Last year my mom told me about a japanese movie that she was sure I’d love to watch. She said that there were many scenes of traditional cooking and in particular one of some corn cakes that were mouthwatering…She sure was right! The movie “Aritemo, aritemo” translated into “Still Walking” is a beautiful film that revolves around a family and the problems it drags years after a dramatic event. I don’t want to tell you about it, in case you want to watch it. But, I leave you with this link to a video from that fantastic corn tempura I am talking about.
I’ve had this tempura in mind for quite a while and finally decided to try to make it. So, I’ve been testing with tempura batters and how to make this particular type of tempura called “kakiage”. From what I’ve read, “kaki” means to mix or stir and “age” to fry in oil. In normal tempura, the ingredients are battered and fried individually, whereas in kakiage, they are fried together by adding some tempura batter to hold them together.
So, this corn tempura, namely “tomorokoshi” tempura in Japan is a delicacy only made when corn is at it’s sweetest, during July and August. Obviously the corn I’ve managed to get is probably far from those extremely fresh sweet corns used in reknowned tempura restaurants in Japan. But, it’s the freshest I could find and it still makes a great sweet and crispy appetiser! The corn cooks as it fries and the fresher it is, the more if pops and it gets softer inside while crisping outside! If you can manage to get fresh corn I highly recommend you try it!
Makes about 8 medium corn cakes.
1 corn on the cob (about 120g of kernels once removed)
For the tempura batter:
50g tempura flour (or 40g cake flour + 10g cornflour)
100g ice-cold water
optional: 20g egg white (if using, reduce water to 90g)
Corn, sunflower or canola oil for deep-frying
extra flour for lightly dusting the corn kernels
To begin, I will explain to you this final recipe I’ve reached, and for those interested, to follow is a brief explanation on how I reached this tempura batter and not another.
First, start removing the kernels from the cob. I like to cut the cob in half by making a light incision with a knife. Don’t even try to cut through, it’s way too hard, just mark your knife and with your hands holding either side press down to break apart.
Now it’s easier to start from the top of each side and work your way to the bottom. With your thumb press down the kernels to release them from the cob:
If the corn is fresh, this will be relatively easy and the kernels will come out whole, undamaged. If you find that you cannot release them and instead you bruise them, it’s better to just run a knife lengthwise, as closest to “bone” of the cob, to release them.
Though the first method is preferred to end up with whole kernels
You can keep these in the fridge until you are ready to use them in this recipe.
When you are ready to make the tempura, start by preheating the oil in which it will be fried.
This is key #1. The temperature of the oil and that it’s constant is crucial to get a non-greasy good tempura. Ideally you want your oil at 160-170ºC and to maintain that temperature throughout the frying. So, you should choose a pan that keeps heat well. Usually those with thick bottoms and walls are best. Also, you want a large surface area, which you will only fill by 1/3 to not bring the temperature down (remember you’ll be using ice-cold batter!) So, a wok or alike is best. I found a thick bottomed frying pan to work best for me, so choose whichever pan you think has both bigger surface and thicker material, and fill up 2/3 of it or at least a bit more than half.
While the oil is warming up begin your batter. You MUST use ice-cold water! This is key #2, the idea behind this is that when ice-cold batter comes in contact with the hot oil, it will shield from absorbing much oil. So, either get a small jug and add a generous amount of ice-cubes, to keep it very cold, or, as I like to do, whizz enough water with also a generous amount of ice-cubes in a blender (Thermomix, Osterizer or alike).
If you decide to use egg whites (these just provide extra-binding which for this type of tempura, kakiage, thus can help to hold all kernels together and spread out less if you want tighter cakes) beat them lightly into the amount of water suggested in the recipe.
If you find it difficult to weigh the ingredients, this recipe does well with volumes…So, just think of it as 1 volume liquid: 1 volume flours. For the liquid, use a bit less than a whole egg white and complete with the ice-cold water. For the flours, 1/5 of cornflour and complete with cake flour.
Time to check the oil temperature, it should be hot by now, but if you haven’t got a thermometer, you need to check that it’s about 160-170ºC with your batter. So, sift your flours (it’s best, but sometimes…I forget the “sifting” part) into a bowl and add the water just giving it a stir!! This is key #3, a very light mix…it must end up being lumpy! That way the wheat flour will not develop gluten and the tempura will be light and crunchy instead of chewy!(the cornflour adds extra crunchiness)…Also the lumps form that lacy texture that looks like “explosions” (if you know what I mean).
