A few preliminary attempts at making tempura revealed to the folks at America's Test Kitchen why some Japanese chefs devote their entire careers to this one technique. Success hinges almost entirely on the batter—which is maddeningly hard to get right. They wanted a recipe for perfectly cooked shrimp tempura—light, crisp, and so fresh-tasting that it barely seemed fried.
They settled on using the largest shrimp available, since it's easy to overcook small shrimp. Instead of a wok, they substituted a large Dutch oven, their preferred deep-frying vessel. Cooking the tempura in 400°F oil also helped limit grease absorption. To prevent the batter from clumping on the inside curl of the shrimp, they made two shallow cuts on the underside of its flesh. For the batter, they replaced a bit of the flour with cornstarch to improve the structure and lightness. For a super tender coating, they used a combination of seltzer and vodka instead of the traditional tap water. Seltzer is a little more acidic than tap water and therefore slows down gluten development, while the vodka prevents the formation of gluten. Their tempura was now light and crisp with the essence of sweet, tender shrimp. To see how they did it, watch the video here and then go visit America's Test Kitchen for the recipe. (Free registration required.)