I have a guilty pleasure, and it is tempura.
Like most of the female health-mindful population, I try to avoid fatty or deep fried foods. But there is something about tempura that I've always secretly loved. I never order it at Japanese restaurants. After all, I am there for the sushi, but after buying some bright green fiddleheads recently, I wanted to do something more special with them than just sauteing them.
I know what you're thinking. Why would you buy fresh, seasonal, delicious fiddleheads only to batter them up? See, that's the beauty of tempura. It's not heavy at all. Instead, it's a crisp, light, extra layer of deliciousness that allows some delicious sriracha aioli to have something to grip onto. And they are so lightly cooked that biting into one of these little nuggets yields a bright green, still slightly crispy interior. Of course, I couldn't go through all this effort without some tempura sweet potato as well. The above portion is plenty to share amongst 2 - 4 people.
For the tempura batter:
- 1 cup flour, plus extra for dredging
- 1 egg
- 1 cup ice water
- 1/8 tsp baking soda
For the Aioli:
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 medium cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- juice of half a lemon (about 2 tbsp)
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 tbsp sriracha
- You will also need approximately 4 cups of vegetable or peanut oil for frying.
First, make the aioli. I was short on time so I used a small food processor. Combine your egg yolks, garlic, salt, and lemon juice in a blender. Blend until the garlic is pulverized. Next, slowly stream in your olive oil until the whole thing is emulsified and thickened. Lastly add your sriracha. Feel free to add more for added spiciness. Keep the aioli in the refrigerator until it's ready to serve.
Next, make the tempura batter. Now, the ingredients themselves aren't tricky but there are two key steps to make a lightly, fluffy, crispy tempura.
- The tempura batter must be cold, which is why we use ice water. If there is any pause between batches, stick the batter into the freezer.
- Don't work the flour or whisk it at all. In fact, I used chopsticks to sort of mix and stab at the flour mixture to incorporate it. It will be lumpy and that is okay. The more you work the flour mixture, the more the gluten will develop, making for a "chewier" batter.
In a bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. It's okay to have ice cubes still in the mixture. Then add your flour and baking soda. Using chopsticks or a fork, mix together the batter, just until it's all incorporated. The batter should be a thinner consistency than normal batter, almost like heavy whipping cream. Stick this in the freezer until it's ready to be used.
In a large dutch oven or cast iron pot, heat up 2 inches of vegetable or peanut oil to 350 degrees (use a candy thermometer when deep frying). While that's heating up, prepare your fiddleheads.
Thoroughly wash and dry your fiddleheads, trimming off any brown ends. I wanted to tempura some mushrooms and sweet potato as well, so I went ahead and prepared those as well. To fry, I set up a little station with extra dredging flour and the cold cold tempura batter. First, the vegetables go through the flour to get rid of any extra moisture and to make the batter stick better. Then, it gets quickly coated in the tempura batter. I used chopsticks to quickly stick them in and pull them out. Then, gently drop them one by one into the hot oil. It'll start to bubble and brown. Halfway through cooking, they'll need flipping over. You can either use a spider or chopsticks to do this.
Thicker pieces of sweet potato will take about 3 minutes to cook on each side. The fiddleheads only need 2 minutes on one side, and 1 minute on the other. Watch it carefully as the batter turns brown. When they're ready to come out, set them on paper towels to drain the excess oil, then on a drying rack. Make sure the oil temperature stays between 350 and 375 degrees.
Overall, the frying took me about half an hour. Before serving, stick them into an oven set to 375 degrees to crisp them up and serve warm.