Tempura is a Japanese style of deep-frying that uses a featherlight batter and very hot oil to produce a light, crisp crust on anything from vegetables to shrimp to whole small fish such as smelt. Done correctly, the result is not greasy at all. I use tempura for shrimp, chunks of firm fish such as halibut, whole smelt -- even oysters. It is as versatile as it is delicious.
- 1 pound of seafood, in chunks (whole shrimp or oysters are perfect)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup ice cold sparkling water
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 3/4 cup rice flour or all-purpose flour
- Peanut or canola oil for frying
Tempura is about preparation and speed, heat, light and air. Remember this and you will succeed and make beautiful, crispy, light and healthy fried seafood -- yes, I said "healthy." Done properly, the oil in the deep-fryer stays in the deep fryer, and you get only a smidge on your food.
Lay out a paper towel under a rack to place the fried seafood on.
Heat the oil to 370 degrees F. over medium-high to medium heat in a fryolator or in a deep, heavy pot with a candy thermometer attached to the side.
Salt the seafood and set it aside.
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl -- make sure they are well-mixed.
When the oil is hot -- and not before -- whisk the egg yolk and the sparkling water together, then pour it into the bowl of dry ingredients.
Rapidly dip your seafood into the thin batter -- the consistency should be like melted ice cream -- shake off a bit and drop it into the oil. Do this in batches so the oil temperature does not drop too far. Do not crowd the pot.
Fry for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on the size of the seafood. Listen. Do you hear it roiling, popping and sizzling? Good. When you hear this sound subside, remove the fish immediately. Do not use over-large pieces of seafood or you will not get an ethereal crust.
Once the seafood is out of the oil, lay it on the rack to drain. Rapidly prepare another batch and put it into the oil.
If you have more than 1 pound of fish or seafood, make two batches of the tempura batter and add the liquid to the solid ingredients in the second batch only when you have gone through the first pound of fish -- this keeps the batter fizzy and the end result light and crispy.
Serve at once with cold beer, lemonade or sparkling wine. Dipping sauces are excellent accompaniments, too, but for a really good tempura you really only need a squeeze of lemon or lime.