Class #4 at L’Academie de Cuisine was probably the shortest class so far, but definitely not lacking in deliciousness. Our focus this time was on “Greens and Mushrooms”.
We started with a demonstration of Watercress Tempura (or “Vegetable Funnel Cakes” according to Chef Brian). When frying, it is important to use an oil with a high smoke point such as canola or peanut oil. Apparently beef fat and duck fat work very well, also. The optimal temperature for frying is typically beween 325-400 degrees, however, for this tempura, Chef Brian wanted 3″ of oil in a large pot, at a 350-375 degree temperature (as measured with a fry thermometer). When making the tempura batter, the batter should be very cold. To make sure of this, the chef filled one mixing bowl with ice, and but his batter bowl on top of that bowl. This will result in the most expansion and crispiness when the batter hits the oil. Have whatever you will be frying ready (washed and throughly dryed). In this case they had the little bunches of watercress washed and resting on a towel lined baking sheet. To get the batter started, Chef Brian started with about 3 cups of all purpose flour, 3 tsp. of baking powder (1 tsp. per cup of flour) and toss with a few ice cubes. Mix in liquid slowly, adding just until you get the right consistency. Something like beer ( Yuengling or Sam Adams were suggested) or carbonated water is preferred. You could also use milk, but it will make the batter darker. He added the liquid a bit at a time with a whisk until the texture resembled a pancake batter, not overworking it too much, and then set it aside to rest. You want the texture to just lightly coat whatever you are frying, without being, “too goopy”. At this point, get a landing place ready for your fryed tempura by lining a baking sheet with paper towels and placing it close to where you will be frying. Re-assess your batter by dipping a piece of watercress in to make sure the consistency is right. You could add seasoning such as Ichimi Togarashi Chili Pepper at this point for a spicier tempura. If your batter is good, you can dip a few clumps of watercress into the batter at a time with tongs, and allow excess batter to run off before lightly dropping it in the oil. Let the pieces fry for about a minute or so per side then gently turn over using your tongs, and let other side fry until golden. When cooked, transfer to paper towel lined sheet and sprinkle with salt. When frying don’t crowd the pot, or the temperature of the oil will go down and affect your finished product. After class I looked online and found some more recipes and instructions regarding vegetable tempura. They are all a little different, but all look good:
Summer Vegetable Tempura from gilttaste.com – Contains Vodka to, “reduce gluten formation, which keeps the batter light and crispy.”
How to Make Tempura Fried Vegetables at Home from theKitchn.com – Good tutorial with lots of pictures.
Seasonal Vegetable Tempura from Leite’s Culinaria – Recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi, author of the beautiful cookbook, Plenty. Utilizes sunflower or grapeseed oil for frying and includes the recipe for a cadamom and cilantro dipping sauce.
One of the other chefs assisting Chef Brian, also showed us how to make a quick asian style dipping sauce to accompany the tempura. Of course, there were not really any specifics given regarding quantities, but that is how cooking school goes. They want you to try everything yourself, and taste for yourself, learning to discern what flavors are needed and in what amounts as you cook. He started witha good quantity of soy sauce (I am guessing 1/2-3/4 c.), and added (maybe) a few tbsps. of sesame oil, some chopped fresh ginger, finely chopped cilantro, scallions (the green and white parts), minced garlic, minced shallots, and ground pepper.
Garlic Note- There are many things you learn you should NEVER do in a french cooking school, however, one of the things they seem to despise most is prepackaged garlic paste. They hate the stuff! I have also learned that garlic left in oil can contain the botulin toxin, which is never good (unless you are getting botox apparently). To make a fresh garlic paste for your recipe, peel and mince a few cloves of garlic and sprinkle them with salt. Let the salt sit on the garlic for a minute and work it’s magic while you do something else. When you come back, use the edge of your chef’s knife, and bit by bit, scrape the minced garlic and salt across your board, turning it into a paste. This tastes better, and is healthier than the grocery store stuff.
My goal is to try this out at home, take some pictures and post the result. I would like to try the watercress, as well as maybe sweet potato, and maybe a few other surprises.
We also learned a Caesar salad recipe that I am eager to try and share, including a parmesan lollipop.
More to come!