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Shrimp Tempura Recipe: All About the Classic of Japanese Appetizers

shrimp tempura

Tempura has become over time one of the most appreciated Japanese specialties worldwide. And shrimp tempura recipe is its most gourmet and sought-after version.

In this guide we will explore the historical and cultural background of this classic of Japanese cuisine, all the way to the step-by-step shrimp tempura recipe.

Since Japanese cuisine is characterized by its extreme care and attention to detail, here you will also find the most important tips and tricks in order to get the tempura just right. 

It may not be the simplest technique, but don’t despair… one step at a time goes a long way. 

What is Tempura?

Tempura is a Japanese culinary technique that consists of frying bite-sized foods. The idea is to make them tender on the inside and crispy on the outside. 

One of its best known versions is shrimp tempura, a classic of Japanese appetizers and a gastronomic bastion of Japanese culture. However, although it is commonly associated with seafood and vegetables, other ingredients such as meats and fruits can also be used. 

Like any dish of this caliber, it has a great story behind it. Let’s take a look at its origins and all that we are truly embarking on with a bite of tempura.

The Origins of Tempura 

Although it is a typical preparation of Japanese cuisine, the tempura technique is actually Portuguese. It was introduced in Japan by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century. Shrimp tempura goes back a long way. 

It was the Portuguese Jesuits, present in the city of Nagasaki –founded by the Portuguese in 1569– who introduced the custom of eating fish and vegetables during Lent using this particular frying method.

The name of this dish derives from the Portuguese term tempêro, which means “seasoned”. Originally it was made by simply dredging food in flour and frying it, but over time it evolved to include more varied ingredients and a more refined frying technique.

Today, to make tempura, ingredients are dipped in a mixture of wheat flour and cold water. The mixture should be lightly but not excessively battered to keep it lumpy, which helps create the characteristic crunchy texture. 

Traditional Shrimp Tempura Recipe

But of course, by the same token, preparing a dish of this caliber is a beautiful challenge for food lovers and adventurous cooks. That’s why here is the traditional recipe for Japanese shrimp tempura, step by step. 

Ingredients
  • Fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • All-purpose flour
  • Salt
  • Eggs
  • Cold water
  • Vegetable oil
Instructions
Step 1: Prepare the ingredients
  1. Begin by preparing the shrimp. Make shallow cuts along the inner curve of each shrimp to prevent them from curling during frying. 
  2. Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and set aside. It’s important they are dry before dipping them in the batter.

Tip: Use fresh and good quality ingredients. The freshness of the shrimps influences the flavor and texture of the tempura. This is actually vital for any seafood dish.

Step 2: The tempura batter

Prepare the tempura batter just before using it. The flour and cold water should be mixed lightly to keep small lumps, which will contribute to the crunchy texture.

Before making the batter, make sure all the ingredients are at the right temperature. The key to a good tempura is to keep the batter as cold as possible.

  1. First we make a dry mix: In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt.
  2. Add the egg: We lightly beat an egg and add it to the flour and salt mixture.
  3. Add cold water: Gradually add the cold water to the bowl while gently mixing the ingredients. Do not over mix.

Optional tip: To keep the dough cold, you can add a couple of ice cubes to the bowl while working. This is especially useful if you are cooking in a warm environment.

Immediate use: Use the dough immediately after preparing it for best results. If you let it sit for too long, it will lose its light, airy texture.

Step 3: Frying
  1. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan or deep fryer. Dip the shrimps into the tempura batter, making sure they are well coated
  2. Oil temperature: Heat the oil to the appropriate temperature, around 170-180°C. A cooking thermometer can be useful to make sure the oil is at the right temperature.
  3. Place the battered shrimps in the hot oil. Fry in small batches at a time, turning them to brown evenly.
  4. At the end, place the fried shrimps on paper towels to remove excess oil. Let them rest briefly so that the outer layer settles and becomes even crispier.

5 Tips and Tricks for the Best Shrimp Tempura Recipe

Although it seems like a simple technique, it doesn’t always turn out well when you try to make it at home. Often the food we fry ends up raw, hard or with too much water, or the batter falls apart or does not cover the whole piece well.

A fine tempura should be thin, crispy and not very oily, something easy to achieve if you follow these five simple tips:

  1. Frying test: Before frying all the shrimp, do a test with a small piece of batter. It should bubble, float in the oil and brown in a few seconds.
  2. Do not overcook: Do not put too many shrimp at once in the oil, as this could cool it and cause the tempura to absorb more oil.
  3. Fast frying: Fry them in small quantities at a time and quickly to maintain a constant oil temperature.
  4. Draining: In Japan, this dish is served delicately, usually on absorbent paper to remove excess oil. Careful presentation is an important part of the experience. Therefore, place the fried shrimp on paper towels to remove excess oil.
  5. Immediate consumption: Tempura is best when served immediately after frying, as its crispy texture is lost over time.

Variations on Classic Shrimp Tempura

Although traditional shrimp tempura is undeniably one of the most coveted versions, there are countless variations to explore. 

Another classic of these Japanese appetizers is chicken tempura, which adds a milder touch to the classic dish. 

Vegetarians can enjoy veggie tempura, with a variety of colorful vegetables such as sweet potatoes, peppers and zucchini. 

Conclusion: Embrace Tempura and Taste a Classic of Japanese Cuisine

Food is a gateway to the essence of every culture. And indeed, the very recipe for shrimp tempura is a testament to the careful and meticulous essence of Japanese culture. So, to venture into the kitchen and taste a dish like this is to taste the flavor of Japan at its finest.

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