This recipe is adapted from Japanese Soul Cooking, by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat.
1. Begin by washing, thoroughly drying and trimming an assortment of vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Whole green beans, shishito peppers, sliced Japanese eggplant, small broccoli florets, whole shiso leaves and coins of Japanese sweet potato are all good options. Bite-sized fish-fillet slices, small fish like smelt and halved scallops are also ideal.
Set them on paper towels near your cooking station.
You’ll also need 1/2 cup of cake flour in a shallow dish, for dredging, a pair of long chopsticks or tongs, a metal mesh skimmer and a rack or plate covered with newspaper or paper towel, for draining the finished tempura.
2. In a large, heavy pot (an enamelled cast-iron Dutch oven is ideal), heat two inches of vegetable oil and a glug of toasted sesame oil to 360 F. There should be at least a few inches of space remaining in the pot above the oil. Use a deep-fat or candy thermometer to keep the temperature stable.
3. Mix two egg yolks with two cups of ice water in a large bowl and add three ice cubes. Measure out two cups of cake flour and dump it in one shot into the wet ingredients. Holding four chopsticks in your fist, stab at the batter for about 30 seconds until it is just barely mixed. There should be gobs of floating flour still, and flour stuck to the side of the bowl.
4. Working two or three pieces per batch until you have the hang of it, dip the raw ingredients in your cake flour to dredge, then into the batter to coat. Transfer quickly into the hot oil, regulating the temperature at 360 F by increasing and lowering the heat slightly if necessary (do not overreact with the burner or you’ll experience huge spikes and drops). If you add too many pieces at once, the oil temperature will plummet.
Harder vegetables take about 3 minutes; softer vegetables and fish 2 minutes or less. They’re done when the batter has turned an appealing blond colour and smells slightly nutty.
Remove from oil with chopsticks or tongs, drain for a few seconds, season with flaky sea salt and serve immediately with ten tsuyu dipping sauce (see recipe, below), and lemon wedges for the seafood.
5. Scoop out stray tempura bits with the metal skimmer between batches, and keep on top of your oil temperature. If you’ve been cooking for more than 25 minutes or so, make a fresh batch of batter. Take a sip of sake. Repeat.
Ten tsuyu dipping sauce
Though this sweet-savoury-salty sauce may look difficult to make, it takes about 10 minutes of active time. The ingredients can be found at any good Asian grocer.
1. Combine four cups of cold water and one large (about 15 centimetre) piece of kombu (dried kelp) in a small pot. Let steep for 30 minutes.
2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, remove kombu and discard. Add a tablespoon of cold water to the pot to reduce temperature slightly, then add 20 grams (11/2 packed cups) of shaved bonito. Return stock to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for five minutes, skimming any scum that rises to the surface. Turn off heat, steep for 15 minutes, strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Your house smells awesome, right? You now have a dashi.
3. Combine 1 cup of dashi with 1/4 cup soy sauce and 1/4 cup of mirin in a pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then immediately turn off heat. Reheat when ready to serve, adding a small (4 cm) piece of daikon, finely grated, and a 1 cm piece of peeled ginger, grated, to the sauce to serve.