Tempura Mushrooms (茸の天ぷら)
Although Tempura has an image of being solidly Japanese, deep-frying isn’t a traditional preparation method in Japan. The concept of battering and deep-frying vegetables was introduced to Japan by Jesuit missionaries from Portugal nearly 500 years ago! These days, Tempura is made with almost anything, from cheese to sea urchin, but tempura mushrooms are among my favorite.
There’s nothing complicated about this dish, but there are a few tricks you need to know to pull it off, so I’m going to share all my secrets for making the best Tempura.
Why This Recipe Works?
- By barely mixing the batter, you avoid forming long gluten chains, which will can make the batter doughy and heavy.
- Shaking frilly mushrooms as you add them to the oil gets rid of the excess batter while spreading each individual mushroom out, resulting in a beautify shape and light, crisp texture.
- Dusting smooth vegetables like green beans with flour helps the batter to adhere to their surface.
Ingredients for Tempura Mushrooms
- Cake Flour – Although you can still make Tempura with all-purpose flour, cake flour has a lower gluten content, which helps keep the batter light and crispy. Ideally, you want the flour to be cold as well.
- Cold Water – The water needs to be as cold as possible to slow the formation of gluten chains in the batter. You can achieve this by either refrigerating a bottle of water or letting some ice steep in a glass of water before measuring it out.
- Mushrooms – I like using a mix of Japanese mushrooms, such as shiitake, enoki, and maitake. Other mushrooms such as chanterelles, oyster mushrooms, shimeji, and black trumpet mushrooms will also work. The main thing to think about here is to use a mix of flavors and textures to keep things interesting.
- Green Beans – I know they’re not mushrooms, but I really love green bean tempura, and besides, they are the original Tempura.
- Basil Leaves – Basil isn’t a traditional Japanese ingredient, but it adds beautiful color to the mix of earthy mushrooms, and I like the flavor as well. If you want to be more traditional, you can use green shiso leaves.
- Salt – while some people like using a dashi-based dipping sauce for Tempura, I prefer serving tempura mushrooms and vegetables with salt. Truffle Shuffle was kind enough to send me a sample of their Truffle Salt, which made for the perfect accompaniment for this Tempura, but any flaky sea salt or flavored salt will work.
How to Make Tempura Mushrooms
The first thing you need to do to make good Tempura is to prepare the ingredients. Different ingredients require different preparation techniques. I’ll list the preparation for maitake, enoki, shiitake, and green beans, but similar ingredients can be prepared in the same manner.
For the maitake and enoki mushrooms, you want to trim off any growing medium, but leave enough of the stem intact so that the mushrooms stay in clusters. Then you can separate the clusters into bite-size pieces.
For shiitakes, use a damp paper towel to wipe down the mushrooms and remove any bits of growing medium or debris from the top and bottom of the cap. Trim the stems off of the shiitakes. I like to carve a plus sign into the top of the caps for a little contrast (watch the video for how I do it).
For the green beans, wash and then dry them thoroughly with paper towels. Trim the stem ends off of the beans. The batter has a hard time sticking to the surface of smooth, hard vegetables like this, so for these types of ingredients, you’ll want to dust them in flour or starch. This acts as a primer that helps the batter adhere to the beans.
I like frying some green leafy herbs such as shiso or basil without any batter to give a vibrant green contrast to the tempura mushrooms. Pluck the leaves from the stems and wash them before drying them thoroughly with paper towels. Even a drop of water on the leaves will cause them to spatter like crazy, so be sure you’re thorough with the drying.
When the vegetables are prepped, add about 2-inches of oil to a heavy-bottomed pot or pan and preheat it until it reaches 340 degrees F or 170 C.
For the batter, you want to use frigid water (either straight from the fridge, or steeped with ice), this slows the formation of gluten, which will make your batter dense and crunchy instead of light and crispy. Add the flour to the cold water and stir it a minimum number of times to make a batter with pea-sized lumps of flour. The lumps help the batter to bloom in the oil, and you want to avoid overmixing it at all costs.
When the oil has preheated, I like to start by frying the basil. Just add a few leaves to the oil and spread them out, so they’re flat. Don’t add too many leaves at once, or the oil may boil over. Fry the leaves until the bubbles almost completely subside (about 1 minute) and then drain them on a paper towel-lined rack.
For the green beans, just dip them in the batter to coat them and lower them into the oil. It’s best to use uncoated wooden chopsticks to do this, but if it’s easier for you, thin tongs will work as well.
Fry the beans until the coating is crisp, and the beans are vibrant green (about 1 minute).
