Tokyo Tempura Bar

I was in Tokyo for business on my thirty-somethingth birthday, and my friend Joe who was traveling with me took me out to dinner to celebrate. We went to the tempura bar in the lobby of our fancy hotel. I had never been to a tempura bar before. Have you?

I’d always loved tempura, ever since I was a kid and we’ d go to the Tempura House. Over the years I’d grown used to the Big Five of tempura – shrimp, broccoli, sweet potato, green pepper and carrot. Supplemented if the tempura cook really wanted to go out on a limb with perhaps an onion ring or spear of asparagus. And I was perfectly happy with those. But the tempura bar in Tokyo was a revelation. I ordered nothing. The chef simply presented things before me — a tiny shrimp, a small butterflied fish, a leaf as light as air, a chili pepper, a piece of eel squeezed with lemon, sea urchin wrapped in shiso leaf. One after another, bites of tempura emerged from the hot oil encased in a delicate, crisp shell of batter you could see right through. No green bell pepper, no onion rings.

I like to impress my friends at home by doing tempura bar. It’s surprisingly easy and makes an even funner evening than fondue! I like to discover my own favorite things I can batter and drop into the oil — whole soft shell crabs, small bundles of snow white enoki mushrooms, chunks of king crab. And I like to offer up different dipping sauces for the different types of tempura.

You can do tempura bar at home like me! I’ll teach you. It’s best done with a small group of friends — maybe you, your spouse and your favorite other couple. And it’s the most fun if your kitchen has a bar like ours. But if not, a table will do, so long as you’re close to the kitchen. Pick up a nice cold saké and have some Sapporo on hand. Here’s how, knock yourself out:

for batter:
6 oz ice cold water
4 oz. flour
1 egg yolk

Set mixing bowl in larger bowl filled with ice. Mix together ice water and egg yolk. And flour and stir until mixed.

for tempura:
(note: you can improvise and fry almost any seafood or vegetable)
3 cups canola or peanut oil
1 cup flour, spread out on a large dinner plate
4 shrimp, cleaned with tail left on, and flattened with the flat side of a large knife
1/2 lb king crab legs, meat removed in large chunks from shells
1/2 lb boneless black cod or other whitefish fillet, cut into quarters
1 Japanese eggplant, cut into four pieces
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into four pieces
4 shiso leaves (or substitute spinach leaves)
1 bunch enoki mushrooms, cut into four small bundles
4 green onions, trimmed of dark green ends

Have your guests sit wherever you’re going to serve them, with plates and dipping sauces ready. You will serve each guest immediately as the tempura emerges from the oil. Give each guest a bowl of steamed rice, and have soy sauce on the table too.

Heat oil in a large wok over medium high heat until a drop of batter sizzles and floats. Cook tempura a few pieces at a time — you’ll probably want to do your tempura in stages, cooking all of one item before moving on. (i.e. start with mushrooms and shiso, move on to shrimp and crab, then eggplant and onion, etc.) Quickly dip each piece first in flour, then in the batter. Then drop in the oil. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels, and serve to your guests while hot. Continue until all the tempura is cooked.

You will want to have a skimmer on hand to skim out bits of tempura batter from time to time as you go, as they will burn and lend an unpleasant taste to your tempura.

Dipping sauces:
Dashi Soy
Mix 1/2 cup water with powdered dashi stock to taste. Add 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce and 1/4 cup mirin cooking wine. Heat until warm. Serve with vegetables, shrimp.

Ponzu Butter
Heat 2/3 cup ponzu and juice from one lemon until warm. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tbsp. butter. Serve with crab, shrimp and other seafood.

Spicy Dipping Sauce
Heat 1/4 cup soy sauce and 1/3 cup sweetened rice wine vinegar. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tbsp. Srirachi or other chili pepper sauce, 1 tbsp. sesame oil and 1 tbsp. minced green onion. Serve with vegetables and seafood.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. paul
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 20:29:17

    Looks like I’m going to have to do my Tempura Bar right now, by myself because I don’t think I can wait for tonight to do it.


  2. Annie
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 20:36:09

    I am soooo doing this!!! Thanks for the great idea and even greater inspiration!


  3. Trackback: Me and the Sea | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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