Deep-fried Courgette Flowers

Deep-frying is much misunderstood and generally maligned. The British have traditionally eaten fish and chips which, when done well, make one of the few dishes of which we can be proud. However, the quality of our national dish increasingly leaves much to be desired, while deep-frying has generally suffered a thoroughly bad press.

The comparatively recent introduction of electric deep-fryers to domestic kitchens on a large scale has done nothing to improve matters. Those we have tested simply do not achieve the necessary high temperature to seal battered food, delivering quite unacceptable and greasy results. The minimum temperature needed is 180°C / 350°F, but 190° C/375° F is better because the introduction of cold wet food into the cooking oil has a sudden and profound impact on its temperature. If you have one of these fryers, check the temperature with a thermometer and you will almost certainly be in for a nasty surprise. We have tried three models, but none of them came within 15 degrees of the required sealing temperature.

To cook this dish you need a deep heavy pan (or wok) which you fill to just below half full. Use a suitable thermometer to gauge the temperature. When you have eaten perfect tempura or lightly battered courgette flowers like these you will never think again of deep-frying as a heavy-handed technique.

This is not an ideal dish to try and serve for a formal dinner party, but something to give friends who are happy to eat in the kitchen. Cook the flowers a batch at a time and don't overcrowd the pan. Remember also to leave time between batches for the temperature of the oil to recover and leave the thermometer in the oil at all times.

I prefer a lightly mixed batter more akin to tempura. The one given here is from Madhur Jaffrey's Eastern Vegetarian Cooking and produces excellent results. The more traditional batter is what you will find in Italy. Try both and see which you prefer.

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Ingredients

  • 24 courgette flowers
  • salt and pepper
  • flour, for coating
  • sunflower oil, for deep-frying (the exact amount will depend on the size of pan you use)

For the Traditional Italian Batter

  • 300g/10½ oz light plain flour, sifted
  • 2 size 2 eggs
  • a little olive oil
  • 300ml/½pt ice-cold lager

For the Tempura Batter

  • 1 large egg
  • 250ml/8 fl oz ice-cold water
  • 115g/4 oz light plain flour, sifted
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Utensils

  • bowl
  • deep heavy pan or wok for deep-frying
  • heatproof thermometer
  • bowl
  • tongs

Method

Mise en Place

If using the traditional batter, make it ahead of time: put the flour into the bowl with a pinch of salt and pepper. Break in the egg, add 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and mix. Using a whisk, beat in the cold lager in a steady steam until you have a smooth creamy consistency. Allow to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Heat the oil in the pan or wok to 190°C/375°F, using a thermometer to be precise. Have ready a warm serving plate (or basket) lined with paper towels and warmed individual plates. Also, make sure your guests are sitting close by, ready to eat the flowers immediately. Put the flour for dusting on a shallow plate.

While the oil is heating make the tempura batter, if using (it requires no resting and must be used as soon as it is made): break the egg into the bowl and whisk. Then whisk in the ice-cold water. Add all the flour and bicarbonate of soda in one go. Turn 4 or 5 times with a fork. There should be lumps and little bits of flour not mixed in. This will deliver a much lighter end result.

Cooking

Dust the flowers lightly with flour, then dip them in batter and fry them until golden brown. Turn carefully using tongs (they will be very buoyant and not always easy to turn). They won't take long to cook - perhaps 90 seconds on each side.

Immediately remove and drain very briefly on paper towels.

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