Mixed Fry of Shrimp and Smelts

Tempura

The Japanese excel in making light, lacy fries of fish and seafood. One secret is in mixing the batter: Use only icy cold water (to retard the sticky action of the gluten in the flour), and combine batter and ingredients at the last moment, just before frying. Another secret is in maintaining the right temperature of the oil: It should be hot enough to make the batter puff and sizzle immediately, but not so hot that the batter browns right away.

Ingredients

  • 8 large shrimp, with shells and tails intact
  • 12 whole small smelts or 10 ounces fillet of sole

Batter

  • 1 egg
  • ice water
  • cup self-rising cake flour
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying

Dipping Sauce

  • 1 cup dashi (basic sea stock) or water
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup mirin (syrupy rice wine)
  • 1 packet (5 grams) katsuo bushi (dried bonito flakes)

Condiments

  • 3-4 tablespoons grated daikon (white Japanese radish)
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

Method

  1. Remove the shell from the shrimp, keeping the tail and last segment intact. With a knife, make a shallow slit down the back of each shrimp and devein it. Turn each shrimp over and make two or three shallow diagonal slits across the belly. Press gently against these slits to just break the tight muscles but not so much that the shrimp falls apart. This will help to keep the shrimp from curling when frying.
  2. Wash the smelts, and scrape off the scales. Remove the head of each smelt, then slit the belly to the tail and remove the internal organs. Press gently with your fingers to butterfly the fish. If you bend the fish back, you can easily peel away the skeletal structure. Cut off the bones at the tail.
  3. If you are using fillet of sole, slice the fish, slightly on the diagonal, into twelve pieces, each about 1 x 2 inches and ⅛ inch thick.
  4. In a bowl, mix the egg and enough ice water to make cup. Set aside 1 tablespoon flour from the measured ingredients, and sift the remaining flour over the liquid. With chopsticks or a fork, barely mix the flour and egg-water. There should be plenty of lumps, and flour should still be sticking to the sides of the bowl. Dust the shrimp and smelts or sole with the reserved tablespoon of flour.
  5. Fill a wok or other deep-fryer with 1½-2 inches of oil. Heat the oil to about 370 degrees. Test with a bit of batter: It should sink ever so slightly, rise and puff on the surface immediately, and sizzle but not brown quickly.
  6. Dip the shrimp in the batter, shaking excess batter back into the bowl. Carefully lay the shrimp in the oil. Dip another shrimp and repeat the procedure. Flip the shrimp once, then let them fry, undisturbed, for 1 minute. Flip again and let them fry for 30-40 seconds. The meat will become opaque and the batter crisp and golden. Drain on paper towel-lined racks.
  7. Repeat the dipping and frying to cook the remaining shrimp and the smelts or sole. You can keep the cooked tempura warm in a preheated 300-degree oven.
  8. In a small saucepan, combine the sea stock or water, soy sauce, and syrupy rice wine. Stir and simmer for 2-3 minutes, then remove from the heat. Sprinkle the fish flakes over the sauce, and let them steep for 3 minutes. Strain the sauce and divide it among four attractive bowls that can be used for dipping.
  9. Arrange two fried shrimp and three fried smelts or pieces of sole on each of four plates. Divide the grated radish into four portions and coax each portion into a mountain shape. Top each radish mountain with a portion of the grated ginger. Place one of these two-toned mountains on the side of each plate of tempura.

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