My first try at making tempura was an absolute bust. I used regular flour (a no-no, too much gluten in regular flour), I didn't have a food thermometer at the time, and my thick veggie slices didn't cook all the way.
After watching my host mother cook (and she is a pro!), I learned the keys to great tempura:
- COLD batter (sit the batter in a bowl of ice water, also use ice water for the water in the batter)
- Don't overbeat the batter (forms tough strands of gluten), it should be lumpy
- Thin slices of veggies (see picture for how to cut vegetables like carrots)
- Hot oil- I've read 375 F is best
- Eat it fresh- left over tempura is no good, so don't try buying it from a department store booth
Do all the prep ahead of time so that you've got all the veggies ready to go once the oil is up to temp. Cut carrots into super thin strips- you can clump them together and fry in a bunch but the carrot will actually cook this way. Butterfly the shrimp, but leave the tails on. Slice, salt and rinse the eggplant. Thinly-slice the kabocha pumpkin. Mushrooms are great halved and bell peppers are pretty easy to do as well.
When you are ready to fry, dip the veggies/shrimp into the batter, pull out with tongs or chopsticks, and let the excess batter drip off. Then dip a few pieces at a time into the hot oil and fry until golden.
Carefully remove the hot pieces from the oil with tongs or chopsticks and let drain on the paper towel set up (see picture earlier in post).
Serve with rice and a Japanese style dipping sauce or soy sauce, mirin/sake, sugar