Squid Tempura イカの天ぷら
Like any bar food in United States, deep fried items 揚げ物 are very popular in Izakaya. Mark’s book contains quite a few deep fried goodies. Deep fried chicken nuggets (“tori no kara-age” 鶏の唐揚げ and “Tatsuta-age” 竜田揚げ, recipe in Mark’s book p84) are definitely Izakaya teiban 定番 (regular or classic) items. On our last trip to Japan, we were in Kanazawa in June. It was the season for small white shrimp called “Shiraebi” 白エビ. The Izakayas we ate at in Kanazawa offered this seasonal treasure in either “kara-age’ (simply fried) or as “Kakiage” かき揚げ (more about this later). We loved the kara-age version of it. In addition, it was also the season for tiny, fluorescent squid called “Hotaru-ika” 蛍イカ or “firefly squid” (firefly for obvious reason). We had this squid in a very simple preparation called “Okizuke” 沖漬. What a treat!
The picture above shows a fried squid dish I happened to make the other night since relatively fresh squid was available at the near-by Barducci’s gourmet market. Talking about squid in U.S., nothing comes even close in terms of quality, variety, and freshness to the squid available in Japan. An extreme example of which was the “live” squid sashimi (生き造り) we had at the port city of Hakodate in Hokkaido. (I am sure we will have a chance to share our experience with that regional delicacy with you another time). You could use legs げそ as tempura especially in a form of “kakiage” but I used only the body parts this time. The problem with squid is that it contains lots of water which makes it splatter in the hot oil while cooking and makes it difficult to achieve a crispy crust. Also, cooked squid meat could be very chewy. A few preparation steps required to prevent this.
1) After cleaning the squid (if it is not already cleaned), cut open the tube, and make sallow criss-cross cuts. These are called “kanoko-giri” かのこ切りor “matsukasa-giri” 松かさ切り (see the diagram on left). Then, cut into small bite sized pieces. This will make the squid meat less chewy and easy to bite off.
2) Dry the squid by sandwiching it in a paper towel. If you have time, you could refrigerate the squid in the paper towel “sandwich” for 10 minutes.
3) Before dipping into tempura batter, coat the squid with flour (I use potato starch).
4) There are many version of tempura batter but I use a whole egg (classical recipes use egg yolk only), 1 cup of cake flour and ice cold water mixed to the desired consistency. But do not over mix. You want a light flour so you do not want to develop the gluten in the flour. For vegetables, I prefer a thin watery batter–for shrimp and squid a slightly thicker batter.
5) I use peanuts oil since it imparts a nice peanut flavor to the squid and has a high smoke point. To test if the oil is hot enough I drip a very small amount of the batter into it. If the batter sinks into the oil half way and then immediately floats back to the surface, the oil is ready. (another method I use to check if the oil is ready, that was taught to me by my mother, is to put the tip of a bamboo cooking chopstick into the oil and if bubbles come out of the chopstick, the oil is ready). Depending on how things go, you may want to “double” fry the squid. Be careful to take out any stray pieces of tempura batter left in the oil (“tenkasu 天かす which can be used as a topping for needle in a soup dish and has other use) after the squid is cooked through and removed, otherwise they will burn making an unpleasant taste. Increase the heat and crisp up the crust for the second time (just 15 -20 seconds). You may need to try this several times before you will get it right.
6) Traditionally, tempura is eaten using a warm dipping sauce “tentsuyu” 天つゆ (dashi, mirin, sugar, soy sauce or buy in a bottle) with grated daikon and ginger root. But we usually eat it with “green tea salt” 抹茶塩 (a mixture of Kosher salt and powered green tea) and lemon. The night I made this tempura, we went more traditional .