Japanese Tempura Recipe

Kale is one of my favorite things to cook in tempura.

This Japanese tempura recipe is everything. Who doesn't prefer to eat their vegetables battered, fried, and dipped in a savory sauce? Cooked at the table, it's also a great way to bring your friends closer and let them see your creative side. 

I've made this dish quite a few times now. It's not only easy to whip up with ingredients we often have on-hand, like cooking oil, flour, eggs, and any meats or veggies in the fridge; but it's also such a hit with our friends. 

I used the Japanese tempura recipe from Susan Fuller Slack’s cookbook Fondues And Hot Pots. It's definitely my favorite cookbook. 

I've also included lots of tried-and-true serving tips on this page to make sure your first experience is as good as my most recent one. 

Make tempura

Shrimp and vegetables are typical candidates for the tempura treatment, but there's no reason why you should feel restricted by what anyone else defines as authentic. Use your imagination to come up with your own ideas about what would taste good when fried: sushi rolls, smoked sausage, thin slices of beef or pork, avocado, etc.

You can also add fresh chopped herbs or seasonings to the batter to give it a different flavor.

Tempura dipping sauce, or ten-tusuyu, is delicious, but don't limit yourself: try different sauces, like chutney, mustard sauce, or sweet and sour sauce; or try different spice powders like seasoned salt, green-tea seasoned salt, or curry powder. 

Check out some of our other dipping sauce ideas for inspiration. 

Cilantro, parsley, and fresh basil leaves are awesome for tempura.

First prepare the dipping sauce and any dipping salts you might want to use. You can prepare these even a few days ahead. The sauce will keep for 3-5 days in the fridgejust don't grate or add the daikon or the ginger until you're ready to serve it. The salts can be made in large batches and stored for months! 

Tempura dipping sauce recipe (ten-tsuyu) 

Tempura dipping sauce ingredients: 

  • 1/2 large piece of kombu (a kind of thick seaweed used to make stock for a lot of Japanese recipes)
  • 2 tablespoons dried bonito (fish) flakes
  • 1/2 cup mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking wine)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup shredded daikon (Japanese radish)
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and grated ginger
  • Optional: 1-2 tablespoons sugar  

Directions: 

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the kombu until the water is just boiling. Then remove the kombu. 
  2. Add the bonito flakes and simmer for 30 seconds. Strain out the bonito flakes. 
  3. Add the mirin and soy sauce (and optional sugar) to the stock and bring to a boil. Turn it off and allow it to cool as much as possible before serving.
  4. Add the daikon and ginger just before serving. Alternatively, you can serve the ginger and daikon as condiments and guests can add it to their individual sauce bowls themselves. 

Dipping salts and seasonings suggestions:
Serve these in pinchbowls for your guests. You can pass around bowls for everyone to share or give each guest their own small portion in multiple bowls. Fondue plates, with their little sections for individual sauces, also make great tempura plates. Put a little flavored salt in each section. 

  • Your favorite commercial seasoned salt or garlic salt blend 
  • White pepper powder and finely ground salt blended to taste
  • 1/4 cup finely ground sea salt and 1 teaspoon matcha (green tea powder)
  • Shichimi togarashi (a spicy Japanese seasoning) 
  • 1/4 cup curry powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger, and 2 tablespoons finely ground sea salt

Tempura batter recipe

Batter ingredients:
(Makes about four servings) 

  • 1 cup and 4 tablespoons cake flour
  • 1 cup ice water
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • Optional: Have some panko breadcrumbs ready for dipping battered foods into before you drop them in the hot oil. The panko will make for an extra crispy, super delicious crust. 
  • Optional: Add some curry powder, matcha green tea powder, seasoned salt, chili powder or fresh herbs to the batter itself for different flavors. 

Directions:
Roughly mix the ingredients together with chopsticks or a fork. Stop before it becomes very smooth. (Smooth batter won't stick to the meat and vegetables as well.)

Oil for frying:

  • 2 cups peanut oil or a peanut oil-based blend
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil 

This blend of sesame oil and peanut oil isn't typically used in Japanese kitchens, but it has a pleasant fragrance, good flavor, and will get hot enough to cook the tempura before the batter gets sticky and heavy. If necessary, you can add more oil in a similar proportions as you go along, but always make sure the oil is at least 350-360℉ (180℃) before adding ingredients. Grapeseed oil is a good substitute for the peanut oil. 

