September 19, 2021 — Japanese

Tempura Prawns

  • 1 hour
  • 2 PEOPLE
  • easy

How do you choose between your favourite ways to eat king prawns?

I like them fried in garlic, chilli and oil à la gambas al ajillo, but I also like them straightened and deep-fried with panko bread crumbs, or wrapped in filo pastry. They are surprisingly good pre-cooked in salted water and peeled when cold and served with lemon and aioli, or marinated in lemon, garlic and chilli and simply thrown on a blazing barbecue, or as a ceveche with lime and chilli. They’re delicious in a hot paella – or if perchance you are in Louisianian there’s nothing better than a po’ boy sandwich or a specialty gumbo, and then there are featured king prawns in any of the world’s famous fish stews (such as Ligurian buridda, Tuscan cacciucco, Spanish zarzuela, or Californian cioppino). We shouldn’t forget fragrant Thai king prawn currys, and what about nigri sushi?

It’s a tough question… However, perhaps just tipping the scales – if cooked to perfection – is tempura prawns with delicous dipping sauces.


Are these my favourite way to eat king prawns?

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What you need

6 raw king prawns with shells

Vegetable oil for frying

For the tempura batter

100g Japanese ready-made mixed tempura batter flour

160ml ice cold sparkling water


75g plain flour

25g cornflour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1 large egg yolk

150ml – 200ml ice cold sparkling water


For the dipping sauces

Japanese ponzu from a bottle

Thai sweet chilli sauce from a bottle

250ml water

Small piece of ginger

1 chopped spring onion

1 tbs light soy sauce

1 tbs sake

1/2 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp sesame oil



Dad's Recipe Tales

A question of batter

Batters of all kinds are a huge issue in the kitchen. It seems everybody has their own opinions based on secret ingredients and procedures passed down from culinary luminaries either in the media, industry or the home. However, surely, it’s not rocket science.

Batter ingredients

For starters you need flour. Plain wheat flour generally fits the bill, however some add other flours, such as cornflour, potato starch or rice flour – these can add extra lightness and crispness. Then the liquids. Milk is often used, but can be rather heavy, water is lighter and the preferred liquid for tempura, alcohol is sometimes used as it evaporates into vapour very quickly so creates lightness. Beer is a good example – but the effect of the alcohol can be amplified for purists with spirits in particular a flavourless vodka. Baking powder causes the batter to rise with the interaction of acids and heat so lightens the batter. Eggs are often added for flavour and leavening. Seasoning is optional, depending on how the batter will served. Then there’s the temperature. Batters should be cold. It appears the shock of cold and heat that accelerates the cooking and crisping process – but there are other factors at play here as the cold temperature seems to improve the cooking of the ingredients. Many go to extreme lengths to keep all the ingredients very cold, including putting the flour in the fridge or freezer… What about bubbles? Well, that’s fairly obvious way to inject lightness. Most recipes stipulate that the batter is not over-worked, even to the point of keeping in the lumps. This advice relates to developing glutens through over-beating, which will make a batter tough. For the same reason, some recipes say to rest the batter to allow the glutens to relax,

Tempura batter

When it comes to tempura batter, most of the batter armoury comes into play, unfortunately all the recipes I can find are caught in a cycle of who-knows-best and each is different and – may or not – contain any of the following: wheat and corn flours, baking powder, ice-cold sparkling water, water and ice cubes, eggs or egg yolks – and for obsessives a splash of vodka.

A brilliant cheat

Even so, tempura is very difficult to get right. But fear not, help is at hand at your local Japanese/Oriental food store in the form of ready-made tempura batter flour. Don’t feel guilty that you are not mastering the craft from scratch or may not have triumphed through endless hours of trial and error or cannot boast that you have the ultimate knack for making the perfect tempura. Life’s too short to stress over tempura – especially when there are products as good as this available…

How Dad Cooked It

There are a few cheats going on here. Thai versions of chilli sauce from bottles are just right: not too sweet, not too hot. I have therefore given up trying to make this sauce from scratch – even though I feel obliged, having watched Peter Gordon make one in a flash at a cooking demonstration. One of my favourite dipping sauces is ponzu, it’s a common condiment in Japan and now available in posher supermarkets and certainly from Japanese/Oriental food stores. The other dipping sauce is based on using the prawn shells to make a stock. Otherwise, as in the piece above, I’ve used ready-made tempura batter flour.

NB: There will be an amount of batter left over. You could cut thin slices of courgette, butternut squash, along with shitake mushrooms and green beans and coat in the remaining tempura batter and fry these with the prawns.

  1. Peel the prawns leaving the tail intact. Cut down a couple of millimetres into the top of the prawn along its length and remove the long digestive tract. Then turn the prawn over and cut down the length of the prawn about halfway into the flesh. With the deep-cut side facing down, place the prawn onto a surface and flatten. Repeat with the other prawns and store in the fridge.
  2. Make the dipping sauce with the prawn shells and heads. Place the prawn shells and heads in a pan with the water, ginger and onion. Bring to a simmer and simmer for about 10 minutes until the value of water has reduced by half. Strain into bowl and discard the stock ingredients. Return the stock to the pan with the other ingredients and bring to a simmer for a minute. Turn off the heat and add the sesame oil. Allow to cool.
  3. Heat a pan of oil and check the temperature – you need to get to 175C – 180C to cook the prawns. Whilst it is getting to temperature make the tempura batter.
  4. Whisk the water into the ready-made tempura batter flour – or if making from scratch, whisk the flours together and sieve into a mixing bowl. In another bowl, quickly whisk the egg yolk with 150ml of cold sparkling water, add to the flour mix and stir with a fork – add more water, if necessary, until consistency of double cream – or thinner. Do not over beat and use as quickly as possible.
  5. Dust the prawns in tempura batter flour – or plain flour. Then dip into the batter and fry for about 2 or 3 minutes. Don’t be tempted to overcook and remove when there is a just a little colour on the batter, drain and serve immediately with the dipping sauces.
  6. If using other vegetables follow the same process to fry.
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