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~Japanese 'Tempura' ('Light Batter' for Deep-Frying)~

IMG_0841You know how it is when you find yourself "on a roll".  According to, "on a roll" means:  to be busily engaged successfully, with ease and enjoyment, in any activity.  To be more specific, I am "on a Japanese roll".  Last week was yakitori week on Kitchen Encounters, and, it left me wanting more of their classic flavors and textures.  Joe and I "heart" Asian cuisine, and thanks to ten days in Tokyo back in 1986, we had our introduction to Japanese food and hospitality in the most authentic way possible.  Aside from being taken aback when my shrimp tempura "looked back at me" (it was served with the heads left on, which is considered a delicacy), I fell in love with everything, including sushi (which, because it is raw seafood, I was determined not to like).  This is why I understand those Americans who claim to love Japanese food, but, won't give sushi a try.  When asked what Japanese food they do like best, aside from yakitori or teppanyaki (which are both forms of grilling), the answer most often given is:  tempura!

IMG_0846Tempura is the pinnacle of fried food!  

No armorlike breading:  just a crispy, light, airy batter!!!

IMG_0736A bit about tempura (Tehm-POOR-uh) batter: Unlike panko-crusted food (Japanese breadcrumbs that produce an armorlike, extremely-crunchy casing), tempura produces an airy, extremely-light, crispy crust without using breadcrumbs.  It's made from very cold water or sparkling water (or Japanese beer, which I particularly like), eggs, flour and rice flour, baking soda or baking powder and salt (occasionally spices).  There are also store-bought tempura mixes, and, I won't lie, they work quite well!

IMG_0745Tempura is traditionaly mixed in small batches, using a pair of chopsticks, and kept cold by placing the bowl of batter in a larger bowl of ice water.  The batter is made just prior to deep-frying and it is never allowed to stand.  Chopsticks are intentionally used because they are not an efficient tool for mixing, which makes them perfect for this task. Leaving lumps in the batter results in the unique fluffy and crisp texture, so it is only mixed for a few seconds.  For Westerners like myself, "lumpy batter" can be a hard concept to grasp, because we are accustomed to trying to achieve velvety, smooth batters.

The mark of a well-made tempura batter are the lumps of dry flour throughout the batter and the tell-tale powdery ring of flour around the sides of the bowl!

IMG_0862"Tempura" per se refers to batter-dipped, deep-fried fish, seafood or vegetables, with importance placed on using the freshest of seasonal ingredients. Tempura restaurants, tenpura-ya, range from fast-food, take-out street-fare to five-star. They often offer tempura as a meal served in a compartmented bento (lunch box) accompanied by a low-sodium soy and ginger sauce for dipping or drizzling!

Tempura was introduced to the Japanese by Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century. Tokugawa, Ieyasu (the 1st Shogun) loved it so much, it was adopted into their culture, accompanied by a seasoned soy sauce.  Like other Japanese words of that period, the word "tempura" is said to come from the Portuguese "temperado", which refers to spiced foods cooked without water, which was eventually interpreted to mean deep-fried!

Three things to remember for perfect tempura:

1) Fresh ingredients of choice, prepped as directed, patted dry and dredged in flour;

2) clean oil kept at a constant temperature of 360 degrees, and;

3) a cold, lumpy tempura batter is a perfect tempura batter!

IMG_0750Before one prepares their tempura batter, one must decide what one wants to dip into said tempura batter. Because shrimp are the hands-down all-time tempura favorite, I'm going to show you how to make shrimp tempura today.  For one batch of batter (recipe below), you'll need to prep as follows:

1  pound jumbo (21-25 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on and patted dry, about 2 dozen shrimp

IMG_0755After prepping the shrimp as directed above, here are two optional steps that are going to result in a pretty presentation:

~ Optional Step 1.  Using a sharp paring knife or a pair of kitchen shears, trim the ends off the tails at an angle, then...

IMG_0758... stand each shrimp upright and fan out the tail!

Doesn't that look prettier already? This little trick, which takes almost no time, works great when boiling, steaming, sauteeing or broiling shrimp too! 


IMG_0762~ Optional Step 2.  Flip each shrimp over on its back and score two shallow slits in the belly (as if you were going to slice the shrimp in thirds).



IMG_0766Notice how flat this shrimp is laying? This nifty step is going to prevent the shrimp from curling up when they get deep-fried!

Note:  Both of these steps can be done up to one day in prior to deep-frying shrimp.  Cover  prepped shrimp with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated until ready to deep-fry:

IMG_0912Here's what you need for the batter & the dipping sauce:

IMG_0900For the batter:

3/4  cup all-purpose flour

4  tablespoons rice flour

1  tablespoon cornstarch

1/2  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1 large egg yolk, cold (taken straight from the refrigerator, separated & used as directed)

1  cup ice-cold Japanese beer, plus a small amount of additional beer, only if necessary

6  tablespoons cornstarch, more or less, for dredging

corn or peanut oil, for deep-frying, placed in a deep-fryer according to manufacturer's specifications and heated to 360 degrees

freshly ground sea salt, for sprinkling on shrimp as they come out of the fryer

IMG_0904For the Dipping & Drizzling Sauce (tentsuyu): (Note:  Simmer in a small saucepan for 1-2 mintutes. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.  Serve warm.)

1/2 cup dashi stock (1/2 cup water + 1 teaspoon Hondashi granules)

3  tablespoons dark soy sauce, to taste

2  tablespoons mirin

1  tablespoon dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1  garlic clove, run through a press (optional)

It's time to make the tempura batter and deep-fry the shrimp:

IMG_0787 IMG_0774~ Step 1.  In a small mixing bowl, using a fork, stir together the flour, rice flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

~ Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, lightly beat the egg yolk.  Add enough of beer to the measuring container to total 1 cup of liquid.

IMG_0805 IMG_0791                                          ~ Step 3. Add the beer/egg mixture to the flour mixture, and, using a pair of chopsticks, whisk until the mixture is just combined, drizzly, and slightly lumpy.  If the mixture is a bit too thick, add a bit of additional beer.  Error on the side of a drizzly, lumpy consistency rather than a "gloppy", lumpy consistency.

IMG_0796~ Step 4.  Working in assembly line fashion, one-at-a-time, dredge each of six shrimp in the cornstarch (shaking off the excess)...

IMG_0800... Next, dip each shrimp into the tempura batter (allowing excess to drip back into the bowl) and lower it into the hot oil.  When six shrimp have been dredged, dipped and added to the 360 degree oil:

IMG_0818 IMG_0830~ Step 5. Close the lid on the fryer and cook for exactly 3 minutes. Open the lid after about 2 minutes of frying.  Using a pair of tongs, flip the shrimp onto their second side and complete the remainder of the cooking process. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain.  Salt immediately. Repeat process three more times, until all shrimp are deep-fried.

IMG_0877Japanese 'Tempura' ('Light Batter' for Deep-Frying):  Recipe yields instructions for making enough tempura batter to batter-dip and deep-fry 1 pound of jumbo shrimp (2 dozen shrimp).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; kitchen shears (optional); fork; 1-cup measuring container; chopsticks; deep-fryer; tongs; paper towels

Thai-Style Coconut Shrimp #1-c (Closeup)Cook's Note: For another one of my favorite beer-batter-dipped, deep-fried Asian-style shrimp recipes (using panko breadcrumbs for a super-crunchy crust), check out my recipe for ~ Crunchy Thai-Style Deep-Fried Coconut Shrimp ~ in Categories 1, 11, 13 & 14!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 


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