Fear of Frying: Kabocha Squash Tempura

A few weeks ago, I consumed a completely embarrassing amount of the most crisp, succulent kabocha squash tempura at the home of some really lovely people who I don’t happen to know very well and who are excellent cooks. (I felt SO lucky to be included!) We were standing around in their kitchen sipping one of those apricot-floral half dry German wines and smacking on the crisp golden edges of this squash which had been finished with the light crunch of sea salt. I was utterly gluttonous – we all were. Afterwards we watched as they cleaned and cut geoduck into satiny sashimi. If you have never seen a geoduck at all, seeing one being cleaned will be quite a surprise for you – I’m not kidding! I was delighted to eat geoduck sashimi but I will gladly leave the prep to someone else. The tempura, however, inspired me to address my deep rooted fear of frying things at home.

It’s not that I’m afraid I’ll set the kitchen on fire and I’m fine with the clean-up. I do own the kind of thermometer that can go in searingly hot fat. And I’m not afraid of cooking with fat for health reasons – once or twice a year making french fries, who cares?

Here’s what it is: I don’t want to own a deep fat fryer (too big and messy and they only do that one thing) and I hate the idea of having to fiddle around with the stove the whole time to get the heat right. I imagine I would be irritated if the oil starts to smoke too much or if the batter is too heavy or if the oil is not hot enough. And if the food comes out leaden and greasy? – I would hate that. Or if we’re talking fried chicken, what if the outside is golden and crisp while the inside remains scarily raw? Yuck.

Fried food must be crisp, golden, light – nothing short of perfect – the first time out or I don’t want to have anything to do with it. There’s no rescuing a failure in frying. Yet, despite all my nervous notions, I decided to try to make tempura anyway. The memory of that delicious tempura drove me to it.

Kabocha has a very tough exterior

The most difficult thing was slicing the kabocha squash which has an extremely beautiful but leathery skin. In the interest of keeping it very simple and because our hosts at the dinner party used it, I decided to buy a box of tempura mix – just add water and stir – so the batter was a no-brainer. (hey, what kind of cooking blog is this anyway?) Our hosts shallow fried the tempura, so I did too. Not a big deal. Very simple. The clean-up was a breeze.

Guess what? Making tempura was easy! Nothing to quail over at all.

Kabocha Tempura

  • 1 Kabocha squash
  • 1 box tempura mix
  • sea salt
  • canola oil for frying

With the squash set on a stable cutting board, slice down through the center firmly and carefully. I cut right down through the stem. Once you manage to slice through the exterior, you can wedge the blade back and forth a bit and gently force the halves apart.

With a soup spoon, scrape out the seeds and guts of the squash which are very similar to a pumpkin.

Sliced and peeled kabocha

Cut the halves into slices 3/8″ thick, then peel off the skin. Chill the squash in the refrigerator

Prepare the tempura mix, following the instructions on the box. I found I had to thin mine quite a bit with water. It should be thinner than pancake batter, just barely clinging to the squash.

Film a 10″ heavy bottomed saute pan with a 1/4″ of canola oil and heat until shimmering over medium high heat. If the oil starts to smoke, remove from heat until smoking subsides.

Crisp and almost done

Dip 3-4 slices of squash into the tempura batter. CAREFULLY lay them in the hot oil with tongs. The squash should take 3 minutes per side. You can check as soon as the batter seems to set – it should be barely golden when finished. Flip when the underside is golden and continue to fry for another 3 minutes.

When both sides are golden, remove the tempura to a platter lined with paper towels and sprinkle with sea salt.

These are very fine with cocktails.

I think of this shallow fried tempura as the gateway project to a whole world of deep fried foods that until now have seemed unattainable to me because of my fear and impatience. Look out – fried chicken and samosas are just around the corner!

If you are interested, here is a link showing how to clean a geoduck:

How To Clean a Geoduck

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