Over the weekend I found myself at a Japanese grocery store food court, standing in line at a noodle stall that makes fresh udon before your eyes. Even though it’s the dead of winter here in Chicago, I opted for a bowl of cold udon noodles, nestled in a cool soy base with a runny poached egg atop. Right as I paid, I saw a tub of tempura crunchies sitting by the cashier. I scooped a spoon, then two, then three, essentially burying my noodles with those lacy fried bits. What a delicious decision that was. When you’re eating something where everything’s slick, cool, and chewy, having that crunchy contrast was delightful.
On the drive home, it got me thinking. Why don’t I make this at home and spoon it on everything? Why must I only experience tempura crunchies on specialty maki rolls and suburban Japanese food court noodle stalls?
The possibilities got me excited: On mashed potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs, sandwiches, casseroles. I even thought of a trick from a Chinese chef—he would add fried crunchies to his orange chicken, just to amplify the crispy texture. Once a month we’ll microwave a bag of Trader Joe’s orange chicken for an easy dinner—sprinkling tempura crunchies would make it even better.
Making this isn’t a pain in the ass, provided you have one specific equipment: You really need a spider strainer to skim out the crunchy pieces. Slotted spoons are fine, but you can’t pick up all the pieces at once and you may end up burning some of the later crunchies. It’s worth the $10 investment; we use ours all the time.
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cold club soda
- Egg white from one egg
- 1/4 tsp. salt
Fill a saucepan with 1 1/2-inches of vegetable oil and turn stove on to medium-high heat. Mix all ingredients in a measuring cup until mixture is smooth and runny. Dip a fork into this batter and drop a few drops into the hot oil to test the temperature. The batter should float to the surface and bubble with vigor. When oil is at temp, use the fork (yes, fork) to scoop and drip the batter into the saucepan, doing your best Jackson Pollock impression. Do this quickly (you want the crunchies to cook at around the same time), filling the surface of the saucepan with long lines and messy splotches. (Depending on the size of your saucepan, it should take 6-8 batches to cook all the batter.)
Using the spider strainer, stir the crunchies in the oil so it’ll cook on all sides. When it achieves a blonde hue, scoop the hot crunchies out and lay on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Allow to cool before serving. This should keep in an airtight container for several days.