown exterior.

With zucchini, cut them into 3-inch batons that are 1/2 inches in width. This will allow a lot of surface area to be exposed to the heat and will make for a very efficient cooking time. This principle can be applied to the other vegetables. You can experiment with other cuts. For instance, a sweet potato lends itself well to an eighth of an inch thick coin shape. Go ahead and prep all of the vegetables you wish to tempura and set aside.

(Step 3) Purchase a 4 to 6 ounce fresh tuna steak. If the fish vendor says the tuna steak on the ice in the fish display is safe to eat rare, it is more than likely suitable for this dish.

You can also ask to smell the fish. If it smells fishy, opt for a place with fresher fish. Here in the Pacific Northwest, finding a suitable place to purchase fresh fish shouldn’t be too difficult.

Cut your tuna steak into square strips measuring 4-by-1-by-1. Place each piece on the long side, end-to-end so you end up with one or two long pieces.

Place a piece of nori paper down on your cutting board. Put your tuna on top of the nori paper on the end furthest from you, so the length of the long tuna strip runs along the end of the nori paper. Spread a thin line of wasabi paste on the top side of the tuna strip. Roll the tuna up in the nori paper only once. Cut the excess nori paper away.

(Step 4) For the tempura batter, place 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup cornstarch and 1 teaspoon baking powder into a mixing bowl. Add 1/2 cup of cold soda water, one lightly beaten egg and one ice cube into the dry ingredients. Whisk together to blend. It should have the consistency of very loose oatmeal. If it’s a little too thick, just add a tiny bit of soda water.

(Step 5) Pour high temperature oil into a heavy metal pot and let it come up about 4 to 5 inches. Set it to a medium-high heat and wait until the oil starts to shimmer. Gently drop a small amount of batter into the oil. Ideally you want the batter to go into the oil about half way down before it quickly bounces back to the top and starts frying. Disclaimer: Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature of the oil is 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Be super careful. Do not leave the stove unattended.

(Step 6) Time for the fun part. One by one, take the vegetable pieces and place them in the wet batter and allow the excess batter to drip off a little before gently placing them in the oil.

Do not overcrowd the pot as the temperature can drop and frying will stop. Depending on the size of the pot, you may only be able to fit six to eight pieces.

After about two minutes, flip over with tongs or chopsticks. Allow to fry for another minute or two.

Take out when slightly golden-brown. Place on a cooling rack or some paper towels to absorb some of the oil. Serve immediately.

Place the tuna in nori paper into the wet batter. Then carefully submerge it halfway in the oil and wait about five seconds until the tuna starts frying, then let go. This will allow some of the tempura batter to fill with air so that when you let go, it will float rather than sink and stick to the bottom.

After a minute, turn it over and fry for another 30 seconds or until slightly golden-brown and crispy. Take it out of the oil and allow it to drain on a cooling rack or on paper towel for 10 seconds. With a very sharp knife, slice the tuna into 1/4-inch thick coins.

To serve, tile the cut tuna pieces side by side and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Serve with a side of tempura vegetables and tempura sauce. Enjoy.

Ingredients you will need: fresh tuna, nori paper, wasabi paste, soy sauce, cold soda water, egg, baking powder, mirin, green onion, sriracha, high temperature oil, green onion, zucchini, summer squash, snow peas, asparagus and/or green bean.

1. Make dipping sauce.
2. Prepare the vegetables.
3. Prepare the tuna.
4. Prepare the tempura batter.
5. Heat up the oil.
6. Fry up the vegetable and tuna tempura and serve.

-Martin Musialczyk