In modern times, tempura batter has become as popular in western culture as it is in Asia, with many items, particularly fish and fried chicken, coming in a tempura coating as a healthier alternative to traditional batters and breadcrumb coatings.
But what exactly is tempura, and where does it come from?
History of Tempura Fried Chicken
The term “tempura” originates in Latin, meaning “time period”, and refers to the times when the Catholic church would enforce fasting, usually involving the avoidance of meat.
In Japan, tempura has been around since at least the 16th century, when Portuguese and Spanish missionaries arrived in Nagasaki. They incorporated a basic concoction of flour, eggs, lard, and cold water to create simple fritters perfect for periods of fasting.
Following that, it underwent a dramatic change in the 17th century, when street cart foods became popular in the Tokyo Bay area, making use of the local fresh seafood, and preserving the taste with light frying and the use of cold water.
It quickly gathered popularity, becoming known as “tempura-maki” (or “tempura roll”), and was especially eaten during festivals.
It became popular among the samurai class, who enjoyed its lightness and crunchy texture. Today, tempura is still considered an important part of Japanese cuisine and is often served at weddings, birthdays, graduations, and other special occasions.
What Is Tempura?
Tempura is a light batter made of iced water, eggs, and soft wheat flour (commonly used for cakes and pastries).
Typically in Japanese recipes, baking powder is sometimes used in the mix to make the fritter particularly light and crispy, although this outcome can be achieved by using sparkling water instead of plain.
Whilst no seasonings or salt are usually added to the batter, some recipes recommend rinsing seafood in salt water for extra flavor.
The Frying Process
Traditionally cooked using sesame oil, vegetable oils and canola oil can also be used, although several restaurants in Japan who pride themselves on the traditionalism of their tempura recipes still use sesame oil and tea seed oils to this day.
The batter is poured into hot oil and cooked until golden brown, fluffy, and crispy on both sides.
The tempura is then served with dipping sauces such as mayonnaise, soy sauce, ketchup, wasabi paste, or sugar syrup. In Japan, it is common practice to eat tempura with rice or noodles.
Common Variations of Tempura Fried Chicken
There are many different types of tempura, with traditional fillings consisting of soy sauce (shoyu), spicy meat stew (sukiyaki), chicken (kakuni), pork belly (gyutan), squid (chikuwa), octopus (tako), crab (kani), sea bass (umi), white fish (shiro), fermented bean curd (natto), tofu, pepper-fried egg yolk (mentaiko), and of course fried chicken (chanko mite), the subject of this article.
The Perfect Pairings For Tempura Fried Chicken
But what should you pair your delicious tempura battered fried chicken with?
Of course, there are countless things you could opt for, all of them depending on the situation, or indeed your personal taste. But here, in no particular order, are our top ten recommendations for the perfect side dishes to serve with tempura fried chicken.
Cool Beans Salad
Perhaps an unusual choice, this combination of cooled cooked beans (of varying types including kidney beans and black beans that have been washed and drained), with cooked basmati rice and chilled summer vegetables (lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and radishes) makes a light, delicious accompaniment to your favorite chicken dish.
Experiment with sauces and spice combinations, chili flakes, or simple salt and pepper seasoning to give it an exciting twist, or simply enjoy it as is with your tempura fried chicken.
Roasted Fresh Okra
Despite being a less common choice for roasted vegetables, okra is especially flavorsome, particularly when roasted or fried in olive oil, with salt and pepper seasoning.
This can of course be combined with additional roasted vegetables, such as bell peppers, mushrooms, red onions, and carrots, or simply by itself, served in its own basic sauce.
A standard side dish in American and European cuisine, coleslaw is a simple, fresh, and delicious combination of carrots, cabbage, onions (occasionally), and mayonnaise.
Combine with paprika for an extra kick, or incorporate a spicy mayonnaise for a more exciting taste palette, or simply season and garnish with coriander for a simple, creamy, but unforgettable taste sensation.
