Tempura is a Japanese dish referring to small strips of food that have been fried in a light batter. If you’ve not yet tried tempura vegetables, I urge you to; this batter is the lightest, airy, fluffiest, and probably healthiest batter that you’ll come across. A true defining mark of the dish is that the coating is always very thin and crisp.
Traditional tempura recipes will probably include a beaten egg into the batter. Personally I prefer to do without so that my dishes are vegan, but you can always add it in – and if you want the most authentic taste, deep fry in sesame oil – it has a high smoking point and a strong flavour ideal for tempura.
The idea for this dish was actually influenced by a carpaccio which is often flavoured with lemon, olive oil and salt, characterised by thinly sliced vegetables. Marsh samphire is a crunchy English vegetable that is harvested by the sea, and hence has an extremely salty taste that can’t be compared to or substituted by any other vegetable. It’s because of this highly unique flavouring and texture that it’s the ideal candidate to be paired with the acidic after note of lemon.
Usually in a carpaccio the vegetables are served raw and very finely sliced. This time I’ve opted to just quickly steam the cauliflower in florets – this way it still has some bite. The great thing about this plate is that you can easily play with the textures and presentation because there are so few ingredients. If you want to finely slice raw cauliflower with a mandolin and serve it as a traditional carpaccio, it wouldn’t alter the taste and be absolutely beautiful. So, be my guest … (Can you tell I just watched Beauty and the Beast? 😉 )
Although the dish is very simple, cooking the samphire to perfection requires a good understanding of the science going on behind the scenes. To make success a guarantee, follow these sure tips:
- Try to use sparkling water if you have it on hand. The bubbles will help to make the batter airy.
- Sift the flour before you use it so it’s smooth and mixes better.
- Don’t over whisk the batter; you don’t want gluten to form in the flour, which will make it heavy. The lumps are fine – when cooked they’ll become light.
- Always use chilled, cold water and keep the batter at a cold temperature right up until you drop it in the oil.
Such a simple dish is dependant on the execution of every single element being perfect. Don’t be afraid to take your time preparing your workspace andprepping the vegetables before you start to cook: the actual cooking will be over almost before you know it.
Tempura fried samphire with cauliflower, lemon wedges and olive oil
A salty taste of the sea is simplified in an elegant starter.
- ¼ lemon
- 10 small/medium florets of cauliflower
- Olive oil to drizzle
For the tempura batter:
- 50g plain flour
- 50g cornflour
- Ice cold sparkling water
- Wash the samphire and pat it dry.
- Begin to heat a pan of oil/deep fat fryer to a high temperature.
- Prepare the cauliflower by separating it into equal sized small florets.
- Now heat a saucepan of water, covered, and steam the cauliflower for about 2 minutes. While steaming, get to work on the other elements.
Make the and cook tempura:
- Using chopsticks, in a small bowl whisk together the ingredients for batter. Don’t over whisk, just until combined.
- Set aside ¾ of the samphire. One at a time, dip into the batter with chopsticks and then drop into the hot oil. Don’t fry too many at once, as overcrowding will make the batter soak up oil.
- Turn and take out when cooked, between a few to 30 seconds. It won’t take long at all; the batter doesn’t brown much but should get light and airy.
- Drain excess oil from samphire on kitchen paper.
- Thinly slice lemon wedges.
- Plate up steamed cauliflower, tempura battered samphire, raw samphire, and lemon wedges. Drizzle the plate with a little olive oil.