It will feel fairly light, liquidy, but don’t be tempted to add extra-flour before you try it. For “kakiage” the batter should be slightly thicker than normal tempura, so only if when you try it it spreads out too much add flour with a light touch and light mixing!
Now, try the temperature…if you pour a drop of batter into the hot oil, it should go halfway down the oil (that’s why you also want plenty of oil…I know, I know, I hate deep-frying for that, but do like me, keep a tupper and filter the used oil with a strainer after each use…)and immediately up again. If it goes down to the bottom and takes a bit to rise again, it’s too low. If, on the other hand, as you pour it it sizzles in the surface, it’s too hot! Adjust accordingly.
Now, get ready to fry…If your kernels were removed with the “thumb” method :-) they will be whole, so I find this step is not necessary. But, if some are bruised, then like most other kakiage, which are strips of vegetables, it’s best to dry the surface sprinkling a bit of flour.
Now, you have two options. Either add a few tablespoons of batter into the corn or, like in the video-clip from the movie, add the corn into the batter and use a slotted spoon to remove excess batter and drop the cakes the size you want.
I’ve used the latter, I find it gives a lighter result, but you have to make sure to do that, remove excess batter!
And just fry them, either with the slotted spoon or spoonfuls of the one mixed with just some batter. Do few at a time…ideally only use 1/3 of the surface area of the pan.
Cook for 2-3 minutes turning once, no need to keep turning around!
Just a warning note…If your corn is very fresh, it’s more likely to pop…not as much as popcorn, but since you are frying in very hot oil, it’s best to use one of these to protect you and your kitchen from splashes…just don’t stand over the frying pan!
Once it feels dry, remove onto a rack or some absorbent paper…and eat warm!!!!
You can add a pinch of fine sea-salt but I find they are perfect just as they are, very sweet, crunchy and light!
Can you see how crispy these are?
Now, about the tempura batter…
I had a few doubts…the main ones:
1) Difference in adding yolk/white/beaten egg or none of those to the water
2) what flours are best, other than commercial tempura flour mix: wheat soft flour alone, cornflour, rice flour, potato starch or a mixture of these.
So, it’s not purely scientific as perhaps all constants are not kept equal as in a lab, but fairly close to get decent results…
I made 4 different batters: 1 with yolks, another with whole egg, another with white and a last one without any egg at all. All, the same proportions of liquid: flour and those with egg, using 1/5 of egg from total liquid. The results for the same amount of time:
Clockwise, the top one is without egg, the next is just whites, the bottom one is just yolks and the left one is whole egg. There was a clear difference, given the same amount of time and a constant temperature between the white and no-egg one being much crunchier than the other two. The yolk one in no time got soggy again, and so did the egg one later. These are the no egg and just white ones a little closer, if you can see the texture…you can notice also the white one spreads less than the one without.
So, though many recipes to tempura advise to use yolk or whole egg, I chose not to.
Next, the blends of flours…I had no potato starch, so tried variables with the other three.
The right one is rice flour, which I did not like at all, both flavour-wise and texture, the next clockwise is half flour, half corn-flour, too crunchy, but not as light. The left one is just wheat flour and it’s nice but it spreads a lot. Finally, the top, which I like best is 1/5 cornflour…crispy, but still a light coating, it tastes as good as the wheat flour one and binds better together. So, that one it is!
Ah, also, some recipes recommend adding a bit of baking powder (1 tsp per 50g of flour). Well, the result…
It might be good for individual tempura…but for kakiage…it just disintegrates! I had to catch it with a strainer. This is actually used as a crunch topping, it’s called “tensaku”. But, not for this purpose!
So, until further experimentation or until I find a fantastic tempura chef to tell me all his secrets (which I doubt!) here’s my closest approach to this fantastic appetiser! I got my craving satisfied!
P.D. I’ve had to rewrite this post twice as my computer mysteriously shut down and there was no temporary file saved…so just wanted to warn you that yes, Murphy does exist and he is amongst us, so save your work! ;-)