Foolproof Tempura

The fresh and delicate courgette (zucchini for the Americans & Italians) flowers from the market are a short-lived pleasure. Although I have tried more elaborate recipes where you stuff them with ricotta, herbs etc., I find this quick tempura option delicious and easier.

The trouble with tempura recipes is that the ones from the Japanese cookbooks are always disappointing. Maybe it’s my technique or the difference in the quality of the flour, but the tempura is nowhere like the fantastic light crispy tempura you might eat in a tiny place in Tokyo.

After several trials and errors in the past, and also using ready “tempura flour” from Oriental supermarkets, I find this recipe by Alton Brown to be the best. I recall watching his mouthwatering show several years ago, and even on screen, the tempura looked awesome. Many recipes call for combining cornflour with regular flour, but Alton is a true genius with his winning combination using rice flour. The addition of vodka to the batter prevents gluten formation and makes the end result light and crispy. America Test Kitchen uses vodka too and it works well. Don’t worry, there’s no residual taste as the vodka evaporates upon frying. Use cheap vodka; keep the Grey Goose for drinking!

For the flour component, do seek out cake flour (which is a lower protein softer flour) or reduce the plain flour by 1 tablespoon and replace with the same amount of cornflour, to mimic cake flour.

Although I typically like to use groundnut oil for frying, this is one recipe where I prefer to use vegetable oil, as I find the flavour of the groundnut oil quite strong for something delicate like this.

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Foolproof tempura
The recipe below makes enough batter to serve 4 people a good amount of tempura. If you want to add other vegetables just double the amount of batter. Good options for tempura include sweet potato (very thinly sliced), mushrooms, red peppers, aubergine, courgette, prawns (tail on), fine green beans, and herbs like flat-leaf parsley.
Cuisine Japanese
Prep Time 10 min
Cook Time 10 min
Cuisine Japanese
Prep Time 10 min
Cook Time 10 min
  1. Start by heating the vegetable oil in a wok or deep pan over high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the cake flour and rice flour together in a medium bowl. Keep the courgette flowers washed, dried and ready to use.
  3. Once the oil starts getting hot, mix the rest of the batter as follows.
  4. Whisk the egg, soda water and vodka, in a bowl or measuring jug. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and whisk briefly to combine, just 10 to 15 seconds. The batter is quite thin and some lumps may remain, and that’s fine. If working in a hot kitchen, or making a double batch, set the bowl with the batter in a larger bowl lined with ice.
  5. Start frying once the oil is hot (not smoking but hot enough so that a drop of batter sizzles). Dust the flowers with some plain flour and then dip into the batter.
  6. Swirl to coat and then fry in the hot oil for 2 minutes or so, turning them halfway. Don’t overcrowd the pan, and fry only 2-3 flowers at a time, until puffy and very light golden.
  7. Remove to a cooling rack lined with kitchen paper, and sprinkle with sea salt flakes, if desired. Eat immediately. See serving suggestions in notes below.
Recipe Notes

Some quick dips to serve with the courgette flowers: -

  • mix some mayo with lemon juice, and Sriracha (Thai Chilli sauce) or in the absence of that any hot sauce.
  • Or mix mayo with pesto and lemon juice
  • Or just serve sprinkled with sea salt and some lemon quarters.
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