Here in the lowcountry, local markets are replete with squash of all kinds. Over the weekend I picked up some of the butternut variety, and decided to tempura fry them as a gameday appetizer for a few friends.
Tempura frying is quick and the batter is light, so as long as the oil is nice and hot the food shouldn’t be oily. In fact, hot oil seals in the essence of the squash a lot better than other cooking methods.
Butternut Squash Tempura
1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. First, cut the butternut squash in two at the intersection of the cylindrical neck and the round base. If the skin is too thick to peel with a vegetable peeler, try standing the neck with the flat cut-end down and slicing downward around the squash with a paring knife. (If the neck is really long, cut into two shorter pieces before doing this.) Peel the skin from the round base and then split it in two lengthwise. Using a spoon, scrape to remove the seeds and fibrous flesh. Cut the squash into 3-inch pieces. Put the pieces on a broiler pan, season them lightly with salt and pepper, and bake until barely tender, 20-30 minutes.
3. Fill a heavy, straight-sided saut� pan no more than halfway to the top with canola or grapeseed oil for deep frying. (Be sure not to fill the pan higher than halfway up the sides: the oil will expand when you fry, and could spill over and ignite.)
4. When the squash has cooled, cut the pieces into long rectangles.
5. Whisk together the rice flour and club soda. Add more flour or soda so that the batter is thick (like pancake batter).
6. Turn the heat on medium-high to warm the frying oil. When the oil reaches 360-375F, dip the squash pieces into the batter and let the excess drain off; the batter should cling to the squash but not be too clumpy.
7. Carefully set the squash pieces into the oil, letting them fall away from you so you don’t splash oil onto your fingers. (You can also do this with tongs or a slotted spoon.) Work in batches of 6-8 pieces of squash at a time so the oil temperature is constant. Fry, turning the squash gently, until they’re golden brown in spots, 3-5 minutes.
8. Remove the squash pieces with a slotted spoon and drain them on a paper towel- or newspaper-lined plate. Season immediately with salt and pepper.
9. Whisk together the soy sauce, lime juice, ginger and sesame oil. Serve alongside the squash.