Be sure to skim off any crumbs of batter between each batch of Tempura, otherwise, these will burn and discolor your next batch of ingredients.
For the shiitake mushrooms, drop the underside of the caps in batter and lower them into the oil. Fry these, flipping them over at least once until the batter is crisp (about 2-3 minutes).
For the enoki mushrooms, dip each cluster in the batter, and then use tongs to pick up the stem-end. Allow any excess batter to drip off, and then lower the tops of the mushrooms into the oil, gently shaking the cluster from side to side. This helps remove any excess batter while fanning out the individual mushrooms to crisp. Be very careful with this, so you don’t splash hot oil onto yourself.
Flip the clusters over and continue frying them until they are crisp and hold their shape (about 3 minutes). When they’re done, drain them on the paper towel-lined rack.
The process for frying the maitake mushrooms is exactly the same, but you may need to cook them for an extra minute or two to get them crisp.
To serve the Tempura, put a sheet of food-safe paper, a paper napkin, or a paper towel on your serving platter and plate the fried mushrooms and vegetables.
Serve with your favorite finishing salt.
Other Delicious Fried Appetizers
Tempura is a Japanese dish derived from Portuguese peixinhos da horta. It’s typically made coating vegetables, mushrooms, and seafood in a light batter and deep-frying them until crisp.
Tempura is typically served with either a warm dashi-based sauce or salt. Flavored salts, such as matcha, yuzu, and ume salt are often used, but sea salt works well, and I like serving tempura mushrooms with truffle salt.
Tempura is thought to have been introduced to Japan by Portuguese missionaries in the sixteenth century. The name is derived from the Latin word tempora, which refers to Ember Days when Catholics avoid eating meat.
Tem-pu-ra has three syllables, and each one is pronounced as follows:
Tem like the number ten
pu like pool
ra like lunch (the l is somewhere between an “r” and an “l”)
The secret to crispy Tempura is all in the technique. Ideally, both the flour and water for the batter should be as cold as possible. The batter should be mixed as little as possible, and you want for there to be some lumps of flour, which makes the batter bloom. Finally, frilly foods like enoki and maitake mushrooms should be shaken as they’re added to the oil to remove any excess batter and open up the spaces between each mushroom, so the batter doesn’t clump together.
Some tempura batters use egg. I don’t think it’s necessary, though, and eggless batters produce a more light and crispy crust. That’s why I only use flour and water for my batter, whether I am making it vegan or not.
mushrooms (such as shiitake, enoki, or maitake)
Vegetable oil for frying
water (very cold)
cake flour (plus more for dusting)
Trim any tough stems or growing medium off the base of the mushrooms. If the mushrooms form clusters like enoki, maitake, or shimeji, be sure to leave enough stem intact, so they don’t fall apart.
Break any clusters of mushrooms up into smaller clusters, as shown.
Trim the stem end off the green beans. Pluck some basil leaves from the stems, and make sure they are dry.
Dust any smooth surfaced vegetables such as green beans in flour, or starch.
Heat 2-inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or pan until it reaches 340 degrees F (170 C). Prepare a paper towel-lined rack to drain the tempura mushrooms.
Add the cold water into a bowl and then add the flour. Give it a few stirs to form the batter, but do not overmix it. There should still be a lot of pea-sized lumps of flour in the batter.
When the oil is heated, fry the basil first in small batches. It will bubble up, so don’t add too many at a time, or your pot will overflow. The basil is crisp when there are almost no bubbles coming out of it. Transfer the basil to the rack.
For the green beans, dip them in the batter to coat evenly and lower them carefully into the oil. Fry them until they are vibrant green and tender, but not so long that the batter starts to brown. Transfer the beans to the rack to drain.
Be sure to skim off any crumbs of batter each time before you add the next ingredients to the oil.
For clusters of mushrooms (like enoki or maitake), grab a cluster by the stem end and dip the whole thing in the batter. Let any excess batter run off before you add it to the oil. As you lower the cluster into the oil, start shaking it from side to side. Be careful not to splash hot oil on yourself.
Fry the clusters of mushrooms, flipping them over at least once until they hold their shape, and they’re crisp. Transfer them to the rack.
For large mushrooms such as shiitake, dip the underside of the cap in the batter, but leave the top of the mushroom unbattered. Lower the half-battered mushrooms into the oil.
Fry the shiitakes until they’re crisp on the bottom and then transfer them to the rack.
Serve the Tempura on a sheet of paper, or you can use paper towels or napkins along with good finishing salt.