Terrific Tempura Skewers

Batter Up!

I have a real fascination for fried food. I love the crunch, the flavor, and the technique involved. Although pretty much any schmo can fry a frozen chicken finger or Ore-Ida tater tot, it takes practice and skill to achieve tempura that is light and crisp on the outside and yet moist and flavorful on this inside.

Tempura is the pinnacle of fried foods in my opinion. There’s no breading, just a batter, and your skill in making the batter will mean the difference between good tempura and great tempura. I’m going to provide a recipe for basic tempura batter that is easy to make, but I’m also suggesting a quick and easy beer batter as well. Both batters will result in killer fried shrimp!

For novices the Pretty Awesome Cheater Beer Batter is the way to go. More room for error.

My son Bennet took this pic, hence the finger in the frame! He’s only seven!

Feel free to try either of these batters with veggies or other seafoody things. I recommend: green beans, bell pepper, shiitake mushrooms, kabocha pumpkin, sweet potato, broccoli, shishito pepper, asparagus, scallops, fish. Naturally you don’t have to put everything on sticks; I just like to do this with smaller shrimp. Large shrimp should be butterflied so it’s flat and thin. This will ensure even and quick cooking.

Garnish the tempura with chopped scallions and a pinch of salt. If you like a tiny bit of heat, add a shake or two of shichimi togarashi, a spicy Japanese mixture of mainly powdered dried chili and citrus zest. If you want to get a little non-traditional, add a sprinkle of Old Bay seasoning.

Classic Tempura Batter:

  • 2 eggs, whipped well
  • 2 cups very cold water (put in the freezer for 15 minutes)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 cup cake flour or potato starch

In a bowl combine egg and water and mix with a fork or chopsticks. Add the flours/starch and stir with a wooden spoon. You don’t want to over-mix the batter. It should be still a little uneven, a bit lumpy, almost like thin pancake batter. You want this batter to rest for about 20 minutes before using.

Pretty Awesome Cheater Beer Batter:

  • 2 cups boxed tempura batter (pretty much any brand is fine)
  • one bottle of Asian beer, like Kirin or Tsing Tao
  • cold water

Put tempura mix into a large bowl. Slowly add the beer, stirring slowly to incorporate. Add water slowly until mixture is about the consistency of thin pancake batter, but still a little uneven and lumpy. Let batter sit for 20 minutes.

With either batter you may wish to place the bowl of batter inside another bowl of roughly the same size partially filled with ice. This will keep your batter chilled. Cold batter is better batter.

Cook the shrimp:

Preheat oil (peanut, canola, or rice bran) in a fryer until 350 degrees. I always suggest a tabletop fryer for people new to frying. I bought one for under fifty bucks and it’s a lot safer than a big pot of hot oil on the stove top.

If using small shrimp, trying skewering them. I used four small shrimp on each five-inch skewer.

To fry, dredge the shrimp (or whatever else you’re cooking) in a little all-purpose flour. Shake off the excess and drag the shrimp through the tempura batter and coat it all over. It will be very drippy and liquidy. That’s the nature of tempura!

Holding onto the skewer or shrimp tail or just the end of the veggie you are going to fry, lower the item slowly into the oil. With your hand you want to hold and slowly swirl the shrimp in the oil for about two seconds and then release gently. The allows part of the batter to solidify, which means it’s less likely to sink to the bottom or get stuck on the wire fry basket. If your batter is the right consistency, you’ll notice little feathery, lacy edges appear in the hardening batter, which is a sign of superb tempura.

Fry for about six minutes, or until it’s golden and it floats on the surface. Be sure to turn the shrimp to cook evenly on all sides. Also, you’ll know it’s close to being finished when the sizzling reduces quite a lot, which indicates that most of the moisture in the batter has cooked out.

Drain cooked items on a wire rack. A pinch of salt wouldn’t hurt.

Garnish as you want, and serve with dipping sauces. Three sauce recipes are featured below.

This tempura is terrific!
Classic Tempura Dip:
  • 1 cup dashi* soup stock
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • grated daikon, about two tablespoons
  • 1 tablespoon finely sliced green onions

Combine dashi, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. Chill sauce in the refrigerator until ready for use.

To grate the daikon, use the small holes on a box grater, or use a specialized daikon & ginger grater, a plastic box available for cheap at any Japanese or Korean market.

Right before service, add daikon and green onions to the sauce.

*  Dashi is a liquid base used in everything from soups to all kinds of hot and cold preparations; it’s made from kombu kelp and bonito flake. It’s easy to make your own (find any reputable Japanese food web site for a recipe) or you can buy instant dashi from any Japanese market.

Spiced Lime Mayo Dip:

  • 1 cup mayo
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of togarashi shichimi or sriracha hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced green onions

Whisk all ingredients together.

Ginger-Ponzu Sauce:

  • 3/4 cup ponzu
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely sliced green onions

Whisk all ingredients together until sugar dissolves. 

I hope you enjoy this recipe. Frying at home is not really that challenging. It can be lots fun and the tempura can be just terrific.

    This recipe was requested by and written for the Marzilli Family.

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