A question of batter
Batters of all kinds are a huge issue in the kitchen. It seems everybody has their own opinions based on secret ingredients and procedures passed down from culinary luminaries either in the media, industry or the home. However, surely, it’s not rocket science.
For starters you need flour. Plain wheat flour generally fits the bill, however some add other flours, such as cornflour, potato starch or rice flour – these can add extra lightness and crispness. Then the liquids. Milk is often used, but can be rather heavy, water is lighter and the preferred liquid for tempura, alcohol is sometimes used as it evaporates into vapour very quickly so creates lightness. Beer is a good example – but the effect of the alcohol can be amplified for purists with spirits in particular a flavourless vodka. Baking powder causes the batter to rise with the interaction of acids and heat so lightens the batter. Eggs are often added for flavour and leavening. Seasoning is optional, depending on how the batter will served. Then there’s the temperature. Batters should be cold. It appears the shock of cold and heat that accelerates the cooking and crisping process – but there are other factors at play here as the cold temperature seems to improve the cooking of the ingredients. Many go to extreme lengths to keep all the ingredients very cold, including putting the flour in the fridge or freezer… What about bubbles? Well, that’s fairly obvious way to inject lightness. Most recipes stipulate that the batter is not over-worked, even to the point of keeping in the lumps. This advice relates to developing glutens through over-beating, which will make a batter tough. For the same reason, some recipes say to rest the batter to allow the glutens to relax,
When it comes to tempura batter, most of the batter armoury comes into play, unfortunately all the recipes I can find are caught in a cycle of who-knows-best and each is different and – may or not – contain any of the following: wheat and corn flours, baking powder, ice-cold sparkling water, water and ice cubes, eggs or egg yolks – and for obsessives a splash of vodka.
A brilliant cheat
Even so, tempura is very difficult to get right. But fear not, help is at hand at your local Japanese/Oriental food store in the form of ready-made tempura batter flour. Don’t feel guilty that you are not mastering the craft from scratch or may not have triumphed through endless hours of trial and error or cannot boast that you have the ultimate knack for making the perfect tempura. Life’s too short to stress over tempura – especially when there are products as good as this available…