Tempura is a very simple dish. Technically, it’s fried food; so like every other fried food, it’s battered then cooked in hot oil. But there’s a science behind tempura that sets it apart—and the secret is in the batter. This basic tempura batter recipe is a foolproof way to achieve the signature lightness and crispiness of tempura, whether you use it for seafood or vegetables; heck, even meat.
The Tempura Batter Ingredients
At its most basic, tempura batter is made using only ice-cold water and wheat flour. For added airiness, some recipes add an egg (or an egg yolk), baking soda, or even mayonnaise. This recipe uses a combination of soda water, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt.
Soda water works best with tempura batter because the carbonation ensures that your batter is light and airy. This applies to most carbonated drinks, which is why beer batters are very popular. In theory, you can even use sodas (such as Sprite) to make a batter. But in this case, using sodas would change the flavor of your final dish—something you wouldn’t really want in tempura. Plus, the high sugar content will make your fried food brown too fast.
The bubbles from soda water evaporate as soon as it hits the frying oil; so the batter doesn’t stay dense around whatever you’re frying. Alcohol also has this same effect. It actually evaporates even faster than water so some people add flavorless alcohol (such as vodka) to their batter for extra insurance. You can do that here, too; just replace two tablespoons of soda water with vodka if you have some on hand.
What’s perhaps the most important thing about the liquid element in your tempura batter, though, is that it should be cold. This increases the over-all viscosity of the batter, so it will stick better on whatever you’re dipping into it. Plus, it creates a crispier coating later on.
Aside from the obvious convenience of it, all-purpose flour is used in this recipe because it has less amount of protein than say whole wheat flour or bread flour. When your flour has less protein, it will yield a lighter batter (so you can also use cake flour here). That said, there’s still a danger of using something that’s too light, such as cornstarch or rice flour because it will lose some of its character. So while they can work, it’d be best to use them in combination with all-purpose flour—and only if you’re using a recipe that has eggs in the batter.
Baking powder is the primary source of this tempura batter’s lift, meaning it’s what will give it its puffiness. Most recipes commonly use eggs. However, they’re a bit more finicky and temperamental. Baking powder is an easier, more sure-fire way to get consistent results.
Salt isn’t really necessary in tempura batter. But adding it already gives your coating some depth, and it helps bring out the flavor of whatever you’re frying.
Mixing Your Tempura Batter & Frying
Using a whisk (or even better, chopsticks), mix your ingredients just until no dry lumps remain. Whatever you do, do not overmix or else your batter will be tough. If you’re not sure about it, you can also rest your batter in the fridge for 30 minutes before dipping anything. The batter will be wet so when frying, dip into the batter, then fry immediately.
This recipe is made for seafood and vegetables (it’s what we used for our sinigang onion rings!), as are most tempura batters. But it works with anything really, as long as it cooks in two to three minutes. That means, yes, you can use this in meat; just cut them into bite-sized pieces so that they’re fully cooked once you lift them from the oil.