Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cheap Bastid's Tempura Night--Kind of Ugly but Really Good

Recently we had a hankering for a “Tempura Night”—you know, tempura battered vegetables and maybe some chicken. So I picked up some rice flour at Frasier’s Farms along with some bell peppers, mushrooms and zucchini (we already had onions).

Now, this is really a simple thing to make and it’s pretty tasty. But, it’s messy with the batter and the deep frying oil. I’m usually reluctant to do much deep frying because of the demands for cooking oil and Cheap Bastid just doesn’t really like to waste a bunch of it on one use. But when you have a “hankering” you’ve just got to honor it.

The photos you’re going to see are mine and they show that the results were just a little bit ugly—but it tasted good and that’s what counts. The batter didn’t coat quite as well as I would have liked, I think for 2 reasons. One is that it might have been a little too runny and the other is that I just used water rather than “soda water” with its carbonation which really does make a difference. (Cheap Bastid didn’t think of it at the store and didn’t want to go back and get some.

Some recipes for tempura batter call for regular flour and some call for rice flour. Some say eggs and some don’t. I’m going to go with TV chef (NPR and FoodTV) Ming Tsai’s recipe which is reproduced in the directions. I figure that he’s as good an expert as you can find, I like his cooking style and I’ve cooked his recipes with great results.

So here’s Tempura Night at our place:

1 ½-2 cups Rice Flour
1 ½-2 cups cold soda water (I think both of these are important. I used just cold water and didn’t care for my results all that much. I’ve used soda water before with great results).

½ lb Chicken breast (skinless/boneless)—or shrimp or fish, whatever you’ve got & want
1 red bell pepper
1 jalapeno pepper
1 medium onion
10 1” top fresh white/button mushrooms
1 zucchini

Put the rice flour in a bowl then add cold soda water and stir together (don’t add all the water yet). Add water until you have a batter the consistency of pancake batter—not too runny & not too thick but just right.

Cut chicken breast into approximate ¼” x 2” strips. Cut bell pepper, jalapeno and onion into similarly sized strips—about ¼” x 1 ½” strips. (Or you could cut the jalapeno into “rounds” about ¼” thick and leave the seeds inside for just a bit more kick). Cut the onion into small wedges that nest together. Clean the mushrooms with a brush or paper towel to remove the dirt and gunk on the top and bottom. (The reason to do that is that the “dirt” is usually dirt and manure (see you can learn useful stuff from watching “Dirty Jobs”). Trim the stems. Then just toss all the veggies into a medium bowl.

Get out your wok, put it on the stove on medium high and put 2 cups of oil in it. When it’s heated, test it with a little piece of onion dipped in the batter. (If the test piece gets brown immediately, then the oil is too hot and you can drop it down a skosh. Otherwise, you’re good to go).

Put some paper towels down on your platter for draining. Now dip the pieces of veggie and chicken into the batter kind of at random—you know, a piece of chicken, a piece of bell, a mushroom, a piece of zucchini, etc. Don’t get your oil too full of pieces at a time—about 10 or so will do nicely. Settle in, this will take a little while. You can have a second pan/platter that you transfer the food to and pop it into a warm over to keep things warmer.
(This is kind of ugly but it sure tastes good. I forgot to take pics of the veggies until they were half gone and these were from the end when the batter was a bit runny).

When everything’s done, it’s time to eat. You can make a homemade dipping sauce or what we used was some “Lite Asian Sesame with Ginger and Soy” salad dressing by Ken’s Steak House (it’s really good and one of our few “indulgences”).

Now it’s time to enjoy. What we absolutely liked the best were the mushrooms. Man, I could have eaten a bushel of them. Crispy on the outside and then when you’d bite into them it was like they exploded in your mouth with a moist, earthy flavor. The zucchini was really good too. Almost like a “zucchini fry”—and believe me it’s hard to come up with inventive ways to cook zucchini so that it tastes like something. But everything was really, really tasty (it also doesn’t hurt that I put some cayenne into the batter) even if it wasn’t the most beautiful Tempura I’ve ever eaten. And it’s a good, healthy meal. Lots of veggies, just a little meat protein. Give it a try some night.

The Cheap Bastid Test: So does this pass? A large red bell was $.77. The onion about $.50. Zucchini about $.25. Jalapeno about $.10. Chicken was $1.00, mushrooms $.75. The Rice Flour was $1.00 and the oil for the meal was about $.75. Total cost was $5.12. Not real cheap, but it was a treat. Getting this meal in a Japanese restaurant would probably cost about $25 so, yeah, it passes the test (but I have to admit, it barely passes the test because it’s messy, takes a while to prep, cook and clean and uses up 2 cups of oil).

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful!

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