Light and crispy tendrils of fried goodness in each bite, who can say no to shrimp tempura? After ordering shrimp tempura so many times at restaurants and savoring the delicious crunchy exterior, I couldn’t resist making it at home. This easy and quick shrimp tempura recipe will have your guests coming back for more.
What is shrimp tempura?
Interestingly, tempura was actually influenced by Portuguese travelers in Japan back in the 16th century with the dish peixinhos da horta, a traditional Portuguese dish made during meatless “Ember days.” In short, they liked to deep fry vegetables to make them taste better–something I can heavily relate to!
Since then, Japanese chefs have made adjustments, such as lightening the batter and adding different foods to batter, to make shrimp or vegetable tempura. There’s nothing better than combining the airy, crunch of tempura with the tender bite of shrimp.
Making tempura batter
Tempura batter can be quite finicky because you want to create a delicate airy and crisp layer, but sometimes it can turn into a soggy and oily mess. Since this is a “no-sog kitchen,” I take certain steps to prevent the rapid rate of gluten formation in the batter, which can make your tempura turn chewy and lose its crunch.
- Only make the batter when your shrimp is prepped and your neutral cooking oil is at the right temperature. You don’t want to keep this batter waiting!
- Keep all wet ingredients as cold as possible because it slows gluten formation in the batter
- Use very cold fizzy water (carbonated water adds to the air-like quality of the outer layer)
- Use vodka straight from the freezer (vodka inhibits the gluten formation and creates a crispier outer layer)
- Use chopsticks when stirring the batter to prevent over-mixing the batter
I like to add some potato starch to the batter because it gives the shrimp a nice crispiness on the outside just like my chicken karaage recipe. Similar to the karaage recipe, the addition of potato starch will give your tempura a pale yellow color.
Preparing the shrimp
Clean the shrimp under running water and remove the heads. To devein the shrimp, use the simple technique in my recipe for Vietnamese Green Mango Salad with Shrimp. This technique prevents the shrimp from curling so it’s important to not slice the entire back of the shrimp when removing the vein.
To straighten your shrimp, hold the shrimp belly-up and horizontally on your cutting board. Score three to four very shallow (⅛ inch) vertical cuts on the belly of the shrimp. This should straighten your shrimp.
Another option is to also use skewers along the body of the shrimp to keep them straight during the frying process, but I found scoring the belly keeps them pretty straight.
Cover the shrimp in a light layer of potato starch to help the batter stick to the shrimp. Holding the shrimp tail, dunk the shrimp into the batter and remove excess, and carefully lower it into the hot oil.
To add an extra crunch to your shrimp, dip your hand in batter and carefully drip the batter over the frying shrimp. This traditional process is called hana o sakaseru and used to give extra crispy tendrils of tempura along the body of the shrimp. You can use your hand, spoons, or chopsticks.
Udon and dipping sauce
I enjoy eating shrimp tempura with a basic tetsuya dipping sauce made from dashi, soy sauce, and mirin. You can also eat it with udon soup or squeeze some fresh lemon juice over it, too. There’s really no wrong way to eat this crunchy tempura!
Shrimp Tempura Recipe
- 1 lb shrimp
- neutral cooking oil vegetable oil preferred
- ¾ c all purpose flour
- ½ c potato starch
- 1 large egg cold from the fridge
- ¼ c vodka chilled in the freezer
- ¾ c carbonated water chilled in the fridge
Tetsuya dipping sauce
- 1 c water
- 2 g dashi mix
- ¼ c soy sauce
- ¼ c mirin
- Clean the shrimp under running water and remove the heads. To devein the shrimp, pull the vein from the opening of the shrimp where you removed the head.
- To straighten your shrimp, score very shallow (⅛ inch) cuts on the belly of the shrimp. (You can also use skewers to straighten the shrimp if you don’t want to score them). Straighten the shrimp on a plate over paper towels to dry the shrimp off.
- In a heavy bottomed pot, add about 2 inches of oil from the bottom of the pot. Heat the oil to 350 °F degrees.
- In a mixing bowl, add the flour and ½ cup of potato starch and mix thoroughly.
- In another bowl, add the egg and mix in the cold vodka. Then add the carbonated water.
- Carefully, add the wet batter into the mixing bowl and use the chopsticks to mix the batter in swift movements. Try to lift the bowl and move the bowl in round movements while stirring with the chopsticks. Make sure to not overmix the batter or your tempura will end up chewy. You should have some lumps in your batter. The mixing process should take no longer than one minute.
- In a separate bowl, add ¼ cup of potato starch in a shallow bowl. Cover the shrimp in a light layer of potato starch.
- Holding the shrimp tail, dunk the shrimp into the batter and cover thoroughly. Carefully lower the battered shrimp into the oil. To add extra crispy tendrils of tempura, dip your hand back into the batter and drip small drops of batter onto the frying shrimp.
- Turn the shrimp after about one to two minutes. Remove the cooked shrimp from the oil and place over paper towels on a cooling rack, then serve with tetsuya sauce.
- In a small sauce pot, add the water over a medium-low heat.
- Add the dashi mix, soy sauce, and mirin.
- Heat until it boils for one minute and then remove from heat.
- Serve in a small sauce dish.