Like religion, local food can tell you the history of where you are: its natural resources and trade policies, the people who live there, and those who’ve moved away. This is a post about making gluten-free tempura using instant batter. Before we get to cooking instructions, let’s add a dash of context. Then, we eat!
Tempura and Terminology
Here’s a glossary as easy as the recipe. Tempura refers to battered and fried fish and vegetables. Donburi refers to a meal served over a bowl of rice, often shortened to the suffix “-don.” Today’s recipe is ten-don, or tempura over rice. We recommend serving with miso soup and your choice of tea (click here for our extensive collection of green tea products) to round out the meal. Bonus points if you add some pickles or another simple side, like steamed edamame.
Ichiju-sansai, or “one soup, three dishes,” is an excellent model to follow when building any Japanese meal. It’s why, when you go to a traditional Japanese restaurant, you have so many little bowls and plates! We’ve included some instant miso in our version because it’s so easy, and it really does make your ten-don feel like a more robust meal.
The Origins of Tempura
Most Western or Western-inspired dishes in Japanese cuisine can be traced back to the late 1800s, the end of centuries of Japan’s isolationist policy. That said, some Western-inflected foods date back to when the first Europeans came to the archipelago long long before. These Jesuits and traders left behind some of their terminology. The Japanese word for bread? Pan. Kasutera (or Castella) is considered a traditional Japanese sweet. But this traditional dessert is not like the others; castella are a kind of sponge cake, another baked good. Who was baking in Japan in the 16th century? The Portuguese! Along with tobacco, Christianity, and baked goods, they brought a certain little fried food that, in a mis-transliteration of the Christian period of Lent, became known as tempura.
Like many foods made with foreign ingredients, tempura became cheaper and more accessible in the wake of World War II. In the 1950s, US rations, food scarcity, and an acute shortage of rice forced cooks to get creative. Famously, this resulted in the proliferation of black market ramen, a dish that made good use of wheat rations.
Traditionally tempura batter is also made of wheat, but Dynasty (the manufacturers of our gluten-free batter) has reverse-engineered tempura batter for the gluten-intolerant. We were very pleasantly surprised by how well this corn and rice flour version tastes. The added bonus? It is super easy to use. You just need some water, oil, and the seafood and vegetables of your choice.
Now, on to the recipe…
First, Let’s Gather Our Ingredients!
- Canola Oil
- Dynasty Gluten-Free Tempura Batter Mix
- Shrimp (~1 dozen fresh or frozen, preferably uncooked)
- Misc. vegetables, such as:
- Sweet potatoes
- Green beans
- Kabocha (Japanese pumpkin)
- Ice cubes
*This recipe is for 4 servings: 1-2 heads of broccoli, ~1 doz shrimp, and 2 sweet potatoes.
For the Dipping Sauce:
- 2 1/2 Tbsp Kikkoman Soy Sauce (less sodium)
- 1/4 cup Kikkoman Manjo Aji-Mirin Cooking Wine
Make it a Meal:
- Medium-sized mixing bowl
- Pan for frying
- Metal skimmer
- Mesh spoon
- Cooking chopsticks
- Measuring cups
- Large plate or metal rack to hold fried pieces
- Paper towels
- Rice cooker
Let’s make some gluten-free tempura! This recipe is for the absolute novice, thus the detailed list of equipment.
Prepare Your Ingredients.
Because time is of the essence when frying tempura, you’ll want to prep your ingredients in advance. First, as always, rinse and soak your rice. If you work a 9-5, do it as soon as you get home. For short-grain white sticky rice like Nishiki Premium, you want 30 minutes minimum to soak, ideally 1 hour. Your typical rice cooker will likely need about 30 minutes to cook for four. We recommend using three cups. You can always use leftovers for fried rice tomorrow!
If you are using brown rice, you’ll need to soak for longer to penetrate the grains. Two hours of soaking time is not excessive. This may all seem boring, but good rice is essential, and good rice needs a proper rinse and soak! Pour in your rice using the special measuring cup that comes with rice cookers, and fill with water until you hit the “3” line. After that, it’s all just hitting START.
Defrost shrimp as needed. Prep a bowl of ice cold water. When you wash and slice your veggies, Use a sharp knife to make thin cuts, particularly for harder, denser vegetables like sweet potatoes. This will help them cook through more quickly. Cube your tofu (for the miso soup). You can make your dipping sauce and instant miso soup while you wait between frying batches.
The Easiest Batter You’ve Ever Made.
This batter is extremely straightforward. In a medium-sized bowl, use cooking chopsticks to gently combine 2.25 cups of ice-cold water with the entirety of your Gluten-Free Tempura Batter Mix. You want this to be lumpy, so stop as soon as the dry mix is, well, wet. If you have a larger bowl and some ice, you can use it to keep your bowl of batter cold.
Time to Fry!
Pour enough neutral-tasting oil (we suggest canola) to fry. You want enough oil so that the ingredients won’t touch the bottom of your pan. Apply heat, and after a minute or two, drip a single drop of batter into the oil. When it rises to the top and then floats back down a little, it’s ready.
Back at the mixing bowl, use cooking chopsticks (or tongs, if you prefer) to completely cover a bite-sized ingredient in batter. Hold for a moment to lose excess batter, then to gently place into the oil. It will hiss and sizzle. Slowly add pieces, but give the oil a moment to reheat. After all, your ingredients are covered in cold batter. Regulating the oil temperature is essential to getting that light, crispy bite. Fry until golden brown.
In Between Batches…
Making tempura requires some down time. While you wait for pieces to cook, line a dinner plate with paper towels to soak up extra oil when the tempura comes out. Remove using a mesh spoon/ cooking chopsticks. If you’ve got a wire rack where you can leave them, please do so! Otherwise, the paper toweled plate will suffice. In between batches, follow the instructions on your instant miso shio package to prep your delicious miso shio!
Another thing to do in between batches: clean your oil. Little flakes of batter inevitably get left behind. They fry up nicely, and if you catch them when they’re still crispy, you can save them for sushi, salads, or even soup garnish. Whether or not you plan to use these tempura flakes, aka tenkasu, you need to remove them from the oil before they burn and discolor it. Left in the pan, tempura batter will quickly burn, which will affect the taste and color of later batches. A metal skimmer is probably the easiest way to fish them out.
In between batches (we told you there’d be downtime), combine 1 cup of warm water with the instant dashi. Mix until dissolved. Stir in soy sauce, mirin, and mix in sugar to taste. Adjust the proportions to your liking.
When the rice cooker beeps, it’s time to plate! Place crispy tempura on top of a bowl of rice. Make sure your miso soup is piping hot when it is served. Bring in dipping sauce in little dishes/ bowls on the side.
Gochisousama deshita! Thanks for your hard work! Time to enjoy!