Frying is a cooking technique that’s almost universal. It’s efficient – it cooks food quickly, and, if done right, it tastes good. It’s messy, though, and frying with small children or pets underfoot is not a good idea.
Kick everyone out of the kitchen, turn the extractor fan on high, wear long sleeves (in case of splatters) and concentrate on what you’re doing. Oh, and if you want to “test” the quality of what you’re frying, that’s the cook’s prerogative – fried food tastes best hot.
If you visit a tempura omakase restaurant, the last savoury course is usually a choice between ten don (tempura fritter, or kakiage, over rice, with miso soup on the side) or ten cha (tempura fritter over rice and tea). I invariably choose the latter. I love the changing texture of the fritter as it slowly becomes saturated with the tea, going from crisp to soft. On their own, the tea and rice seem a bit bland, but they become flavoured with the fritter and whatever ingredients you choose to add (I like grated fresh wasabi and/or a light dusting of furikake – Japanese “sprinkles”).
At home, ten cha is a delicious main course on its own; all you need to serve with it is Japanese pickles.
Tempura fritters can be made of many ingredients, but I love this combination of fresh shrimp and corn, with water chestnuts (for even more crunch) and spring onions (for flavour and colour). As with all my recipes, I use fresh shrimp, but if you’re pressed for time, use 450 grams of shelled shrimp (avoid the frozen ones, though).
This batter is light and delicate, but please follow the instructions carefully. The egg and soda water need to be chilled, and you must take care not to overmix the batter – it should be lumpy, with small clumps of flour. Mix the batter just before frying; don’t let it sit around for too long.
Leftover fritters should be refrigerated, then reheated in a 200-degree-Celsius oven for about 10 minutes.
900 grams fresh shrimp
100 grams fresh water chestnuts
500 grams fresh corn kernels (from two to three ears of corn)
50 grams spring onions
Fine sea salt
For the batter:
150 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
1 large egg
1 can (330ml) plain soda water, chilled
Oil, for frying
For the ten cha:
About 200 grams cooked Japanese rice per person, kept hot in a rice cooker (or warmed in a microwave or steamer)
Green tea, such as sencha or hojicha
Grated fresh wasabi
Fresh shiso leaves and/or small seasoned nori sheets (optional)
Remove the heads and shells of the shrimp (use them to make broth). Cut the shrimp meat into 1cm pieces. Peel the water chestnuts and thoroughly rinse them, to remove any mud. Cut the water chestnuts into 5mm pieces, and the spring onions into 1.5cm lengths. Put the shrimp into a bowl with the water chestnuts, corn kernels and spring onion, then mix in one teaspoon of salt, or more to taste.
Pour oil to the depth of about 2cm in a skillet and place it over a low flame. While the oil is heating, make the batter. Put the flour into a bowl. Whisk the egg and add it to the bowl, then pour in the soda water – it will foam up. Use a pair of chopsticks to very quickly mix the ingredients to form a lumpy batter. Add all of the shrimp/corn mixture to the batter and mix to coat the ingredients.
Turn the flame to medium. Heat the oil to between 170 and 180 degrees. Drop spoonfuls of the shrimp/corn mixture into the oil and flatten them slightly. Increase the flame to keep the oil hot. Fry the fritters until firm, then flip them over and cook the other side. When they’re crisp and cooked through, lift the fritters out of the oil and drain them on paper towels. After frying the fritters, dip the shiso leaves or nori sheets (if using) into the remaining batter, then fry until crisp before draining on paper towels.
Brew the sencha or hojicha, making it a little stronger than you would for drinking. Scoop the hot rice into bowls and top each portion with two or three of the fritters and a fried shiso leaf or nori sheet. Pour the hot tea over the rice and let each diner season the ten cha with wasabi and furikake to taste. Serve the extra fritters on the side with Japanese pickles.
SALT AND PEPPER SQUID
600 grams fresh squid, with bodies about 6cm-8cm long
2 garlic cloves
1-2 red bird’s-eye chillies
20 grams fine sea salt
¾ tsp finely ground white pepper
¾ tsp five-spice powder
30 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
30 grams cornstarch
Oil, for frying
Fresh limes, cut in wedges
Clean the squid by pulling the tentacles and head from the body. Trim off and discard the head, then rinse the tentacles and put them in a colander. Clean out the bodies and remove the purple skin. Cut the bodies into 8cm-wide rings and turn them inside out. Put the rings into the colander and leave to drain for a few minutes while preparing the other ingredients.
Thinly slice the garlic. Cut the chillies in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Slice the chillies into 2mm-wide pieces. Mix the salt, pepper and five-spice in a small bowl.
Heat oil to the depth of about 6cm in a wok and place over a medium flame. While the oil is heating, mix together the flour and cornstarch in a large bowl. Add the squid and toss to lightly dust them with the flour-cornstarch mixture, then put them in a colander and shake off the excess coating.
When the oil is 170 degrees, fry the squid in batches. They take only about a minute to cook. Use a slotted skimmer to scoop the squid from the wok and drain them on paper towels. Cook the remaining squid the same way.
Pour almost all the oil from the wok and set it back over a high flame. Add the garlic and chillies and stir-fry until fragrant, then put all the squid into the wok and add about one-third of the salt/pepper/five-spice mixture. Stir constantly for about a minute, then put the ingredients onto a serving platter. Put the remaining salt/pepper/five-spice mixture into a small bowl and add some fresh lime juice to create a dipping sauce. [email protected]
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee
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