Sep 2, 2015


Ebi Furai (fried prawns with panko)
When you think of tempura, naturally you think of Japan. It turns out that the Japanese didn't invent this delicious dish, the Portuguese did. It always amazes me how much the Portuguese have contributed to the culinary world, especially here in Hawaii.

The other day I was watching Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel food show "Bizarre Foods". You know, he's the guy that eats bugs and other offal things. Anyway, he was in Lisbon, Portugal and happened to mention that the Portuguese introduced tempura to the Japanese.

It turns out that Portuguese Jesuit missionaries introduced deep-frying to the Japanese during the sixteenth century. The word "tempura", probably came from the Portuguese word "temperar" meaning 

"to cook". 

Fried food eventually became popular in Japan, eaten at street vendors called yatai since the Genroku era. Today, tempura is still popular as a side dish in Japanese homes, and is frequently eaten as a topping at soba noodle stands in Japan. For those who don't know what tempura is, it consists of vegetables or seafood which are dipped in a batter, then briefly deep-fried in hot canola oil. The most common dipping sauce is "tentsuyu sauce" which is roughly three parts dashi, one part mirin, and one part shoyu. Grated daikon is also added to the sauce.

Another interesting tidbit is that by using panko Japanese bread crumbs in your batter, as pictured in the photo above, it would no longer be called tempura, it would then be called "furai", pronounced "fry".

Whatever you call it, here's my favorite recipe for tempura using panko Japanese bread crumbs:

Mahi-mahi & Shrimp Tempura Pupus
Everyone loves shrimp tempura, but adding mahi-mahi with a sweet chilli sauce takes this appetizer to a new level.

canola oil, for frying
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 can club soda
1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 1/2 cups panko Japanese bread crumbs
12 large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails left on

1 1/2 pounds of mahi-mahi fillet, without skin, cut into 1 inch squares
1 cup Mae Ploy brand sweet chilli sauce (found in the Asian section of your supermarket)
24 6-inch bamboo skewers

24 fresh cilantro leaves

First clean and devein shrimp, I like to leave the tails on for better presentation, but that's up to you.

If you do leave the tails on, here's what you need to do next. Using a sharp paring knife or a pair of kitchen shears, lay each shrimp on its side and trim the ends off the tip of the tails at an angle, then stand each shrimp upright and fan out the tail. This little trick, which takes almost no time, makes the shrimp have a better presentation after frying. Now you need to flip/turn each shrimp over on its back and score two shallow slits in the belly. You will now notice how flat the shrimp is laying. This will prevent the shrimp from curling up when they are deep-fried.

Next cut the mahi-mahi into 1 inch squares. Put cleaned shrimp and fish squares into the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap for up to one day.

In a wok or large skillet, pour in about 1 inch of canola oil, enough to cover shrimp and fish when cooking. Heat over medium heat until a deep-frying thermometer, inserted in the oil, reaches 375˚F. While the oil is heating, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add the club soda and sesame oil. Stir until just combined and still lumpy. Put the panko bread crumbs in a large plate. Gently dry the shrimp and fish with a paper towel, then dip 2 shrimp and 2 fish squares in the batter, now cover them with panko and fry, 4 at a time, until the batter is golden and crispy, about 60 to 70 seconds. Drain on paper towels. Continue this process until all of the shrimp and fish are cooked. Sprinkle them with salt as soon as they come out of the oil.

Put one shrimp, and one fish square on each bamboo skewer, divided by a cilantro leaf and serve with Mae Ploy sweet chilli sauce alongside as a dipping sauce. Makes 24 pupus (appetizers).

Note: For a tropical display, cut a pineapple in half and stick 12 skewers into each pineapple half. Cut a small slice off of the bottom of each pineapple half to keep them steady. Use the pineapple for another use after the party.

When buying shrimp, especially fresh shrimp, I buy the shrimp with the shells and head on. I take the shells and heads off and save them in a freezer bag until I have about 4 cups. Then I boil them in 4 cups of seasoned water, strain the stock and discard the shells, and freeze the stock. This stock is full of shrimp flavor and is great to use as a soup stock at a later date.

For more panko recipes, click here.

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