Learn to make this staple Japanese dish at home using ingredients you likely have on hand. 
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Puffy, deep-fried tempura shrimp is a common ingredient in sushi. And if you've ever been to a Japanese steakhouse, you've likely had tempura vegetables as an appetizer. Ever wondered how to achieve that light-as-air, deep-fried coating? 

Tempura is both an ancient cooking technique that has been perfected by master chefs and a simple dish you can make at home using ingredients you likely already have on hand. Here's everything you need to know about tempura, including how to make it.  

What Is Tempura? 

Tempura is a popular Japanese dish in which food (most commonly seafood, vegetables, or sushi) is lightly battered and deep fried to create a light, crispy coating. Any time you see the term "tempura fried" on the menu at your favorite Japanese steakhouse, this simply refers to food that was dipped in this batter and fried. 

Although this cooking method is synonymous with Japanese cuisine, there is some debate as to whether it originated in Japan or was brought to Japan in the 16th century by Portugese missionaries and later adopted into Japanese cuisine. But the spread of mainstream, Tokyo-style (Edo) tempura can be traced back to the street vendors that surrounded the fish market during the Edo period. What originated as a street food, has turned into a serious Japanese cooking method that chefs spend years mastering. 

vegetable tempura on blue plate with soy sauce and chopsticks
Pictured: Vegetable Tempura
| Credit: AllrecipesPhoto

What Is Tempura Batter Made Of? 

This simple batter has just three ingredients: flour, egg, and ice water. Tempura mix is available in some specialty stores, but it's simple enough to use plain 'ol all-purpose flour instead.

This incredibly basic mix of ingredients creates that puffy, light-as-air coating so many of us are familiar with. Using ice water is imperative, because it slows down the formation of gluten, which keeps the batter from becoming too dense. Plus, it helps prevent too much oil from absorbing into the batter during the frying process. 

What Are Tempura Flakes? 

Tempura flakes, or crunchies, are simply bits of fried batter that are leftover after frying tempura. They are sometimes used as toppings for sushi, noodles, and other dishes. You can buy tempura flakes on Amazon for this purpose, but you can always save some money and make your own.  

Common Types of Tempura

There's really no limit to the number of ingredients that can be tempura-fried. However, you'll find certain dishes in Japanese cuisine to lend themselves particularly well to tempura. 

Tempura Sushi

This is a favorite iteration of tempura, and it's likely you've seen it on the menu at your local sushi restaurant. Sometimes the ingredients within the roll are tempura-fried (such as shrimp) or the rolls themselves are tempura-fried. 

Shrimp Tempura

Seafood, most commonly shrimp, was the original tempura. In Japan, Japanese tiger prawns are a popular choice. Check out this shrimp tempura recipe to learn how to make it yourself. 

Vegetable Tempura

Vegetables, especially root vegetables like potatoes or kabocha squash, are another popular ingredient for tempura. You'll also commonly see peppers, eggplants, and mushrooms used as well. This vegetable tempura recipe uses sweet potatoes, onions, bell peppers, green beans, and shiitake mushrooms. 

Chicken Tempura

Non-seafood proteins like chicken and eggs are also used for tempura, although they're not as common as they can be a little heavy once fried. 

How to Make Tempura

Here you'll learn step-by-step how to make tempura using ChefJackie's vegetable tempura recipe. This method can also be applied to other ingredients like shrimp or chicken. 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 ¾ cup chilled water
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart vegetable oil
  • Choice of vegetables and/or meat

Optional Dipping Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • ⅛ teaspoon dashi granules 

Instructions: 

  1. Optional: Whisk sauce ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. Whisk water and egg yolks together until well combined. Sift in flour and whisk until just combined. The batter should be a bit lumpy. 
  3. Heat vegetable oil in a saucepan or wok until very hot, but not smoking (about 375 degrees F). 
  4. Dip ingredients one-by-one into batter and transfer immediately into the hot oil, working in batches. Fry until the batter is golden-brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. 
  5. Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat until all ingredients are used. 

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