Tempura rolls are a type of sushi roll, which in turn is a type of Japanese cuisine. Sushi rolls are somewhat flexible, and the form is open for a lot of experimentation. The most traditional roll is usually a piece of fish surrounded by rice and rolled into a dried piece of seaweed, then chopped into small, uniform rounds. When tempura is involved, some form of fried food takes the place of the fish — or, possibly, is added alongside the fish. There are many different possibilities. Tempura is a specific way of battering and frying everything from vegetables to seafood and meat. Some of the most common rolls made in this style incorporate tempura shrimp, but these are by no means the only possibilities. A lot depends on the creativity of the chef and the tastes of the diners.
Understanding the Tempura Process
One of the most common methods of flash-frying in Japanese cuisine is known generally as “tempura,” and the foods that result also go by this name. Vegetable tempura, for instance, is usually made up of coarsely chopped vegetables — broccoli, mushrooms, and carrots are common options — that are fried more or less whole; many meats and fish can also be cooked using this process. In some cases tempura dishes are served all on their own, usually as platters or individual plates. When they’re used as a filling in sushi the result is often referred to generally as a “tempura roll.”
The tempura batter itself is usually quite simple. It is typically made with only cold flour, eggs, and cold water. The eggs are added to the water first and beaten to mix the two together. Then, the flour is briefly stirred into the egg mixture. If properly done, some unmixed flour will usually remain in the batter. Once the food is coated, it is briefly placed in a deep fryer or wok with a well of oil. The main idea is to get a crispy, crunchy outside interior while maintaining the freshness and softness of the inside.
Most Japanese food experts are quick to point out that the term “sushi” is quite broad, and can encompass a number of differently nuanced foods. When it comes to rolls, though, the basic composition is often pretty straightforward. To create nearly any sort of roll, tempura rolls included, sheets of dried seaweed, also known as nori, are placed on a sushi mat or plastic cling wrap. The rice is then spread evenly over the top of the seaweed. Should a chef want the rice on the outside of the roll, he or she simply flips the sheet. Otherwise, the other ingredients are placed directly onto the seaweed.
Sushi rice is normally more complicated than the normal white rice that people are used to preparing at home. It isn’t usually difficult, but does take a bit of know-how — and sometimes a bit of practice — to get right. Sushi rice is known formally as sumeshi. It’s made with cooked rice and sushi rice vinegar, which is traditionally known as mirin. The vinegar may be store bought but is usually homemade using rice wine, rice vinegar, salt, and sometimes a small amount of kelp.
Tempura Shrimp Rolls
One of the most common and popular tempura-type rolls is made with fried shrimp. Tempura shrimp are made by peeling and deveining fresh, raw shrimp. Cooks trim the tail, but don’t usually remove it, and normally dip each in the batter very quickly. Once all of the shrimp are coated, they are dipped in hot oil and deep fried. After frying, the tails may be cut off, but many tempura rolls are made with some of the shrimp tails intact The shrimp are then set aside to drain while the rest of the ingredients are prepared.
In most cases, the fresher the shrimp, the better. Some of the most traditional versions start with live shrimp and end with a complete dish in the span of an hour or less.
Shrimp is by no means the only option tempura-type roll available. Sushi chefs often use fried vegetables and sometimes even other meats to fill their rolls. Thinly sliced cucumbers or avocados can also be incorporated, depending on the complexity and size of the roll. Mayonnaise is frequently used, too, and cream cheese is also a popular addition. So long as something within the roll has been cooked in the tempura style, the entire dish can carry the name.