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Tempura 天ぷら

Updated: Mar 5

Light and crunchy, the famous Japanese fry has been popularized throughout the archipelago by Portuguese travellers.

The presence of fried foods in the so dietetic Japanese gastronomy may be surprising and yet surprise: even Japanese donuts are low in calories. A piece, whatever the fried food, is about 100 calories, a trifle when you know that a single Western donut is worth almost 400.

History of Tempura

Tempura is a Japanese adaptation of peixinhos da horta, introduced by Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century, and which still exist in Portuguese cuisine. Compared to the Portuguese recipe, the Japanese have lightened the dough and changed the fillings.

They brought with them a recipe for fried vegetables to eat ad tempora quadragesimae, either during Lent as well as on Fridays, when red meat was prohibited. But beware, a dozen other legends exist about the origin of the word tempura!

What Ingredients to Use for Tempura

Tokyo wanted tempura more focused on seafood, golden and compact, while Kyoto preferred vegetables airier and lighter.

This tempura consists of a batter, made from flour, egg and water, in which all kinds of products are dipped, most often:

  • slices of white-fleshed fish (cod fillets, etc.) or small fresh fish intended for frying;

  • seafood: shrimps, oysters, cuttlefish rings, octopus, etc. ;

  • and especially vegetables cut into slices: carrots cut into large slices, slices or rings of onion, eggplant quarters incised in a whisk (茶 筅 切 り, chasen-giri), peppers, small branches of parsley which, coated with the paste, will look like "pines under the snow", without forgetting the leaves of green shiso (aojiso). Certain vegetables (carrots, potatoes) are sometimes cut more finely (in matches) and thrown in oil in small bundles.

The batter is a little more fluid than the pancake batter and is kept cool on a bed of ice. The oil temperature is 180 °C / 350 °F. The oil traditionally used in Japan is sesame oil, vegetable oil or canola oil. It is the temperature contrast that allows rapid cooking, the very quickly formed shell making the donut crunchy to the bite on the surface, preventing the oil from penetrating too much inside, which allows the flavour and colour to be retained.

Tempura Dipping Sauce

It is usually dipped in a sauce called tentsuyu (dashi + soy sauce + mirin) to which we can add a paste made of daikon (radish) crushed with yuzu (citrus), supposed to help digest the fat of the dish.

Ways to Serve Tempura

Tempura is usually served as is, in a woven bamboo basket or plate, placed on absorbent paper. You grab a piece with your chopsticks and plunge it into a dipping sauce or simply in salt.

It is served with rice, in a separate bowl or as a donburi (large bowl of filled rice) in fast food, or as a garnish for certain noodles (udon and soba).

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