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Crispy Fish Tempura

My first job, at the age of fourteen, was at a restaurant. For some reason I decided to become a dishwasher at one of the busiest fish fry joints in the neighborhood. It was nothing to be proud of, trust me. It was non-stop, exhausting dish washing. Hundreds of plates, dirty silverware, and just plain old slop came rushing at me, only me, a mile a minute. I never complained about it, probably because I had no time to think about it, and reflecting back on the good old age of fourteen, I was pretty proud of myself. I was riding my bike blocks away, and heading home around midnight on a Friday night. How cool was that? The restaurant was known for its fish fry. When I did have a break, I watched the half dozen or so heavy metal, stoner type dudes tossing in fish into the fryers, picking up the hot baskets, dumping them into a hot tray, and then waitresses rushing away to serve the hundred or so people in the dining hall. It was an experience, and after watching these guys make a mess of the food, I never returned to eat there again.

But it was the fish fry. If you are from Wisconsin, you know exactly what I am referring to. If you are not from Wisconsin, well, you should visit, especially on a Friday night, and visit almost any restaurant for this, almost religious activity, known as the fish fry.

It is almost routine in our family that if I even pose the question on a Friday of ‘what do you want for dinner tonight’, the answer is, 90 percent of the time, a fish fry. We love it, and as I have been experimenting with beer batters over the last few years, I have also been tinkering with tempura batters.

A tempura batter is really simple to make and yields a light, crispy coating, which is perfect for small cod filets.

Let’s get started.


Begin by mixing the salt, cornstarch, and one cup of flour in a mixing bowl.  Add in the very cold seltzer water and lightly mix. Do not overmix. If you are not going to use right away, place the bowl in a larger bowl, lined with ice, so that the batter remains very cold.

Heat your oil, enough oil to have the fish submerge, roughly three or more cups. Heat the oil to 350 degrees.

Take your cod filets, and cut into four inch lengths. They are easier to manage in the fryer, plus I think they are more fun to eat. Add the remaining flour to a plate.   Once the oil is heated, take a filet, place a filet onto the plate with flour, and lightly coat both sides. Toss in the bowl of cold batter, then carefully place them into the fryer. Cook until you have a nice, golden brown fish. Remove the cooked filets with a slotted spoon, and repeat until all of your fish is cooked.

To plate, add the cod to a serving dish and line with lemon wedges.

The result is a perfect, crunchy, but light cod filet that is super tender and flaky. A fish fry done right. You can also use this batter for any vegetable, shrimp, or heck, whatever your imagine gives you. Hope you enjoy.

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