An aubergine tempura for beginners with an unusual seasoning.
Thick yet airy aubergine tempura with a thick balsamic drizzle.
This month on ingredient we’re focusing on aubergines: the bulbous, almost black purple fruit from the nightshade family that soaks up flavour-infused cooking oils (though not in this recipe!) like they’re going out of fashion.
You can already find the recipe for my Roast Aubergines with Herby Yogurt here. A weeknight friendly-aubergine recipe inspired by an Italian classic should be with you next week. Do upgrade your subscription to unlock every recipe in the ingredient archive, and of course to help funding the free part of what I post here!
Newcastle is a city I like to eat in. From the Duck Confit a la Orange at French Quarter in the railway arches to the Kale Caesar Salad at Träkol across the river in Gateshead, whatever is seasonal on the menu at Anna Hedworth’s rightly famous shipping-container-to-restaurant Cookhouse and my beloved King Baby Bagels in The Grainger Market whilst I have a Southerner’s healthy suspicion of anything North of the M25, I’ll never say no to a trip to Newcastle for the restaurants alone.
The time before last I was visiting with the city’s tourist board and they in turn asked the absolutely fantastic Triple A Food Tours (seriously, if you want to eat around Newcastle and Durham, you can’t do better than Amy and her team) to take a group of us around the best food the city had to offer.
Surprisingly, it was at Kaltur - a Spanish wine bar and tapas restaurant down the bottom of Dean Street (or the top, if you consider the River Tyne to be your starting point, rather than Grey’s Monument) - the groups least lauded stop on our edible tour where I had my most memorable dish, even if the oil they’d fried it in was a little past it’s best.
You’d think aubergine tempura a strange thing to serve in a Spanish restaurant, but once you take the unusual step of drizzling it with the very best balsamic vinegar you have to hand you’ll realise you’ve found the absolute perfect thing to go with Spain’s white and pink wines that tend to be slightly heavier than their French counterparts, or just a nice cold beer. At the time I described the dish as “hot, crisp, tender, sharp, and everything you want from a dish to go with wine.” Quite so.
It is this aubergine tempura I’m recreating for today’s recipe: a slightly thicker than usual tempura to make it easy for tempura beginners and which comes with a satisfying crunch that tastes like tempura, and still manages to be light, but also pays homage to the great British fish and chips in it’s thickness.
Cooked inside the batter the aubergine steams in it’s own juices yielding sweet, silky, impossibly well cooked middles - and as long as you use an okay quality oil for your frying it does not matter if there are any holes - any oil that gets through will make the aubergine all that silkier, unlike say if you decided to tempura seasonal courgettes.
But it is the sweet, tart, unctuous balsamic that really cuts through the batter, seasons the aubergine (though we did salt the aubergine before frying for good measure, and sprinkled the pieces with Maldon the moment they came out of the hot oil) and makes this plateful more than slightly addictive. Seemingly strange at first conception, but once you do more research into the thick, dark, tart sauces the Japanese often serve with tempura rather than just always dipping it into soy sauce (and whilst we’re at it, why do restaurants here serve tempura with miso mayonnaise? The saltiness is welcome, but the last thing you want is more fat on the plate!) it makes sense.
Use your very best balsamic here, you want viscosity, but if you rarely use it so a fancy bottle is not worth the investment do what I did in these pictures seeing if it would be a good substitute for the good stuff: use a bottled balsamic glaze. Worked a treat.
Aubergine Tempura with Balsamic Drizzle
Serves: 4-6, Preparation time: 10 minutes, Frying time: 20 minutes
Obviously one aubergine, as used here, yields enough to serve quite a few people and the tempura won’t keep past cooling down, so use those little finger aubergines cut in half or quarters to scale down the recipe.
As noted above, this is a thicker batter than you’d be used to making Japanese-style tempura on the regular: once you’ve got a hang of the technique, start letting down the batter with yet more sparkling water to make it thinner. Switching to tempura flour, if you want to invest in a bag, will also yield excellent results. In that case follow the packet instructions to make the batter: this recipe is less about the batter, and more about telling you to tempura an aubergine and then drizzle it in balsamic vinegar, anyway.