Monday, August 20, 2012

Zucchini Blossoms Tempura

For all my seeming confidence in the kitchen, there are some cooking tasks that scare the shit out of me.  Come on, we all have those.  What techniques or ingredients do you not want to touch with a 10-foot pole?  My kitchen fears are killing an animal myself (lobsters and crabs), roasting a turkey, and deep-frying.  There are probably more, but I'll stop here before I make myself look completely incompetent -- not a good move if you teach cooking classes for a living.  But I am happy to report that as of last week, my deep-frying fear is finally conquered.

It all started with the gorgeous zucchini blossoms I spotted at the Natick Farmer's Market.  I find these orange beauties irresistible and my love for them won over my hate of deep-frying.  Isn't there some other way to cook zucchini blossoms?  No, at least not a good one.  Trust me, I've tried.

To complicate matters, Jason was out disk golfing, and it was just me with the kids, a scary amount of veggies from the farmer's market to unload, and a big bouquet of flowers to fry.  Against my better judgement, I decided to go for it.

Heating up big pots of oil and getting rid of it (or storing) is a pain, so I decide to breaking a few rules.  Instead of a gallon of oil most deep frying recipes call for, I decided to only use a quart and fry in small batches.  Since each batch only cooks for 2 minutes, it turned out just fine.  I cooked my blossoms 2 at a time and kept the done ones on a rack in a 200F oven.  In 10 minutes lunch was ready.  The only remaining problem was what to do with the oil.  You can't dump it down the sink.  The common wisdom is to filter it and store it for the next time.  The problem was that I deep-fry about once a year, so my oil goes rancid before the next time.  That's when I thought of duck fat.  Of course!  Why not freeze it?  It wasn't that much oil, so fitting it into my freezer would not be a problem.  I let the oil cool to room temperature and poured it through a fine mess strainer into a tall deli container (the kind you get in a Whole Foods bulk isle), labeled it and threw it in the freezer.  You know, it really wasn't that bad -- the whole deep-frying thing.

For the batter, I used the tempura batter from Washoku cookbook by Elizabeth Andoh.  There are only two ingredients in it: self-rising flour and ice-water.  If you don't have self-rising flour on hand, don't worry.  I don't either.  You can easily make it by combining all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt.  This is tempura batter to end all tempura batters.  One of the best I've ever had!

Sammy got a bit impatient with picture taking and decided to take matters into her own hands.

Tempura Zucchini Blossoms
(or whatever veggies you want to deep-fry)

Note about oil: For high heat cooking, I use grapeseed oil.  Other good options are safflower, peanut, canola, or vegetable oils.

For the Batter (adopted from the Washoku cookbook by Elizabeth Andoh)
5 oz (1 cup) all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur unbleached)
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp table or fine grained salt)
1.5 cups ice-water

For Frying
at least 1 quart oil (see note above)
zucchini blossoms or whatever you want to deep fry
optional filling (ricotta, white bean puree, leftover risotto, etc)

  1. Preheat the oven to 200F.  Prepare a baking sheet lined with a rack.
  2. Remove the green leaves around the base of zucchini blossoms and remove the pistil (the stick in the center).  The best way to do it is to reach in with forceps and rip it out.  You remember from my last post how useful the forceps are, right?  Otherwise, make a slit in the flower so that you can remove the pistil with a knife.
  3. If you want, you can stuff the blossoms.
  4. Heat up a pot of oil to 370F (I use a 2 quart saucepan for 1 quart oil).  
  5. The batter should be done last minute.  Pour the ice-water into a medium bowl (measure it out without ice-cubes).  Sift flower, baking powder, and salt over the water.  Whisk very briefly just until ingredients come together.  The batter should be lumpy!
  6. Coat the blossoms with the batter and fry without crowding the pot for 1 minute per side.  Crank up the heat when they go into the oil to help the temperature recover.  Monitor vigilantly with a thermometer.  There are deep-frying thermometers, but I used my Thermapen for this and it worked fine.  Flip after 1 minute to crisp up the other side.  Remove to a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle with a bit of salt immediately.  Keep warm in the oven on baking sheet lined with a rack while frying the rest.


bkida said...

My favorite thing about your post? "Jason was out disk golfing." (love to go disk golfing) Okay that and to know that some culinary challenges actually scare the shit of you. Thanks for keeping it real in your posts. I will have to try zucchini blossoms- which is something I've never done. They scare the shit out of me. :-)

Louise said...

No problem here with killing a lobster or crab, roasting a turkey, even deep frying a whole turkey as that deep frying is done outside, but I'll agree with the other deep frying as I don't like to confront the mess. I still have a few zucchini blossoming in my garden and I think I'll have to give this a shot. :-)

Shirley said...

Sorry for a few dumb questions.
Why should we use ice-water?
Why the batter should be done last minute?
Plz do reply

Helen said...

There is no such thing as a dumb question on my blog :)

My guess is that it has to do with baking powder. It will lose its power if you make the batter in advance and won't give you the necessary puff when you fry it. I am guessing the reason you need very cold water is to delay the puffing reaction as much as possible, so that it happens during frying. But those are just guesses. I batter and fry so rarely, I've never researched this matter too closely and just use the standard instructions that seem to work well.

Shirley said...

Thanks for answering my questions.Today I followed ur instructions n they were better. In India we do a lot of deep frying but we use chick peas flour instead of all purpose flour...the one we use to cook farinata.
We don't have zucchini flowers in India. We use potatoes thin slices, onions or bread slices cut in medium triangles. Dip it n fry it.