Friday, March 20, 2015

Five Spice Batter Fried Kabocha Sticks

     Tempura batter fried kabocha squash is popular just about everywhere in Asia.  Kabocha looks like a small small green pumpkin.  The flavor of this squash is sweet and it is often used to make desserts.  Kabocha does not take much time to become tender when it is cooked.  When thin slices of kabocha are batter fried, a nice combination of textures is produced.  Crispy coated sweet soft kabocha really has a nice way of pleasing the senses! 

     Tempura batters have an endless list of variations.  A very thin tempura batter made with club soda produces a delicate lacy crisp coating.  Adding an egg creates a golden color and more of a lacy look.  A medium thin tempura batter made with water produces a thin coating that clings to the featured ingredient.  Baking powder can be added to create a light cake like coating.  Tempura can be flavored with spices, herbs, wine or just about anything that accents what the batter coats.  
     Traditionally, tempura batter is quickly made to order, just before an item is fried.  The batter should only be mixed with chop sticks, so the batter is intentionally not fully combined and smooth.  The little clumps of unmixed flour in the batter create a porous texture.  
     The oil has to be at a proper frying temperature, so the tempura batter coating cooks quickly and solidifies in place.  If the oil temperature is too low, then the tempura batter will fall off of the featured ingredient and the frying oil will have to be filtered. 
     Fry Cooking Safety:
     Tempura batter frying can be dangerous, because the wet batter can cause hot oil spatters and oil saturated steam vapor.  Any time steam carries oil, the vapor is extremely flammable.  Care must be taken when tempura frying.
     • The first rule of fry cooking in a home kitchen is to keep children, pets and folks who have distractful personalities out of the kitchen.  Hot oil burn can cause a severe injury.  Frying is not worth the risk if a home cook is not in complete control of the kitchen environment.  
     • All of the cook's focus should be on the fry cooking.  Distractions cause problems.  Loud music is a distraction.  A good fry cook can tell when food is frying properly just by listening to the sound it makes.  The sound of food frying furiously should be respected as a danger sign.      
     • A clean ventilation hood over the fry pot will not pose a fire hazard.  A dirty greasy vent hood and filter can go up in flames like a Roman Candle, so it pays to clean the hood surfaces before frying.  
     • Wearing a long sleeve chef jacket, gloves and eye protection will prevent minor grease spatter burns.  If a grease spatter hits the eye, the first involuntary reaction is to move a hand upward to protect the eyes.  One clumsy movement like this, can cause a wok or pot of oil to be tipped over, then serious burns might occur.  Every move must be calculated!
     • Keeping a wide metal pot lid handy to smother a hot oil fire is a good idea.  Water should never be used to put an oil fire out, because the steam will carry flammable oil vapor.  An "oil fire rated" fire extinguisher should be in every kitchen, so a minor cooking disaster does not turn into a major catastrophic event.  Never view a fire extinguisher as a last resort.  Oil fires can rapidly increase in heat, which in turn can cause spontaneous combustion of any nearby flammable objects.  Do not hesitate to use a fire extinguisher if necessary.  Those who hesitate are lost. 

     Japanese Teriyaki Sauce:
     Place 3 tablespoons of soy sauce into a sauce pot.
     Add 3 tablespoons of sugar.
     Add 1/2 cup of water.
     Place the sauce pot over low heat.
     Simmer and reduce the teriyaki sauce, till it becomes a syrup consistency and till the sauce can easily glaze a spoon.
     Place the teriyaki sauce in a ramekin.
     Keep the sauce warm on a stove top.  

     Kabocha Squash Stick Preparation:
     Step 1:  Cut a wide wedge of kabosha squash.
     Scrape off the seeds and pulp.  (The seeds can be toasted for a snack!)
     Step 2:  Cut 4 to 6 long strips of kabocha that are about 1/4" thick and about 5" long.
     Trim the skin off of the kabocha strips.  
     Trim the kabocha strips, so they are only slightly curved. 
     Step 3:  Line the kabocha strips up flat on the edge of a countertop, so the ends point to the edge. 
     Place something like a cutting board over the kabocha strips.
     Press the cutting board down and run a thin sharp bamboo skewer about 1" deep, into the end of each kabocha strip.  (Holding the kabocha strips in place with a cutting board, lessens the chance of piercing a finger with a skewer!)
     Set the skewers aside.  

     Five Spice Batter Fried Kabocha Sticks:
     This recipe yields enough batter for one portion (4 to 6 kabocha strips).  
     This is a modified tempura batter recipe that produces a coating that clings tightly to the Kabocha.   
     Tempura batter should be quickly made to order, just before the item is fried.  Every other item for the presentation should be ready before the frying starts.  Tempura frying takes very little time! 
     Step 1:  Heat 8" of vegetable frying oil in a high sided tall pot to 360ºF.
     Step 2:  Place 3/4 cup of pastry flour in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1/3 cup of rice flour.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder.
     Add 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda.
     Add 2 to 3 pinches of sea salt.
     Add 1 pinch of white pepper.
     Add 1 small pinch of Chinese chile powder.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice Powder.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Step 3:  Add just enough water or club soda, while quickly stirring with chop sticks (or a fork), to create a medium thin batter.  The batter should be able to leave a thin coating on a spoon. 
     Step 4:  Transfer the batter into a long narrow container.  
     Step 5:  Dredge the kabocha skewers in flour.
     Dip one kabocha stick in the batter at a time and coat the kabocha.
     *Using a spoon to pour the batter over the kabocha in the container may be necessary.  The batter must coat the area where the skewer and kabocha meet, so the batter holds the skewer in place.  This must be done because the kabocha will become soft enough after frying to allow the skewer to easily slide out.  The crispy batter will keep the skewer glued in place!  
     Step 6:  Hold the skewer and dip the kabocha stick in the hot fryer oil.  
     Repeat these steps, till all of the kabocha sticks are in the fryer.
     Fry till the batter becomes crisp.  (The batter will turn a copper color, because the kabocha squash juice will stain the coating and Chinese five spice also stains a bronze color!)
     Step 7:  As each skewer finishes frying, place it on a metal screen roasting rack over a drip pan.
     Keep the skewers warm on a stove top.
     Place bed of kale leaves on a plate.
     Place the ramekin of teriyaki sauce on the plate.
     Arrange the Five Spice Batter Fried Kabocha Sticks on the plate.
     Garnish the teriyaki sauce with a few thin slices of pickled ginger.  (This adds a nice crisp ginger flavor!)   

     This appetizer appeals to the senses!

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