Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Boiling the oil

I was rather apprehensive when La Fuji Mama announced that this month's Washoku Warriors challenge was tempura. I enjoy eating it, don't get me wrong, but cooking it myself? Tempura cooking fires are a danger I heard about in spades and then got to take my hand at putting out when I went to the Tachikawa Bosaikan (a hands-on disaster prevention museum). Then there is the mess involved in cooking with oil - judging by the complaints I've heard just thinking about cooking with oil could condemn my kitchen (such as it is) to be permanently coated in inches of oily sludge. When I told U that our challenge this month was tempura he wasn't pleased either. But I insisted and he gradually warmed to it - as long as I would agree to doing more than just the kakiage (mixed veggies) the challenge called for.

So we headed out on Saturday afternoon to do our grocery shop, me attempting to faithfully pick up the veggies the recipe called for and U questioning every vegetable I chose.

U - "What? You're using sweet potato? Why?!??"
Me - "Because that is what the recipe calls for."
U - "But kakiage doesn't need sweet potato. Why are you buying carrots?"
Me - "Because that is what the recipe calls for."
U - "But kakiage doesn't need carrots. Why aren't you buying lotus root?"
Me - "Because the recipe doesn't call for it."
U - "But kakiage needs lotus root! Why aren't you buying baby shrimp?"
Me - "Because the recipe doesn't call for it."
U - "But kakiage needs baby shrimp!"

and on... and on...

In the end we agreed on burdock root, and I was able to convince him on the carrot (because we cheated and bought it already julienned with the burdock root) and the sweet potato but gave up on the parsnip (I'm not sure I could have found it here anyways) and used lotus root instead. We also bought a package of big shrimp to make up separately. We decided to go ahead and make up the kakiage with all the veggies we had bought - and ended up with a LOT of extras. I followed Andoh's advice and froze them and am looking forward to heating them up and trying out two more of Andoh's recipes to reuse them - putting the kakiage over noodles or rice with sauce.

As for the actual cooking...

It turned out to be not nearly as scary/messy/difficult as I had worried. Our only problem was that, without a thermometer, we couldn't check the temperature of the oil and I'm fairly sure that we ended up cooking our tempura in oil that just wasn't quite hot enough.

The poor shrimp were first, and took the brunt of the oil's low temperature, I think - not quite getting the golden browny colour the should have, and ending up a little on the soggy side.

We had two sweet potatoes left over after we mixed up the kakiage veggies and decided to just slice them up and tempura them too.

Wow... what a good idea! These were delicious! Since I made a number of the flavoured salts (matcha salt, goma/sesame seed salt, sansho salt) while U was frying up the shrimp and the first batch of sweet potato, we just HAD to test it and the tempura too... mmmm... I think we ended up eating about half the sweet potato that way - "just one more, I haven't tried this salt yet..." mmmm!

And then, of course, the kakiage - which turned out surprisingly well, sticking together and even making relatively the right shape (except when I got over ambitious and put too much in, and even then it was pretty forgiving!)

Our meal was terribly unbalanced - three types of tempura with just rice and miso soup to round it out - but oh so yummy.

The clean-up wasn't nearly as bad as I had worried either (bless U, he's a real keeper as he did more than his fair share of the clean-up!) so who knows, tempura may make an appearance in our kitchen again. Although I have a feeling U will insist on choosing the ingredients next time...


  1. Oh the joys of cooking tempura!! I'm glad that your challenge wasn't as overwhelming as anticipated.

    It is really an exact art to get the perfect tempura, one I sadly haven't mastered yet!!!

    A friend told me to cook the prawns last that way the oil doesn't absorb the prawn flavour and everything doesn't take the same.

    Here's to more happy cooking

  2. i refuse to cook tempura any more. it's my favorite 'japanese' food and i just can't make it well at home! LOL i just leave it to the experts and eat in restaurants.

  3. Achan - I hadn't thought about not cooking the prawns first, although that makes a lot of sense! We didn't have any trouble with prawn flavoured oil, though...

    And yes, hopefully much happy cooking to come. I'm enjoying coming home at a reasonable hour afterwork and actually making dinner. I also brought back from Canada my recipe book, and have since been printing out a lot of online recipes I've been wanting to try. I think I'm just going to have to start pulling recipes randomly from my pile in the morning to decide my evening meal!

  4. Illahee - A pot of boiling oil on the stove would NOT be anywhere on my list of what to cook with little ones running about! I don't think I'll ever make tempura regularly, but it is nice to know I CAN make it!

  5. I'd love to try tempura but our place is just so small...maybe after we move...

    Yours looks delicious though! I have searched for parsnips in vain here, one place online offered them but sooo expensive it didn't seem worth it.

  6. Umebossy - I didn't even bother searching for parsnips once I realized that U had never heard of the Japanese translation my dictionary gave us. I figured I'd go with what I could get here easily and it was certainly yummy!

    My kitchen is tiny - there really is only a tiny square of "counter" space and so we ended up having to get rather imaginative with placing things to make this work, but it was worth it!! You should give it a try.

  7. So glad you were able to do it! My favorite is sweet potato tempura too. Drool....mmmm...

  8. Wow - great that you could do this! I'm with U on the lotus root. And sweet potato - yum! Cooking is great fun when there's time to enjoy the process. I try to make time for it at least twice a week... love, C