Learn how to make perfect tempura at home with this easy-to-follow recipe! You’ll find plenty of helpful tips and tricks for making the crispy batter and delicious dipping sauce. Consider this your ultimate tempura-making guide!
When juicy plump shrimp, thinly sliced Japanese sweet potato, creamy eggplant, and fragrant shiso leaves get dunked in batter and deep-fried to light, irresistible crunch, you know you’re going to have some really good meal.
In Japan, Tempura (天ぷら) is serious stuff. Japanese chefs would spend years mastering the technique of tempura frying. And home cooks will themselves in front of the hot oil in their tiny kitchens. All for the food we so love.
To make tempura worthy of your effort, freshness matters. So do the batter and deep-frying technique. Sure, making perfect tempura requires skills and practice, but I am here to tell you that it is possible to make the perfectly-airy, crispy, and non-greasy tempura right from your home.
Let’s learn all the secrets today!
History of Tempura
The tempura-style batter is said to have been brought to Japan by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century, during the Muromachi period. However, as the cooking method of ‘deep-frying with flour batter’ was already established in Japan beforehand, the origin of tempura can be somewhat disputable.
There are also a number of theories surrounding the etymology of tempura, which adds to the dubiety. Some sources believe the word tempura comes from ‘tempero’, which means ‘seasonings’ or ‘spices’ in Portuguese, while some cited the definition from Kanji (Japanese-Chinese characters).
What’s evident is tempura started to spread as street food and became a favorite among the common people in the early Edo period. With the increase of oil production, food stalls started selling tempura as a skewered snack food, alongside soba, sushi, and eel. By the late Edo and early Meiji era, tempura shops and restaurants emerged and started establishing its position as a specialty cuisine.
Today, you can find some best tempura houses in Japan, where all of your meals will be cooked by a highly trained chef who devotes his entire career to tempura frying.
It cannot be any more true to say that tempura is one of Japan’s representative dishes.
How to Make The Best Tempura Batter
The success of your tempura is in the batter. To achieve a crispy texture, it’s very important to minimize the gluten formation in the batter as much as possible.
Tempura Batter: (flour : egg + water = 1 : 1 by volume)
- 1 cup (120 g) all-purpose flour (plain flour)
- 1 cold large egg (50 g without shell)
- 200 ml iced water
- Choice of flour – All-purpose flour is the most basic flour for tempura batter. Some people prefer using low-protein flours, such as cake flour or a mix with corn starch. For convenience, there is also a pre-mix tempura flour available. Personally, I always make my tempura batter from scratch using all-purpose flour, iced water, and egg.
- The recommended flour to water/egg ratio is 1:1.
- A cold batter is absolutely necessary – Make sure all your ingredients (flour, water, egg) and the bowl are cold. Keep your water refrigerated so it’s icy cold. This helps the batter cling on to the surface of the ingredients.
- Do not overmix the batter – Use chopsticks to mix for 15-20 seconds; gluten will start to form when you mix too much. It’s even helpful to leave some floury lumps in the batter. A lumpy batter contains more air and irregularities, which gives the tempura a light lacy layer that we’re after. Aim for consistency – The finished batter shouldn’t be too thin or too thick. I’ll go for a heavy cream consistency.
- Make batter right before you deep fry to reduce gluten activation.
What Ingredients to Use for Tempura
You can basically make tempura with a wide range of fresh ingredients, with the most common options that include seafood, mushrooms, and root vegetables. There are also local tempura menus all over Japan that feature seasonal ingredients unique to the area.
The most popular tempura is, of course, Shrimp Tempura, also called Ebi no Tempura (海老の天ぷら) or Ebi Ten (えび天). In Japan, we use Japanese tiger prawns or Kuruma Ebi (車海老) that are large in size and have a sweet, buttery flavor. In the US, you can use black tiger shrimp or jumbo shrimp for tempura.
We straighten the shrimp to make it look gorgeous and here’s how to do it.
