THINGS I LIKE: Tempura

HISTORY: Tempura, the technique of  dipping fish and vegetables into batter and deep frying them, which we associate with Japanese cuisine, was introduced into Japan by the Portuguese. In the 16th century, the Catholic country Portugal opened trade routes with Japan. On Catholic holy days, when eating meat was forbidden to the Portugese traders, they ate deep fried shrimp. Because these holy days came four times a year, they were known, in Latin, as "QuattorTempora" (Four Seasons or Times). The Japanese adapted the Portugese technique for frying foods,  perfected it over time and the Latin word for "time" (tempora) eventually became the Japanese word, "Tempura". In todays Tempura, beef, chicken, and vegetables, as well as shrimp are dipped into a light batter and fried.

COOKING TIP: (Scientific backround): All recipes for Tempura require some wheat flour mixed with a liquid, usually water. Mixing water with flour causes the formation of gluten, a protein in wheat that gives baked goods their structure and elasticity. However, too much gluten formation makes for a very chewy and tough dough. Further, the more the flour and water mixture is stirred, the more gluten is formed. With this knowledge as  PROLOGUE, the steps for preparing Tempura follow with TIPS for avoiding excess gluten formation in the batter.

RECIPE

Vegetable oil
Shrimp and mixed vegetables, cut into, bite sized pieces
1 1/2 C all purpose flour
1 1/2 C corn starch*  (or rice flour*)
1 C cheap, 80 proof vodka**
1 C seltzer***
Salt

Heat 3-4 inches of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven until a temperature of 400F is reached on a candy  thermometer.

Whisk flour and corn starch together in a bowl. Mix vodka and seltzer in another bowl.

When proper temperature is reached in the Dutch oven, pour wet mixture into dry ingredients and mix, GENTLY, only until just combined. A few small lumps are OK.

Dip ingredients into batter with tongs, allowing the excess to drip back into bowl. Gently "drop" into hot oil with a motion going from the front of the Dutch oven to the rear, to avoid splashing hot oil on yourself. The temperature of the oil may drop a few degrees.

Fry, with stirring, until light golden brown, 2-3 minutes.

Remove with slotted spoon, place on paper towels to absorb excess oil and sprinkle with salt.

Return oil to proper heat and repeat until all ingredients are cooked. Serve immediately or keep hot in a 200F oven until service.

Serve with soy-ginger dipping sauce : 1/2 C soy sauce, 1/4 C rice wine vinegar, 2 Tbsp grated ginger, 2 tsp chopped scallion, 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp dark sesame oil.

* Corn starch and rice flour  DO NOT contain gluten so they can substitute for half of of the wheat flour and reduce the amount of gluten formation in the batter.

** 80 proof vodka, which is  60% water and 40% alcohol, can provide the proper amount of liquid to form the batter but with less of the liquid being water. Thus, the amount of gluten formation is reduced even further. The alcohol will evaporate when the food is fried.

***Seltzer's "bubbles" lighten the batter which produces a thin, crispy coating on the fried ingredients. Beer or any other carbonated liquid can be used, as well.