Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Hold your tempura; hold it 'til it's icy cold

Fried foods don't rank very high on my list of ingesta. Nevertheless, the technique of frying is one of the seven in the classical French repertoire and therefore part of the curriculum for Culinary Foundations II.

Thus, as Chef Dan Fluharty likes to call it, today was Fryday. We fried zucchini, we fried potatoes, we fried onion rings, we even fried shrimp and fish and mushrooms. By frying, I mean to say that we used the classic French approach, which is what we Americans would call deep frying. What we call frying, in a pan on the stove top with a little oil, the French call sauté.

Chef Dan demonstrated the technique with two batters, a beer-based and a tempura. The tempura to me was the easier to make, and it was lighter on the fish and shrimp for which I used it.

Tempura is made from corn starch, rice flour, pastry flour, a frothed egg white and cold, icy cold, water. Even once it is made to the right consistency, it must be kept cold. I kept the bowl mine was in sitting in an ice-water bath, even when coating the fish and butterflied shrimp.

The results were tasty, to the limited extent I care to taste fried foods.

Thursday we move on to poaching salmon and fully plating a meal, as we will be expected to do for the final competency practical next week.

(Photo shows my Fryday production. Clockwise from upper left: shrimp tempura, French fries, culinary student Alfie Regadio's siracha-based sauce for the fries, cod tempura with Alfie's tartar sauce, beer-batter zucchini, beer-batter onion rings.)


  1. Mike, I have a question about "plating." Has this always been as important as it seems to be now? Maybe I'm just hearing more about it, but it seems to me that presentation has moved food from merely an art to art and theater. Just wondering.

  2. Good question, Catharine. And thanks for asking.

    Plating and presentation have been important for a long time in classic French cuisine, where all five senses play roles in degustation. That's why there's such emphasis on color and in the cut sizes and shapings of vegetables and starches.

    We hoi polloi are hearing more about it with the proliferation of cooking competitions and a movement of good food and cooking into the mainstream. Or is that movement the other way around?

    In culinary school, appearance usually counts for one-fifth of the grade on any one plate. That includes, by the way, whether the plate is warm; if it's not, Chef will take one point off.