Just consider – fried cauliflower bites encased in the airiest, crunchiest, slightly spiced batter. Showered with fragrant finely chopped cilantro and a touch of lime juice. Dipped into a fresh homemade curry lime garlic aioli. Transported to your mouth.
You can do this. In less than half an hour.
Have your cold beer at the ready.
If you are about to say that we’ve been dishing up way too many fried snacks… You’d be right. And we’d be stoked to hear it.
Because it means you’ve been following our occasional craft beering indulgences. We are so grateful you are here! Bonus points if you really, really like falafel, fried cheese curds and IPA mango fritters. Things like that. And craft beer.
The best batter for fried cauliflower bites
Of course we didn’t set out to whip up a batter without most intentionally including beer in it. Batters are one of our favorite ways to cook with beer and we openly admit to this (some might say) sinful practice.
Diet related moral judgement aside we are confident that you will love this particular tempura style beer batter. It is very similar to the one we used for these tempura green onions. It is on the thin side (do not let that worry you, not even for a second) and it creates the best crispy coating.
When we refer to tempura style batter for these fried cauliflower florets, we mean exactly that – the key elements of tempura are present while the addition of cold beer instead of water improves upon them. Let’s consider the basics first.
What is tempura? Origins and ingredients.
If you first encountered vegetables or seafood fried in the tempura style in a Japanese restaurant and generally consider tempura as a dish which originated in Japan – you are not alone. The Japanese are often credited for single handedly taking batter frying to previously unseen heights.
But they did not invent batter frying. In fact, historical records suggest that what we know as tempura batter today came to Japan by way of Portugal from India. It is thought that the pakora batter method of frying was brought to Portugal from India and there it became particularly popular during the time of Lent.
As Christian tradition was to exclude meat and poultry during the days preceding Easter frying fish or vegetables dipped in batter became a common and well loved practice. Portuguese missionaries who traveled to the Japanese port city of Nagasaki in the 16 century brought the idea of batter frying with them. The Japanese adopted it and called it tempura, after the description of when the cooking approach was most commonly used – ad tempora cuaresme in Latin translates to ‘in the time of Lent”.
The traditional ingredients in Japanese tempura batter are flour and cold water. Very often an egg is added, sometimes only the yolk. The batter is only lightly mixed, commonly using chop sticks to avoid developing the gluten in the flour. Over mixing results in less airy coating because the gluten networks prevent the hot oil from reaching into and around the batter.
Tips for the perfect Tempura style beer batter
We credit a cold amber ale for the perfectly crispy batter coating this fried cauliflower appetizer. Partial or not we whole wholeheartedly recommend that you use beer in the batter – or at least chilled club soda.
But beer is better, not only because of the carbonation which creates an airier batter but the flavor it infuses. And there is the alcohol content too, which depending on the particular beer (the higher the ABV the better) aids with blocking gluten formation and results in airier batter.
Here are a few tips to help you whip up a most respectable batter:
- If you can use cake/pastry flour. Chris likes how it performs due to its lower gluten content. It does not make the batter too dense even if you over mix.
- You can also make your own mix of wheat flour and rice flour in a 2:1 ratio.
- If you end up using all-purpose flour a trick to prevent the gluten from developing too much is to add vodka to the batter. The vodka will limit the formation of gluten networks.
- You have many options in terms of beer style to choose – our go to’s are sweeter lagers such as helles and dunkel, but balanced amber lagers or ales work beautifully too. Sometimes it comes down to what you have around and are willing to spare:)
- Make sure that the beer is chilled. Ice-cold water (or beer or soda water) also slows down the development of gluten.
- Mix the batter immediately prior to dipping the cauliflower florets.
- Mix until the ingredients are just combined, little lumps of flour are desirable.
Maintain the ideal frying oil temperature
There is one more crucial detail that will guarantee your success when preparing these fried cauliflower bites and other tempura style beer battered fried vegetables or delicate proteins such as shrimp, scallops and fish.
If you maintain an ideal frying temperature you will triumph. The ideal tempura temperature for tempura frying is 350 (the range of 340 to 360 is acceptable).
Everyone seems to know or have heard of this one way or another, yet few actually execute it 100 percent of the time (I am reluctantly raising my hand here). I am not a fervent follower of directions and often times tend to annoy the heck out of Chris, lol. With frying tempura vegetables, I’ve come to take direction from him very well.
So trust me when I say that even if you have the best batter, the wrong temperature of the frying oil
can will trip you up.
Here are a few unassuming, yet incredibly useful tips on maintaining the ideal temperature:
- the size and depth of the pan matter – use a wider frying pan with sufficient depth
- choose a cooking oil good for frying such as peanut oil
- use a thermometer
- do not crowd the frying pan with too many florets at once as they will cause the temperature of the frying oil to drop
Lastly, even though not directly related to the frying oil temperature:
- Do try your best to break the cauliflower head into similarly sized florets. It makes a huge difference in getting the battered bites to cook evenly – the batter getting crisp and the cauliflower getting nicely steamed inside at the same rate for all florets.
- Scoop out the bits of batter remaining in the frying oil each time after you remove a batch of florets – any remaining bits will ‘leave a bad
tasteflavor’ in the oil.
Aioli Dipping Sauce
Obviously you can dip your fried cauliflower bites in whatever your heart desires. We love to whip up quick aioli sauces as you may know and for this post made one to complement the flavors of the beer batter.
Since we opted for a malty amber ale and red pepper flakes in the batter we decided to build up on these flavors and prepare the aioli with curry powder and lime juice. Together with the cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice over the florets the flavors were pure indulgence. And in case you are wondering – we paired with an English IPA 🙂
Cheers, friends! Hope that you will soon open a cold beer to make some fried cauliflower bites. So worth it!
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Fried Cauliflower Bites & Curry Garlic Lime Aioli
- 1 medium head cauliflower
- 2 quarts cooking oil peanut oil recommended
- 3/4 cup flour cake/pastry flour recommended, but all-purpose flour will work, don't over mix
- 1 tbsp corn starch
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes or more to taste
- 1 cup ice-cold beer
- 1 tbsp chilled vodka optional, recommend adding it if using all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp fresh cilantro finely chopped
- For the Aioli
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 clove garlic grated or minced
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp lime juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Wash, drain and break down the cauliflower into florets, about 2-2.5 inches large. Set aside.
- Prepare a sheet pan lined with paper towels and a wire mesh ladle. Set aside.
- If making the aioli, make it now and set aside (steps below) so you can serve the fried cauliflower bites right away.
- In a deep, heavy bottomed frying pan heat the cooking oil to 350 F. Alternatively, if using a fryer set to 350 F.
- While the oil is heating up in a medium sized bowl mix the flour, corn starch, salt, baking powder and red pepper flakes.
- Add the beer and the vodka (if using) to the flour mixture stirring just enough to incorporate.
- Working in batches dip a few cauliflower florets, one at a time in the beer batter and place in the cooking oil.
- Fry until golden brown and crispy - about 2 minutes and remove from oil using the wire mesh ladle. Place over the paper towels lined sheet pan.
- Scoop out loose batter bits from the oil and continue with the next batch of florets. Serve immediately.
- For the Aioli:
- Using a mixer beat the two egg yolks.
- Add the salt, garlic, curry and lime juice and beat again.
- Slowly add the olive oil into the mixture while continuing to beat until all the oil is nicely incorporated.