№ 96 - Sweet Corn Tempura
I still remember my first sweet corn tempura at Donguri in NYC. Someone ordered it as a shared plate. I was suspicious but I'd long ago learned my lesson about other people's orders after overruling my wife's wine choice on our second date. You can guess how that went down. I like corn, but it seemed too pedestrian to compete in the dominion long ruled by expensive shrimp. Good thing I kept my trap shut. The first bite would have exposed me as a first class moron. Hot, crunchy, salty, sweet and slightly chewy... these little fritters were insanely delicious.
I was thrilled when a few years later I discovered a sweet corn tempura recipe in Nancy Singleton Hachisu's excellent Japanese Farm Food and my recipe is largely based on hers. I never miss an opportunity to make it part of a summer tempura dinner.
Makes 4 appetizers
1 large cob of sweet corn (about 1¾ cups kernels)
½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup ice cold water
⅛ tsp fine sea salt plus more for serving
32 oz of mildly flavored cooking oil (1 qt). Can be used to fry other vegetables as part of a tempura dinner. I use rice bran oil because it has good flavor and a high smoke point, which makes it last longer. Canola oil is perfectly fine too. You will only use up a small fraction of this quantity and it can be reused.
A pair of bamboo chop sticks (such as from Chinese takeout. No fancy, lacquered chopsticks)
Candy/deep-fry thermometer. If you don't have one, you can get by without.
The best way to eat tempura is in the kitchen right after each round is fried, but if you’d prefer to have a more civilized experience sitting down with everyone else, then you can keep the fried tempura in the oven until serving. In that case, pre-heat the oven to the lowest setting possible or use a warming drawer. Line 2 baking sheets with kitchen paper towels and keep them warm in the oven.
Pour the oil into a medium-sized pot. Ideally the oil is at least 2 inches deep and doesn’t come within an inch of the rim. Heat over medium heat to 360F (180C). (If you don’t have a thermometer, you could get a rough sense of the temperature of the oil by doing the following: hold one of the chopsticks into the oil. If you see a stream of tiny bubbles emerging from the wood, drip a drop of batter into the oil. The batter should bubble up to the surface immediately but it shouldn’t brown after just a few seconds.)
While the oil heats, shuck the corn and cut off the kernels with a large knife while holding the cob vertically on a large cutting board. Don't be afraid to cut close to the tough core. Whisk the flour, salt and ice water together in a small bowl until smooth and stir in the corn. Place some ice cubes into a second, larger bowl and place the first bowl on top of the ice.
When the oil is hot, put on an apron and carefully slide three soup spoons of the corn batter into the oil to make 3 fritters. Fry for about 3 minutes until light golden brown. Remove the fritters with the chopsticks and place them on some kitchen paper towels on a plate (or on the baking sheets in the oven). Serve immediately with your best fine sea salt for dipping. Strain out any stray batter with the mesh skimmer before frying each new round.
The oil can be reused the next time you make tempura or fritto misto. Run it through a fine sieve once cooled and label it seafood or vegetable. It can be stored at room temperature for months.