Wednesday, 31 August 2011

YO! TEMPURA!

Tempura is a Japanese dish consisting of various kinds of fish, vegetables and shellfish coated in a light batter and deep-fried. But you knew that didn't you?

Tempura is quick to prepare and make, and is a brilliant supper dish for weekdays. I particularly like aubergine batons, king prawns, squid and sweet potato done this way. If I'm at Yo! Sushi, where, if dining with my son, I can be guaranteed to spend no less than £40 on a lunch which is basically self-service, I usually order the soft-shell crab in tempura. You can make your own tempura at home. You don't need specialist equipment, though a deep-fat fryer is useful; otherwise, use a deep frying pan or saucepan filled with vegetable or sunflower oil. The only other proven tricks are to use ice-cold water, preferably fizzy or soda, to make the batter and not to beat the batter too much - it should be lumpy as this encourages air bubbles to form and keeps it light and crispy. Keep the pieces to be fried fairly small and fry in batches - to quote from the film Julie Julia, "don't crowd the mushrooms!". I usually serve tempura with sweet chilli sauce and a dipping sauce made from soy sauce. Because the frying process is somewhat labour-intensive, I do not reommend making tempura as a main course for more than 2 people. It's important to serve it as soon as it's done, otherwise the batter can go soggy.

Jamie Oliver, in his own inimitable way, has a good recipe for upmarket tempura on his website. He even makes his own batter, the pukka chap, but I buy a ready-made powder and just add water

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

TERRIBLY CLEVER

National treasure Marks & Spencer is following in the footsteps of that other National Treasure, the Sainted Delia, and has launched a range of "cheat's cooking" ingredients and ready-made sauces. I am not usually a fan of such products, preferring to make my own sauces etc, but I have to admit I'm a recent convert to this range. If you're in a hurry, or don't enjoy cooking, this is ideal for knocking up a quick yet flavourful meal. The ingredients pots are helpfully sold alongside "real" ingredients such as chicken breasts, prawns, noodles and fresh herbs. I am particularly partial to the Green Thai Curry Paste, which, when combined with a tin of coconut milk and some diced chicken or salmon, makes an authentic-tasting Thai curry, almost as good as the one I made from scratch with ingredients purchased from my local Asian supermarket. The Red Thai paste is also good: a teaspoonful with prawns adds a wonderful piquancy, and needs only some noodles and fresh coriander to complete a simple lunch dish. Last night, I tried the coconut sauce, straight from the pot, as a relish to Teriyaki salmon. It had a nice balance of flavours, the sweetness of the coconut offset by the sharpness of lime and ginger.

The range extends to other ingredients, such as a base for chocolate mousse ("Just add cream"), stuffing, flavoured breadcrumbs (to coat chicken), and the now-infamous coating for roast potatoes.

The range was launched nearly a year ago, but has only recently appeared in my local M&S.

Worth a try