You can also find other seafood being fried up. Here are some of the delicious examples:
- Abalone (鮑, あわび) – summer
- Anago (穴子) – winter
- Barracuda (梭子魚, かます)
- Botan shrimp (牡丹海老, ぼたんえび)
- Chikuwa fish cake (竹輪,ちくわ)
- Cod (鱈, たら)
- Cuttlefish (墨烏賊, すみいか)
- Dagger-tooth pike conger, Conger pike (鱧, はも) – summer
- Icefish (白魚, しらうお) – winter
- Japanese sea bass (鱸, すずき)
- Japanese smelt (公魚, わかさぎ) – spring
- Japanese tiger prawn (車海老,くるまえび) – summer
- Japanese whiting (鱚, きす) – summer
- Octopus (蛸, たこ)
- Orient clam (蛤, はまぐり)
- Oyster (牡蠣, かき) – summer
- Pufferfish (河豚, ふぐ)
- Sakura shrimp (桜海老, さくらえび) – spring
- Salmon (鮭, さけ) – fall
- Scallop (帆立貝, ほたてがい) – winter
- Sea eel (穴子, あなご)
- Sea bream (鯛, たい)
- Shirako, milt, soft roe (白子,しらこ) – winter
- Shishamo (柳葉魚,ししゃも)
- Shrimp (海老, えび)
- Squid (烏賊, いか)
- Unagi (うなぎ) – winter
- White-flesh fish, white-fleshed fish, white fish (白身魚, しろみざかな)
Vegetables, Mushrooms & Seaweeds
For vegetable tempura, starchy root vegetables such as sweet potato, Kabocha squash, and lotus roots are most ideal. Other popular ingredients such as Japanese mushrooms (shiitake and oyster), eggplants, okra, shiso leaves, and shishito peppers are also suitable for frying in the batter. In rural Japan, people even fry up wild edible plants and shoots like dandelion and fiddleheads for tempura.
When choosing vegetables, you’d want to avoid vegetables with high water content such as tomato, celery, and cucumber. They do not hold up the batter well, and the moisture will result in the vegetables getting burnt easily.
Here are some of the popular vegetables, mushrooms & seaweeds for tempura:
- Asparagus (アスパラガス) – spring
- Avocado (アボカド)
- Baby corn (ヤングコーン)
- Bamboo shoot (竹の子) – spring
- Bell Pepper (ピーマン)
- Bitter melon (ゴーヤー)
- Black-eyed pea (ささげ)
- Carrot (人参, にんじん) – winter
- Chestnut (栗) – fall
- Corn (とうもろこし) – summer
- Daikon (大根) – winter
- Eggplant (茄子, なす)
- Fava bean (そら豆)
- Ginkgo seed (銀杏, ぎんなん)
- Gobo, Burdock root (ごぼう)
- Green beans (さやいんげん) – summer
- Japanese Maple leaf (もみじの葉) – Common in Mino, Osaka prefecture
- Japanese mountain yam (山芋, やまいも)
- Japanese pickled ginger (紅しょうが) – Common in Osaka prefecture
- Japanese sweet potato (サツマイモ) – fall
- Kabocha (かぼちゃ) – winter
- Lily bulb (百合根, ゆりね) – fall
- Lotus root (れんこん)
- Maitake mushrooms (舞茸, まいたけ) – fall
- Matsutake mushrooms (松茸, まつたけ) – fall
- Mountain vegetables (山菜, さんさい)
- Mozuku (edible seaweed) (藻付,もずく) – Common in Okinawa prefecture
- Myoga Japanese ginger (みょうが) – summer
- Nameko (なめこ) – fall
- Nori seaweed (海苔, のり)
- Okra (おくら) – summer
- Onion (たまねぎ) – spring
- Parsley (パセリ)
- Potato (じゃがいも)
- Romanesco (ロマネスコ)
- Shiitake mushroom (しいたけ) – fall
- Shimeji mushrooms (しめじ) – fall
- Shishito pepper (ししとう) – summer
- Shiso leaves (大葉, 紫蘇の葉)
- Tomato (トマト) – summer
- White asparagus (ホワイトアスパラガス)
- Zucchini, Courgette (ズッキーニ)
Meat and Eggs
We don’t generally use meats because they are considered too heavy for tempura dishes. However, you can find Chicken Tempura (Toriten) in the Oita Prefecture of Kyushu region in Japan.
- Chicken (鶏, とり) – Common in Oita prefecture
- Egg (鶏卵, たまご)
- Quail eggs (うずらの卵)
How to Prepare Basic Tempura Ingredients
- Shrimp – See this post.
- Eggplant – Discard the head of the eggplant, then cut it in half lengthwise. Cut the eggplant lengthwise into very thin (about ⅛ inch or 3 mm) slices leaving the top 1-inch part intact. Gently press down on the eggplants to fan the slices out.
- Kabocha – Without peeling the skin, slice into 5 mm pieces.
- Sweet Potatoes – Without peeling the skin, slice into 5 mm pieces.
- Shiitake mushrooms – Remove and discard the stem and make a decorative cut on the cap.
- Dry the ingredient with a paper towel; moisture is the enemy for achieving crisp tempura texture.
- The ingredient will be well-coated with batter if you sprinkle the flour lightly over it (we call sprinkling of the flour uchiko 打ち粉) before dipping into the tempura batter.
How to Make Tempura
In Japanese cooking, deep frying is an art, and it takes some know-how and practice to execute desirable results. For the case of tempura, the hot oil enhances the natural sweetness and flavors of whatever you’re frying, at the same time, devoid of greasiness. Let’s take a look at how you can achieve that at home.
