Most men, when their wives go out for drinks with a friend after work, might instantly call up their buds and have a bro night — drinkin' beer, shootin' the shit, etc. Me, I saw it as a rare opportunity to get up to something Girl Slice would NEVER approve of in a million years were it a regular night around Casa di Kubs.
I call that something TEMPURONI.
That's right. Tempura plus pepperoni equals TEMPURONI. (And, yes, it is CAPSLOCK-worthy.)
It all sort of started with that tempura pizza at Sake Bar Hagi that I hipped you to on Monday (above). That was good stuff but maybe a little too crazy. And, like I said in that post, you couldn't really taste the pizza.
But that got me thinking ... What would a tempura topping taste like? ... Um, how 'bout AWESOME?
Vegetables were an obvious first choice, but I let my mind wander a little and hit upon pepperoni. After all, it's sort of ridiculous, right? Plus, it took me about two seconds to come up with the portmanteau TEMPURONI. Whoa! Like Athena springing fully grown from the head of Zeus, tempura-fried pepperoni was a concept that could not be denied. Anyway, enough of the extended intro. Let's get down to business, shall we?
How to Make TEMPURONI (aka Tempura-Fried Pepperoni
I used a little trick I gleaned from Cook's Illustrated (subscription required), namely using vodka in place of the water in the tempura batter. The reasoning is that it helps prevent gluten formation in the batter. Fancy that! All us pizza geeks are usually so jazzed about gluten, but here I am avoiding it. Why? Because tempura is supposed to be light, airy, and ethereally crisp — not tough and chewy like gluten would make it.
Another trick that I picked up, this time from emailing with Kenji, was to mix the batter just prior to use. My final fry temperature was 400°F. So I waited until my vegetable oil was around 390°F ...
... before mixing the wet and the dry components of the batter. On the left, vodka and egg mixed. On the right, cornstarch and all-purpose flour.
Whisk them together until they just come together — "lumps are fine," Kenji says.
And then work quickly to batter your pepperoni. I used ordinary Hormel pepperoni that you can get in any grocery store. I tried both double-stacked and single pepperoni slices.
The double stack work better, and you get more pepperoni flavor, obviously. It's not a huge issue, but be forewarned that the stacked pepperoni get a little slippery on dipping and might start to slide around. Just move them quickly into the oil after you've battered them.
Another good tip from Kenji: "If you keep things moving around in the fryer as you fry (like with tongs or a wire mesh spider), it fries crisper and more evenly, too, because that prevents cool pockets of oil from forming around the frying food." (Don't worry, I think he's going to eventually do a Food Lab on tempura.)
One thing to note: Don't fry too many at once. Doing seven or more (above) can quickly lower the oil temperature. You want that oil around 400°F so that the batter does not absorb too much oil before it has a chance to cook.
Fry until they're just barely golden, about 2.5 minutes, and then remove them to a paper-towel-lined plate. If you're good with chopsticks, use those to remove tempuroni, since the sticks don't pick up as much residual oil.
The result is a shatteringly crisp, ethereally light little porker of a poker chip of salty meat. You'll need about 10 tempuroni per pizza. But you might want to fry up more than you need. These little things are addictive, and I could barely stop myself from snacking them all down my gullet before even stretching out the dough.
Tempuroni are fully cooked after their oil bath, so what you don't want to do is overcook them in the oven on the pizza.
I simply built the pizza, cooked it, and then removed it about 2 minutes before I estimated it was done. Only then did I put the tempuroni on. At this point, you only need to reheat them.
Use a trick some pizzerias employ, and add some additional grated mozzarella to the tempuroni to sort of "glue" them to the pizza.
Remove from the oven, slice, and enjoy.