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The trick to non-greasy tempura is, ironically, all in the oil

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Q: Whenever I make tempura, it comes out much greasier than at Japanese restaurants. Am I using the wrong oil or a bad recipe? Thanks for helping.

- Amy B.

A: There is nothing worse than biting into a beautiful golden brown piece of tempura and having what seems like a cup of warm oil dribble into your mouth. There is no oil on this planet that would make that a good experience - but it's not the type of oil that causes the problem.

Most oils are fine to use for tempura; I personally like canola because it doesn't impart any flavor to the food fried in it. The key to grease-free tempura lies in the temperature of the oil, which should be between 340 degrees and 360 degrees. A good way to tell if it is the right temperature (all right, duh, with a thermometer - but not everyone has one), is to do a little test.

If you drop a piece of tempura into the oil and it sinks down to the bottom of the pan without popping right back up to the surface, then the oil is not hot enough. If the piece of tempura doesn't sink at all, then the oil is too hot.

Another tip to remember (all right, it's common sense) is that when several pieces of tempura are dropped into the oil, the temperature of the oil will naturally decrease.

So when you add each batch of tempura, give your pot a little more heat to adjust the temperature.

As far as the batter goes, a basic 1-by-1-by-1 recipe is always a good way to go. That's 1 egg mixed with 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour. Even someone with limited brain cells (like me) can remember that one. The trick is that the water has to be ice cold, and the batter should be used as soon as it's made.

Most people think the Japanese invented tempura, but another theory suggests it was actually created by Portuguese missionaries in Japan in the 16th century. They would cook the abundant Japanese seafood during Lent and other fasting periods just as they did back home - fried and golden brown.

Of course, we know the Japanese refined and perfected the technique, which is why we don't make reservations at the local Portuguese restaurant when we have a craving for tempura.

So get back in the kitchen, Amy and perfect your own technique. Remember, if at first you don't succeed, fry, fry again!

Q: Do you have a good eggplant caviar recipe? Many thanks in advance.

- Joe A.

A: There weren't too many details in your letter, Joe, but you don't have to say any more. Things are tough, 401Ks are down, unemployment is up, big companies are doing questionable math, and my basement is flooded. Who can afford real caviar at times like these?

OK, enough about me. Joe, you can modify this recipe by adding a little tomato or making it more like a baba ghanoush by adding a little tahini.

And Joe, the cooking time on your eggplant will vary depending upon its size. I hope this dish tides you over for now.

And when the Dow gets to 12,000 again, the real stuff will be on me.


1 large eggplant

1/3 cup chopped onion

3 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wash eggplant thoroughly, then pierce with a fork in several places. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 20 to 35 minutes, until soft. Turn eggplant over and bake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and slice in half. Scoop out eggplant pulp with a spoon and place in a medium bowl. Mix in onion, olive oil, lemon juice, dill, salt, pepper and mint. Serve hot or cold.

Chef Jim Coleman and his wife, writer Candace Hagan answer your food questions. He is the executive chef at the Rittenhouse Hotel, Philadelphia, the author of three cookbooks and the host of two nationally syndicated cooking shows - "A Chef's Table" on NPR, and "Flavors of America" on PBS.


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