Deep Frying Oil
Most tempura restaurants use untoasted sesame oil or their own special blend of oil. At home, you can also use a neutral-flavored oil such as vegetable or rice bran oil or canola oil, and simply add a touch of sesame oil for a deliciously nutty aroma. Use clean, new oil instead of used oil.
Ideally, the oil should fill up to ½ of the pot. The minimum oil you need in a frying pan is 1 inch deep. The more oil you have, the more ability the oil will have to sustain its ideal temperature throughout frying.
Ideal oil temperature for frying – Depending on the ingredients, we are looking at the range of 320-350°F (160-180°C). Use a thermometer for precise temperature control, especially if you’re not familiar with deep frying.
You can check the approximate temperature by dropping the batter into the oil.
- High temperature (350ºF or 180ºC): the batter will come right back up.
- Medium temperature (340ºF or 170ºC): the batter will go to the middle of the pot and come right back.
- Low temperature (320ºF or 160ºC): the batter will go to the bottom of the pot and slowly come up.
Cooking Time and Temperature
Seafood & Meat (350ºF or 180ºC)
- Meat (pork and chicken) – 3-4 minutes
- Shrimp – 2 minutes
- Squid – 1 minute
- Fish – 1 minute
Vegetables & Mushrooms (320ºF or 160ºC)
- Sweet potatoes – 2-3 minutes
- Kabocha – 2-3 minutes
- Shiitake mushrooms – 1 minute
- Eggplant 1 minute
- Shishito peppers – 30-40 seconds
- Shiso – 15-20 seconds
- Do not overcrowd the frying pot with ingredients – As a rule of thumb, only half of the oil surface should be covered with ingredients. So, deep fry in batches.
- Keep the oil temperature steady at all times.
- Turn the tempura regularly to ensure even cooking.
- Pick up crumbs in the oil between batches – You wouldn’t want any burnt crumbs to attach to your new tempura pieces or dilute the oil flavor.
How to Make The Best Tempura Dipping Sauce
Tempura is the best when you dip them in the delicious Tentsuyu (天つゆ) or Tempura Dipping Sauce. The sauce itself is delicate but has all the sweet-savory flavor you need to accentuate the enjoyment of fresh, hot tempura.
Tentsuyu (Tempura Dipping Suace):
- ¾ cup (180 ml) dashi (Japanese soup stock) (or ¾ cup water + 1 tsp dashi powder)
- 3 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp mirin
- 2 tsp sugar
The tempura dipping sauce can be put together quickly. When you make homemade dashi for miso soup, save a portion to make the sauce. It will be ready in less than 5 minutes!
How to Serve & Enjoy Tempura
Serve the hot-off-the-frying-pot tempura with tentsuyu dipping sauce along with grated daikon to help refreshen your palate. It makes a remarkable main dish to enjoy on its own.
Tempura also goes well with flavored salts such as matcha salt, yuzu salt, and curry salt.
Various Tempura Recipes to Try
Hungry? Find the detailed tips and techniques in each of the following tempura recipes!
Crispy and delicious homemade Shrimp Tempura! The secret to making a light, crisp coating that doesn’t absorb oil when fried is in the batter and deep-frying technique.
Who can resist delicious crispy homemade vegetable tempura? When making tempura at home, the goal is a crispy yet airy coating that doesn’t absorb oil when deep-fried. I’ll teach you how to achieve excellent results in this recipe.
Yes, you can now make Gluten-Free Tempura with a crispy batter at home. This recipe will show you how.
Chicken Tempura is a regional favorite in Oita Prefecture of Kyushu region in Japan. With a crispy and fluffy batter on the outside and juicy and tender meat inside, this Chicken Tempura is best enjoyed by dipping with karashi mustard ponzu sauce.
More Delicious Ways to Serve Tempura
Besides eating them straight off as a dish, you can also serve tempura as a topping or a side to accompany many other dishes like sushi and noodles.
On Just One Cookbook, I have shared many recipes featuring delicious tempura such as below:
- Soba Noodle Soup – Simple bowl of soba noodle soup topped with tempura, fish cake, and scallion.
- Ten Don (Tempura Donburi) – You get shrimp and vegetable tempura served over a rice bowl.
- Tensumu (Tempura Shrimp Rice Balls) – A Nagoya specialty, Tensumu is rice balls stuffed with shrimp tempura.
- Dragon Roll – An inside-out sushi roll featuring shrimp tempura and creamy avocado.
- Nabeyaki Udon – Topped with tempura, chicken & heaps of vegetables, Nabeyaki Udon is a hot noodle soup traditionally served in a donabe or iron pot.
Now that you’re armed with the knowledge of tempura-making, I hope you’re ready to fire up some delicious tempura at home!