Black-Eyed Pea Salad
A mainstay of southern soul food cuisine, black-eyed peas are especially popular in African, Asian, and Middle-Eastern cultures for their high fiber content, low-calorie count, a wealth of health benefits (such as skin care, lowering cholesterol, and supporting healthy digestion), and for their delicious taste.
Featuring black-eyed peas, grape tomatoes, red peppers, onions, and celery, black-eyed pea salad can be infused with basil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, oregano, salt, pepper, and olive oil to create a tangy, delicious dish.
Macaroni And Cheese
An American standard that has increased in popularity around the world, macaroni, and cheese is a perfect counterpart to the lightness of the tempura fried chicken.
A popular comfort food, due to its warm, gooey texture, and cheesy taste, macaroni, and cheese offer a modern take on Asian cuisine that is both simple to make, and inexpensive to put together.
Paired with a variety of seasonings, like salt, pepper, paprika, and even a light sprinkling of chili flakes can enhance this dish from simple comfort food to a taste sensation that feels right at home with the tempura fried chicken.
Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed!
Cheesy Mashed Potatoes
On the subject of comfort foods, what better dish is there than mashed potatoes?
Typically common in British and American dishes, the pairing of fried chicken and mashed potatoes is especially prominent in southern cuisine, often with biscuits and gravy.
However, for this dish, why not drizzle cheese across the mashed potatoes, creating a sticky topping? This could also be paired with bacon bits, chives, and sour cream, or served with simple, peppery chicken gravy for a soul-warming dinner treat.
Barley Corn Salad
This unusual pairing is a delicious treat in disguise. Quick and cheap to prepare and refrigerate, this side consists of barley, corn, red and green peppers, and chopped onions, all diced and mixed together in a lemon, thyme, and cilantro dressing.
Combine with added spices for that extra kick, or season simply with salt and pepper to the taste of your guests.
Served with a selection of sauces, mixed leaves, and a sliced boiled egg, this dish feels at home in both Asian and western cuisine.
Garlic Herb Squash
Another unusual vegetable side, garlic herb squash traditionally uses pattypan squash (a small, summer squash), sliced into strips and baked with olive oil, minced garlic cloves, salt, pepper, parsley, oregano, and thyme for around 20 minutes.
Stirring gently at regular intervals, the finished result is a tangy, wholesome dish that pairs perfectly with the tempura fried chicken.
Squash can be a divisive vegetable, but with its short preparation time and great taste, this dish might be the one to turn that around.
Katsu Sushi Sandwich
This particular dish puts a modern twist on classic Asian cooking, taking inspiration from Korean and Japanese cuisine.
After frying the chicken in the tempura batter, get some nori seaweed sheets, layered with cooked sushi rice (spiced according to your taste), sliced avocado, kimchi for a tangy/vinegary burst, and fresh mixed leaves, before folding the nori into a parcel and sealing tightly.
For spice lovers, sriracha mayonnaise can be used as a perfect dressing for this “sandwich”, and can be spread inside the parcel, or as a dipping sauce on the side.
Whatever the way you approach it, this is a really exciting, delicious dish that pays homage to its Asian culinary past, and modern restaurant culture.
Last, on this list, but by no means least, loaded fries are a modern classic, popular as both a welcome bar food sharing snack or as a delicious and interesting take on the classic nachos and cheese.
The world is literally your oyster when it comes to this versatile side dish, but one way could be the deconstructed burger, taking mozzarella and cheddar cheese, chopped pickled gherkins, and ground beef.
This can be swapped with bacon bits if you’d prefer, and drizzled with burger sauce, ketchup, or American mustard.
Another might be a combination of sour cream, chives, mixed melted cheese, spring onions, and bacon bits. But whatever the combination, this makes the perfect sharing side dish.
And there we have it, our list of the top ten side dishes to pair with tempura fried chicken.
There are any number of sides and pairings you could choose from, ranging from light, nutritious side dishes to wholesome, cheesy comfort foods perfect for sharing with friends and family. The only thing left to do is give them a try!