Suggested fryers:

  • Raw shrimp, peeled, with or without heads and tails left intact
  • Calamari rings
  • Raw chicken, cutlets halved or breasts cut into short, thin strips
  • Raw beef, sliced thin
  • Raw pork, sliced thin
  • Sausage, such as kielbasa, sliced into bite-size pieces
  • Meatballs (small or halved)
  • Firm tofu, cubed
  • Sushi roll, sliced
  • Sweet potato, sliced 
  • Kale, torn into bite-size pieces
  • Onions, sliced about 1/3 inch thick and held together with a toothpick, 
  • Broccoli floret, sliced small enough to ensure they will be submerged in the oil
  • Sliced eggplant
  • Carrot, sliced thin
  • Green beans, with tips and seam removed
  • Fresh ginger, sliced very thin
  • Strawberries, halved and tops removed 
  • Baby asparagus tips
  • Mushrooms, quartered or sliced
  • Parsley sprigs
  • Cilantro sprigs
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • ...and anything else you can think of! 

Some things you might need for this Japanese tempura recipe:

Visit The Tabletop Tool Shop or The Tabletop Food Shop for everything and anything you might need for an excellent tabletop cooking experience.


Suggestions for serving and setting the table

Set the table so that each guest has access to the batter (in one large bowl or several smaller bowls stationed around the table) and an assortment of fryers (on a platter or several small plates or in bowls around the table).

You can also provide a bowl or plate filled with the Japanese breadcrumbs called panko. That way, you can dip your items in the batter, then give them a quick roll in the panko before dropping them in the oil. 

I would provide each guest with 

  • a pair of wooden chopsticks or a fondue fork;
  • a pinch bowl with a portion of the ten-tsuyu dipping sauce, shredded ginger, and shredded daikon; 

AND

  • and a fondue plate with sections for a variety of dipping salts and seasonings, lined with a paper towel;

OR

  • a small bowl or plate, lined with a paper towel;
  • several small pinch bowls for holding dipping salts and seasonings. 

As the food is cooked, rest the pieces on the paper towels to absorb the oil for a moment before you dip it into any of the sauces or seasoning salts. 

I recommend giving each diner their own bowl of batter to dip the raw ingredients in. This way you can keep dripping to a minimum.

Don't put too many items in the oil at once or the temperature will fall, the batter will get soggy, and the vegetables won't cook. For this reason, I recommend using an electric fondue pot if possible. A stainless steel or enameled cast iron pot heated with a gas burner will work, but you'll have to heat the oil on the stove first. And again, make sure you don't put too many uncooked ingredients in the hot oil at the same time

Want to learn more about different kinds of fondue pots? Click here.

Cooking instructions

Heat the oil on medium heat to 350-360℉ (180℃). Using chopsticks, drop a little batter into the pot. It should fry to a crisp in about 30 seconds. Without a thermometer to measure the temperature of the oil, you can also check the temperature by dropping in a single unpopped kernel of popcorn–it will pop at 365℉. 

When you are sure the oil is ready, use your wooden chopsticks or a fondue fork to batter your first item and then drop it into the oil. Make sure that you and your friends don't put too many pieces of uncooked food in at the same time or the temperature of the oil will drop and your food will be soggy and undercooked. 

Take your time! Have some sake or a nice, cold Asahi. Open a dry Riesling. 

Use your judgment to estimate cooking time. Shrimp cooks quickly, chicken–cut into easy-to-manage strips or bite-sized pieces–cooks only a little bit slower. Broccoli and onions take a longer time to cook well. Thinly sliced vegetables take longer to cook than thick slices of hard vegetables. Fresh herbs and kale will cook up very quickly. If you have any doubt, cut it open before you eat it. Please don't eat anything undercooked!

When ready, dip each piece in one of the dipping sauces or spice powders. Keep dunking, frying, drying, and dipping until you've discovered your favorite combination of meat, vegetables, and condiments. Yay science!

Itadakimasu! And cheers!  

You might also like these other tabletop-cooking recipes:


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