For the Tempura Batter (ratio of egg + water to flour is 1 to 1 by volume)
- 1 large egg (50 g w/o shell) (keep it cold)
- 200 ml iced water (keep it cold)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (plain flour) (keep it cold)
For the Tempura Dipping Sauce (Tentsuyu)
For the Tempura Ingredients
- 4 shrimp (peeled with the tails left on, and deveined; leave on the shell section nearest the tail)
- 1 Japanese or Chinese eggplant
- 2 king oyster mushrooms (eringi)
- 2 shiso leaves (perilla/ooba)
- 4 slices lotus root (renkon)
- 4 slices Japanese sweet potato (Satsumaimo)
- 4 slices kabocha squash
- 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour (plain flour) (for dusting)
- neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc.) (for deep-frying; or use a ratio of neutral-flavored oil to sesame oil of 10 to 1)
- 2 inches daikon radish (grated and lightly squeezed to drain)
To Make the Tempura Dipping Sauce (Tentsuyu)
- Combine the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Then, lower the heat and let it simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside.
To Prepare the Ingredients
- Follow these instructions to straighten the shrimp, so it looks gorgeous. Pat the shrimp dry and make sure the moisture is completely removed from the shrimp.
- Cut all the vegetables (except the eggplant) ¼-inch thick. For the eggplant, cut off and discard the stem and calyx, then cut it in half lengthwise. With the cut side flat on the cutting board, cut the eggplant lengthwise into very thin slices (about ⅛ inch or 3 mm), being careful to leave the bottom tip intact by 1 inch (2.5 cm) so the slices stay connected. Then, gently press down on the slices to fan them out. Repeat with the other eggplant half.
To Prepare the Oil
- In a medium-sized pot, heat 1½ inches to 2 inches (3-5 cm) of the oil to 350°F (180°C).
To Make the Tempura Batter
- While the oil is heating up, start preparing the tempura batter. Add the egg and the iced water into a 2-cup measuring cup (or any bowl). Whisk the egg mixture vigorously and discard the foam on the surface.
- Sift the flour into a large bowl. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the flour. Mix the batter, but do not overmix; it’s okay to leave some lumps in the batter. Keep the batter cold at all times (store it in the refrigerator if needed). Make the batter right before deep-frying to avoid activating the wheat gluten.
To Deep-Fry the Tempura
- Check the oil temperature with a thermometer to make sure the oil is 350°F (180°C). You can also use wooden chopsticks to check; when you dip your chopsticks in the oil and see small bubbles forming, it’s ready for deep-frying. Please note that sweet potatoes and kabocha require a lower cooking temperature (320ºF/160℃). If you want to read more deep-frying tips, please read this post.
- Deep-fry starting with the cleaner and less astringent ingredients. For example, the cooking order would be shiso first, followed by the mushrooms, eggplant, shrimp, sweet potatoes, and kabocha. Make sure your ingredients are dry before dipping them in the batter; if they’re wet, dry them with a paper towel first. While the tempura is frying, the moisture from the ingredients will evaporate and the tempura will become crispy. However, if the ingredients have extra moisture, the tempura will become soggy after deep-frying.
- When the oil reaches the right temperature, dip one piece of vegetable or shrimp in the batter, let the excess drip off for a second or two, and very gently place it into the hot oil. Continue dipping and adding one piece at a time. For the shrimp, sprinkle some flour or potato starch (or cornstarch) over it before dipping to help the tempura batter adhere. For the shiso leaves, sprinkle a bit of sifted flour on the back of the leaf, dip only the back of the leaf into the batter, and deep-fry for 15 seconds. The flour acts as a glue and the batter tends to stay on the ingredients better.
- Deep-fry the ingredients until golden brown. Do not crowd the pot because the oil temperature will drop quickly. Remember, your ingredients should take up no more than about half of the oil surface area at any one time. Here’s the rough cooking time for each of the ingredients: Shiso (350ºF/180ºC, 20-30 seconds), mushrooms (350ºF/180ºC, 1 min), eggplant (350ºF/180ºC, 1 min), shrimp (350ºF/180ºC, 2 minutes), sweet potatoes (320ºF/160℃, 3 mins), and kabocha (320ºF/160℃, 2-3 mins). Note that sweet potatoes and kabocha require a lower cooking temperature than the rest of the tempura ingredients.
- Transfer the tempura to a wire rack or a plate lined with a paper towel to drain the excess oil.
- Between batches, clean the oil by scooping up the crumbs (called tenkasu), which will burn and turn the oil darker if left in the pot.
- Grate the daikon and squeeze the liquid out. Prepare 3-4 Tbsp of warm tentsuyu in individual small bowls and serve the grated daikon on the side.
- Put 1 Tbsp of the grated daikon in the sauce and dip the tempura in the sauce to enjoy.
- You can keep any leftovers in an airtight container and store them in the refrigerator for up to 2 days and in the freezer for 2 weeks. Reheat the tempura at 350ºF (180ºC) in the oven until warm and crisp.