I’m talking tempura. And fritto misto. And (can’t resist them) fish and chips. Flour, water and/or beer, a pinch of salt and a lot of oil. What? It’s my party and I’ll fry if I want to.
I’m old enough not to care if my waistbands are elasticated. Besides, battering your food doesn’t have to be hideously fattening if you get the frying temperature right and drain things properly. We had a fakeaway of fish, chips and mushy peas the other night: the portions were ample but much smaller than you’d get from your High Street fish bar, the chips were air-fried and the mushy peas were, well, mushy peas but with more texture than ready-made.
The batter on the fish was crisp, light and not remotely greasy. Use the recipe below but replace half the water with cold beer (I used an alcohol-free lager, it’s what I had and it’s all about the flavour and the fizz) and stir until smooth. You can add half a teaspoon of powdered turmeric to make it more golden. There should be enough for two large pieces of fish or four small ones. Rest the batter for no more than 30 minutes and fry at 180C for six to eight minutes, depending on size.
Everything in moderation, I’d normally say, but I was on a roll. Shut up at the back. Remembering a delicious tangle of vegetarian fritto misto I had in Venice a while back, I started eyeing the asparagus. I love it cooked this way, with a fine lacy shawl of delicate batter. It gives a lovely crunch without overpowering the asparagus flavour.
Fritto misto recipes often include dry white wine, and tempura, eggs or egg yolks. I’ve omitted both in this lock-down version, which means it also works for vegans. The flour, I’m afraid, is non-negotiable but you don’t need a lot.
You can use the batter for any thinly sliced vegetables, herbs like sage leaves and parsley on the stem and for pescatarians, prawns, squid, and cod cheeks. For larger quantities, increase the batter ingredients in proportion.
Take your pick of dipping sauces. The traditional Japanese version includes dashi stock, mirin, sugar and soy sauce. Kids might like sweet chilli sauce with a squeeze of lime juice or a lemony mayo. Or just add a sprinkle of salt and have a large glass of chilled wine or beer to hand.
1 bunch of asparagus, woody parts snapped off, fat spears halved lengthways
50g plain flour
A good pinch of fine salt
120 ml chilled sparkling water
A bowl of ice
1 litre of sunflower or groundnut oil
Have everything ready before you start cooking, as the batter needs to be kept chilled and it’s a very quick cooking process. You don’t need me to tell you not to leave a pan full of hot oil unattended, do you? Good.
Prepare your asparagus and heat the oil in a deep pan to 180C. If you don’t have a suitable thermometer, a cube of bread should turn golden within 15 seconds. Fill a bowl full of ice, one big enough to sit the batter bowl in.
Sift the flours into the batter bowl, add the salt, then the water. Briefly stir everything together; in this case you actually want the batter to be clumpy so don’t overmix. Using chopsticks rather than a whisk helps. And don’t rest it, make it and use it immediately..
Dip the asparagus spears into the batter to give them a thin coating. Place them carefully in the hot oil and cook for about two minutes, until pale gold. Do them in batches, depending on the size of your pan, bringing the pan back up to heat between batches.
Drain on kitchen paper. If you’re doing loads, you can keep them warm in a low oven with the door open, but they are best eaten straight away.