Tempura: the quintessential Japanese, Portuguese dish

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Tempura is a light, crispy, and delectable Japanese classic that you can make at home with just a few ingredients! 

But first, a quick lesson on its origins. 

This culinary staple originated in Japan’s famed Edo period. The Tokugawa Shogunate had the country in Sakoku lockdown for, give or take, 220 years. However, Japan wasn’t completely closed offAmong the Portuguese, Dutch and Chinese traders that had the privilege to do business via Nagasaki, it is the Portuguese who are credited with introducing tempura in the form of fried green beans to the Japanese palate. Read the full story here.

Tempura can be made from seafood, veggies -- almost anything!
Tempura can be made from seafood, veggies — almost anything!

Peixinhos da horta (meaning little fish from the garden in Portuguese) were made by frying green beans coated in a flour mixtureThis simple cooking technique quickly moved from green beans to other vegetablesseafood and meat.   

In Japan today you can find tempura ranging in price from dirt cheap to luxury – with a $400 price tag to match.  

Let’s just make some ourselves, shall we?  

But don’t I need panko breadcrumbs? you might be wondering.  

No, no, none of that. All you need is flour, egg, cooking oil, super cold water and whatever ingredients you want to tempurify (yes –I just made that a word).



Start heating enough vegetable oil (add in a bit of sesame oil for extra flavor if you have it) in a pan for deep frying. If you have a kitchen thermometer, go ahead and keep track of the temperature: 160°C / 320°F for veggies and 170°C / 338°F for seafood and meatOr maybe you have an air fryer to test out? 

Ingredients and method:  

1 cold egg – crack that into a bowl and whisk.

1 cup of ICE COLD water – add that to your bowl and whisk together with the egg. 

1 cup sifted flour (all purpose is fine, but cake flour is even better) – add to your eggy water mixture and mix lightly, careful not to overmix. It should be light, not too sticky, and clumpy 

Your choice of filling (veggies, seafood, meat, chocolate bar, fruit – whatever you want to try) cut into long bitesized pieces. 

Extra flour – coat your ingredients in a light layer of flour. This will help the batter adhere to your ingredients. 

Preparing tempura at home is surprisingly easy
Preparing tempura at home is surprisingly easy

*Safety* Never leave hot oil unattended or let it get too hot. It can be a potential fire hazard (I know this from personal experience). Also, if you’re working with shrimp, be sure to cut off the edge of the tail and scrape the dirt off or it could explode during the frying process.  

Make sure that your oil is the right temperature before dipping your flour coated ingredients into your eggy batter and gently placing it in your oil to fry to a delicious crisp texture. Place on a wire rack for cooling and oil drainage.  

*Pro tip* If you’d like a bit more of a crunchy texture, dribble some batter onto your ingredients to coat them with extra batter bits as they fryWatch the technique of one of my favorite chefs, Joshua Weissman 

Serve with some seasoned salt for dipping and enjoy! 

Need some encouragement, and want to watch a pro in actionCheck out this video. Exec chef Yoshinori Ishii gives great tips on how to tell the oil temperature is ready by using your eggy batter instead of a thermometer, and when your tempura has been fried enough by observing the oil bubbles. 

Wait! Wait! Isn’t there a sauce? Why, yes there is, but the ingredients for it are a bit more difficult to get hold ofHere’s a recipe. 


¼ cup mirin (Japanese Rice Wine). Alternatively — it won’t be the same, but I suppose white wine isn’t a terrible substitute.  Bring this to a simmer on your stove top to let the alcohol simmer out. 

1 cup dashi (Japanese soup stock made from kombu, a type of seaweed; and katsuobonito fish flakes). Substitute whatever broth/bouillon cube you have at home – add this to the mirin pot 

¼ cup soy sauce – add this to the pot as well and stir to combine.  

Let cool and serve with tempura.  

If you have some daikon radish available, you can also grate some and pop it into your dipping sauce. 

Enjoy the crispy deliciousness of your homemade tempura! 

Be sure to eat your tempura while it's still warm
Be sure to eat your tempura while it’s still warm

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