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The Knack

How To Make Tempura Like Nobu

Super-chef Mr Nobu Matsuhisa shares his tips for creating the perfect Japanese snacks

There are few people so esteemed, so world-girdlingly famous, that they are known not by two names like the rest of us, but by one. There is Madonna, there is Pelé, there is Kanye. And then there is Nobu. The executive chef and co-owner (along with Mr Robert De Niro) of the eponymous, much-laurelled Japanese-Peruvian restaurants, Mr Nobuyuki Matsuhisa has, in the 30 years since opening his first restaurant in LA, become a culinary and cultural icon. These days, the 68-year-old has 46 restaurants internationally, and has changed the way many people think about Japanese food. He has now moved into the world of standalone hotels, with one recently opened in Ibiza (as featured in The Journal earlier this month), and one in London. The latter, just off Great Eastern Street, combines a traditional Japanese aesthetic with a soupçon of LA style. There are 143 rooms, seven suites, a lobby bar, a 10-seat sushi bar and a restaurant – whose menu Nobu has raided for this guide to producing the perfect tempura. Scroll down for the master’s tips.

The Ingredients

100g flour
1 egg yolk
200ml cold water
Approx 700g assorted seafood and/or vegetables
Sesame, vegetable or rice oil for cooking

This will make enough tempura to serve six, but you’ll need to scale up the batter quantities depending on the size and shape of what you’re dipping, to ensure each piece is liberally coated before frying.

THE BATTER

“The most important part of tempura is the batter. It’s made from flour, eggs and cold water, and my restaurant keeps all three at the same temperature before mixing. This ensures the batter is perfectly smooth when it reaches the pan. Combine the ingredients gently; if you’re too vigorous, the batter becomes starchy, making the tempura tough. Keep the batter cold until you’re ready to use it – we often place it on a bed of ice to make sure the heat of the kitchen doesn’t affect it.”


PREP MAKES PERFECT

“Any vegetables or shrimp should be cut into bite-size pieces so the tempura can be eaten in one go. I like to use aubergine as it keeps its shape and stays crunchy and fresh, but you can also use mushrooms if you prefer. When it comes to shrimp, I use rock or tiger. Rock shrimp is a relatively large species, named after its rock-hard shell, which is so difficult to remove it takes a special machine to break through. So although these are great, at home, tiger may be better. They shrink when cooked, so buy a little more than you think you’ll need. Peel them, cut the muscles along the back halfway down to prevent them from curling up, then wash them out.”


THE COOKING

“In Japan, we use pure sesame oil to make tempura, but you could use vegetable or rice oil. Do not use strong olive oil or coconut oil, as they have different optimum heating temperatures. It’s also important that it’s clean. For vegetable tempura, the oil needs to be heated to 170°C and for shrimp/fish it should be at 180°C (the oil needs to be hotter for shrimp to ensure it is cooked through and perfectly crunchy). Cooking times will depend on size; when you first start to cook it, you will see big bubbles in the oil, but after a few minutes, these will get smaller. When the tempura sinks a little, then comes back up to the surface, it’s ready. If it sinks to the bottom of the pan, it means the oil isn’t hot enough.”


THE PERFECT SERVE

“Remove the tempura from the oil and place it on some paper towels to soak up any excess oil. Serve very soon after cooking. Allow just a few minutes’ cooling time so your guests don’t burn themselves. At Nobu Shoreditch, the shrimp tempura is served with salt and lemon juice. It’s simple, and the lemon juice perfectly cuts through the oil. Vegetable tempura should be served with an umami sauce – one of the five basic tastes alongside sweetness, bitterness, sourness and saltiness – to balance out its flavour.”

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