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Basic Tempura Recipe for Fish and Seafood

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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, it is not greasy at all. I use this for shrimp, chunks of firm fish such as halibut, whole smelt -- even oysters. It is as versatile as it is delicious.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes


  • 1 pound of seafood, in chunks (whole shrimp or oysters are perfect)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup ice cold sparkling water
  • 1/8 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 3/4 cup rice flour or all-purpose flour
  • Peanut or canola oil for frying


Tempura is about preparation and speed, heat and 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.

Heat your oil to 370 degrees in a fryolator or in a deep, heavy pot with a candy thermometer attached to the side. Do this over medium-high to medium heat.

Create a place for your fried seafood to rest by laying out a paper towel under a rack.

Salt your seafood and set it aside.

Mix your dry ingredients in a bowl, and mix them well.

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. You must be efficient from here on in.

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 2-4 minutes, depending on the size of the item. Listen. Do you hear it roiling, and popping and sizzling? Good. If you hear this sound subside, remove the fish immediately. Do not use over-large pieces of seafood or you will not get this ethereal crust.

Once the seafood is out of the oil, lay it on the rack to drain. Rapidly do another batch and get it in 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.

Once you are done, 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.

[blockquote shade=grur]My Reply to SQUEEDUNK:
Thank you for bringing up the problem with the amount of flour. You are correct: The ratio needed to be 1:1, in other words, as much flour as liquid. I mistakenly typed the wrong amount -- the recipe above is corrected.

Hank Shaw, Your Guide to Fish & Seafood Cooking

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