9.13.11 Batter Up

Maitake tempura 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
More maitake madness! The second hen-of-the-woods mushroom I found was even fresher and more delicate than the first. Having already eaten them sauteed in butter and spooned over toast, and then over gnocchi, I decided to follow my Japanese friend Tomo's advice and try my hand at maitake tempura. It was kind of a bold move, since I've never made tempura before, but I've grown much more comfortable with frying these days. Aside from being a bit messy, it's just not such a big deal. And the rewards, well, I don't have to tell you how wonderful it is to eat something hot and crispy and virtually greaseless. It's a taste and texture revelation. It turns out that tempura is a fantastic way to eat hen-of-the-woods. The crackling exterior perfectly complements the firm, meaty mushroom, which remains sweet and juicy. The flavor is mellow but very savory. While I was at it, I also fried up some zucchini and shishito peppers from our garden, and a few pieces of sweet Vidalia onion.
Maitake in dish 790 xxx
i admired this maitake for a long time before cutting it apart
The bar for tempura is set pretty high in our house. We spent hours one July under the sweltering Tokyo sun looking for a tempura restaurant that had been highly recommended, and it lived up to our expectations. You sat at a long bar in this sleek, modern space and basically had your own chef custom-frying little morsels for you as you ordered them. He would then pass them to you with a long pair of chopsticks. We felt like baby birds waiting for mama to place delicacies in our mouths. And each bite was perfection: light and airy, crunchy, tender, delicious.
Veg for tempura 790 xxx
fresh vegetables, ready for battering and frying
The tempura batter is a very easy mix of rice flour, egg yolk and cold club soda (the effervescence lightens it). I sprinkled a little cornstarch on everything to absorb moisture and help the batter adhere a bit better.
Frying 790 xxx
i used peanut oil for frying
A thermometer is essential when you're frying, even though I found it pretty much impossible to maintain the temperature at the requisite 375º. I don't have a digital thermometer but I wish I did; they are more efficient and easier to use. Don't let lack of a thermometer stop you from frying. Just use a wooden chopstick or the long handle of a wooden spoon to determine when your oil is ready. Insert into the oil and when a brisk, steady stream of bubbles emerges, you're good to go.
Shishito peppers1 790 xxx
shishito peppers in a crackling tempura crust
Practically everything tastes great fried in tempura batter: shrimp, squash, cauliflower, fish. But you know what was the real highlight of this dinner for me? The salt. I debated making a dipping sauce, but love sprinkling salt for the flavor intensity and the crunch. I happened to have a wild lime on hand, and I combined the zest with some Maldon sea salt. The citrus was wonderfully pungent, combined well with the salt and was the perfect accent for the fried vegetables. Addictive. If you don't have wild lime, any citrus zest will do.
Citrus salt 790 xxx
zest for life

Maitake Tempura with Citrus Salt

serves 2
  • — 2 tablespoons Maldon or other flaky sea salt
  • — 4 cups peanut or other high-heat-tolerant oil
  • — 1 teaspoon wild lime or other citrus zest
  • — 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • — 1 egg yolk
  • — 1 cup club soda, well chilled
  • — 1 cup rice flour
  • — 1/2 pound maitake (hen-of-the-woods) mushrooms

Combine zest and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat oil in a deep pot to 375º.

Wipe maitake clean with a damp towel. Trim roots and break into small chunks about 2” square. Lightly dust mushrooms with cornstarch, being sure to shake off any excess.

Whisk egg yolk, rice flour and club soda in large bowl until just blended.

Working in batches—doing only as many at one time as will fit into the pot without crowding—dip pieces in batter, letting excess run off. Fry until light gold in color, about 2 minutes. Using long chopsticks, tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to a paper towel-lined tray. Sprinkle with citrus salt and serve immediately.

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Laura, you are amazing!!! You did it..... I will send another idea later today.... back to work....
tomo on September 13, 2011 at 7:31 am —
Tomo, wait until you see what I found this morning...!!!
laura on September 13, 2011 at 7:39 am —
Looks like the maitake tempura was a great success! Lovely blog!
The Mushroom Forager on September 16, 2011 at 4:13 am —
Thanks, Mushroom Forager. Your giant puffball tempura also sound amazing!
laura on September 16, 2011 at 4:52 am —
what a great recipe. i tried an old tempura recipe from moosewood cookbook with disastrous results. the batter slipped off . I was using bi-color boletes found in a neighbor's yard.
anita schweizer on September 16, 2011 at 7:42 am —
Anita, I think lightly patting the mushrooms with flour or cornstarch really helps the batter adhere. Interested to know about the boletes. The ones I find seem to get so slimy.
laura on September 16, 2011 at 8:03 am —