Deep-fried and super light

I must admit that I rarely do much deep frying these days, since it tends to adversely affect the waistline. Still I do love crispy, light fried things on occasion. Deep-frying in batter is a rather tricky thing though, since it’s so easy to get it all wrong and turn out a soggy, heavy mess. The always interesting Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking and other must-have books, has a new article in the New York Times about two deep-frying techniques that yield crispy crusts. For one, you need a fish with its skin intact - not too practical for most of us who must buy fish from a supermarket or so. The other method is one I saw in last year’s Heston Blumenthal BBC series - making a beer batter for the fish part of fish and chips with half beer, half vodka. He also uses some rice flour, and (the don’t-dare-call-it-molecular-gastronomy part) a syphon to foam it up with carbon dioxide.

I also saw the vodka method in an Ito-ke no Shokutaku (Japanese) a.k.a. the Urawaza program, episode last year. (Unfortunately the accompanying article is no longer available on their web site.) In their case they replaced all the ice water in a typical tempura batter mixture with vodka. They swore it didn’t taste at all alcoholic. I would like to try this someday, though it would make for rather expensive tempura!

A more recent Ito-ke episode (the article is still online, for now (Japanese)) uses egg white in place of the normal whole egg in tempura batter. They say that this makes the batter very light and crispy. Their suggestion: 1 egg white with enough additional ice cold water to bring it up to 100cc, and mix it lightly (not beaten until foamy, just mixed) with 50g of low-gluten (cake, ‘weak’, etc.) flour. I’m wondering how it would be if you mixed the egg white with at least part vodka, and the regular flour with rice flour. Is it going to be so light it’s going to float off the plate?

Incidentally, I think I’ve said this before but my new favorite food blog is Harold McGee’s very own News for Curious Cooks, where he not only links to any new articles he’s written various publications, but posts smaller bites of information about various food-science related subjects.

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Re: Deep-fried and super light

Hi, Maki. I love your blog very much. I have been trying to find a good recipe for tempura batter for a long time. Glad to find it here on your blog with a different alternative for it. Most of the recipe that I have found use whole egg or only egg yolk, but it didn't produce a nice result for me. I have been trying to observe from my favorite Japanese restaurant in town how they can make tempura so light and crispy, and it even last for a long time. This time I'll try this method and see how it goes.

jantawee | 9 January, 2009 - 02:53

Re: Deep-fried and super light

Hi Maki,
Perfectly crisp and light tempura was quite elusive, until I stumbled upon this recipe from America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated. Again, vodka seems to be the solution.

Later,
Todd

Serves 4. Published May 1, 2009. From Cook's Illustrated.

Do not omit the vodka; it is critical for a crisp coating. For safety, use a Dutch oven with a capacity of at least 7 quarts. Be sure to begin mixing the batter when the oil reaches 385 degrees (the final temperature should reach 400 degrees). It is important to maintain a high oil temperature throughout cooking. If you are unable to find colossal shrimp (8-12 per pound), jumbo (16-20) or extra-large (21-25) may be substituted. Fry smaller shrimp in three batches, reducing the cooking time to 1½ to 2 minutes per batch. See Straighten Out Your Shrimp below for tips on preventing the shrimp from curling.

Ingredients
3 quarts vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds colossal shrimp, peeled and deveined (8 to 12 per pound), tails left on (see note)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 large egg
1 cup vodka (see note)
1 cup seltzer water
Kosher salt
1 recipe Ginger-Soy Dipping Sauce (see Serve With recipe)

Instructions
1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. In large, heavy Dutch oven fitted with clip-on candy thermometer, heat oil over high heat to 385 degrees, 18 to 22 minutes.

2. While oil heats, make 2 shallow cuts about ¼ inch deep and 1 inch apart on underside of each shrimp. Whisk flour and cornstarch together in large bowl. Whisk egg and vodka together in second large bowl. Whisk seltzer water into egg mixture.

3. When oil reaches 385 degrees, pour liquid mixture into bowl with flour mixture and whisk gently until just combined (it is OK if small lumps remain). Submerge half of shrimp in batter. Using tongs, remove shrimp from batter 1 at a time, allowing excess batter to drip off, and carefully place in oil (temperature should now be at 400 degrees). Fry, stirring with chopstick or wooden skewer to prevent sticking, until light brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt. Once paper towels absorb excess oil, place shrimp on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and place in oven.

4. Return oil to 400 degrees, about 4 minutes, and repeat with remaining shrimp. Serve immediately with Ginger-Soy Dipping Sauce.

Recipe Testing
Booze for Better Batter? The batter for shrimp tempura is devilishly hard to get right, easily turning thick and heavy if you overmix even slightly or let it sit too long. Even when a first batch came out light and crisp, subsequent batches were progressively thicker and greasier. In the past, we’ve guaranteed success with another finicky foodstuff—pie crust—by replacing some of the water with vodka. Would the same swap in tempura batter lead to a coating immune to overmixing and resting?

THE EXPERIMENT
We fried two batches of shrimp in two different batters. The first batter contained 1 egg, 11/2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup of cornstarch, and 2 cups of seltzer water. In the second, we replaced 1 cup of the seltzer water with 1 cup of vodka.

RESULTS
The vodka-batter shrimp was identical from the first batch to the second, turning out light and crisp each time. The shrimp dipped in the batter without vodka came out heavier and greasier in the second batch.

EXPLANATION
When water (in this case seltzer) and flour are mixed, the proteins in the flour form gluten, which provides structure—but it only takes a few too many stirs (or too many minutes of sitting) to develop too much gluten and an overly heavy batter. Because vodka is about 60 percent water and 40 percent alcohol (which does not combine with protein to form gluten), it makes the batter fluid and keeps gluten formation in check no matter how much you stir or allow it to sit.

Todd Schut | 30 June, 2009 - 14:46

Re: Deep-fried and super light

(Someone posted a whole recipe here from a commercial web site. I appreciate the spirit of sharing, but please don't do that due to copyright issues etc. That particular site is known to go after bloggers and so on for such things. Linking to a recipe is ok, but pasting the whole thing...not so much. Thanks for your understanding!)

maki | 1 July, 2009 - 06:27

Re: Deep-fried and super light

Pure Vodka instead of water would coagulate the protein of the egg like heat or acid would affect it.
At least that is what i think with my knowledge about chemistry

Only vodka and the egg would turn out useless for the batter.

It is the tricky part like making a sauce with egg yolk instead of flour to bind the liquid..you have to be carefull.

Also one would not make mayonaise and first mix the yolk with the lemon juice...again..coagulating

cyrell | 5 February, 2010 - 13:45

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