How to Prepare Shrimp for Tempura

It can be a big challenge to prepare unfamiliar types of foods, especially when you don’t know much about the culinary traditions that surround them. Japanese cuisine is no exception since it can be pretty difficult to properly prepare some of these complicated dishes. For example, you might want to know exactly how you are supposed to prepare shrimp for tempura.

When you are preparing shrimp for tempura, you need to go through a process referred to as “butterflying the shrimp.” First, you need to wash the shrimp, then take out the digestive tract and nerve cord. Then, make cuts along either the outer or inner surface of the shrimp to flatten it.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to prepare shrimp for tempura, read on. You might be able to learn information that is both interesting and helpful to your process.

What Is Tempura?

If you have read anything about Japanese cuisine, you have probably heard of tempura. However, you might not know exactly what it is. Essentially, tempura is a batter type that gives a little bit of a flaky and crispy texture to seafood and vegetables within Japanese cooking.

Tempura is a batter that is prepared in a deep fryer and ends up giving your food a nice fluffy crunch. This golden batter is typically a mixture of flour, water, and occasionally egg. However, even though this may seem like a very simple recipe, it can be a challenge for chefs to get it right for their preparation.

It can be tough to decide what kind of flour to use to make tempura. Wheat flour has a strong flavor, but it needs to be mixed meticulously to prevent the batter from becoming too thick and dense. Rice flour is often a good choice because it will give you a crispy, delicate texture.

Many people think of water as the simplest possible ingredient that you can use in a recipe. However, within tempura, there is debate about what kind of water should be used. If the chef uses ice-cold water, this can prevent the formation of gluten strings.

Some chefs think that it is best to use sparkling water instead of regular water since the bubbles will make the batter airier.

Typically, once the batter is made, it is used to cover different types of seafood, such as fish, squid, and shrimp. Additionally, it can be used to batter tougher vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, squash, bell peppers, and eggplant. Tempura is even used in some cases to cover entire maki rolls.

A Brief History of Tempura

Tempura is a very common ingredient in many meals within Japanese restaurants. However, it isn’t as old of a tradition as teriyaki or sushi. Typically, early Japanese culinary traditions involved very few animal fats since they were fairly rare. It was much more common for vegetable oils to be used for fuel, so frying was not very common in early Japanese kitchens.

Many people believe that the concept of frying using animal fats was introduced to Japan by Portuguese and Spanish missionaries and traders in the 16th century. It was only after this that tempura fried fish became a common tradition in Japan, specifically in Tokyo’s streets.

How Do You Butterfly Tempura Shrimp?

Preparing tempura itself can be a challenge. However, this is where it ends. Preparing whatever the tempura is going to end up coating can be a challenge as well. For example, if you are using tempura to coat shrimp, you should keep in mind that shrimp will shrink when you cook them. This is characteristic of any protein that doesn’t contain a lot of fat.

When shrimp shrink, they also tend to curl up. However, when you are coating them with tempura, you want to keep them flat. We’re about to tell you how to do just that. Essentially, you need to make a few cuts in the shrimp before you fry it, which will change its shape.

To prepare shrimp for tempura, you will need to go through a process called “butterflying the shrimp.” This process will make them into a more amenable shape to even cooking, and it will give you a more appealing final presentation once you have coated the shrimp with tempura.

Wash the Shrimp

The first thing you want to do is rinse off all of your shrimp thoroughly in order to remove any debris, such as sand. While you are butterflying the shrimp, you can store the ones you haven’t worked on yet in a bowl of ice to keep them as fresh as possible.

Remove Unnecessary Parts

The first thing you want to do is peel and devein the shrimp. It is possible to cook shrimp that you haven’t yet peeled, but when you are butterflying shrimp, you should usually peel them before you cook them.

The reason why you want to peel them is that this will open up the flesh of the shrimp. Opening it up will make it easier for you to slice it and ultimately butterfly it. You can choose to leave the tail on the shrimp or remove it, depending on the aesthetic look that you are going for at the end. However, many would say that for tempura purposes, it is better to take the tail off.

First, if your shrimp comes with the heads attached, remove the heads.

You should use a paring knife for this entire cleaning step since this knife is sharp and precise enough to do the job. Once you have taken off the head of the shrimp, move the tip of the knife between the shell and the flesh along the curved back of the shrimp, and keep going until you reach the tail of the shrimp.

Once you have made this cut, use your fingers to remove the shell. Make sure that you get all of the legs off of the body and try to get the entire shell off in one piece, as this will make the process simpler for you. It is your choice whether or not you want to remove the tails of the shrimp.

Take Out the Digestive Tract

It will be ideal if you can remove the digestive tract since this has a residue that most people are not going to want to consume. This will be visible as the grey, black, or brown vein that you see running along the back of the shrimp’s body. You need to remove it before you butterfly the shrimp.

Start with the paring knife positioned around the head of the shrimp, and carefully slice along the back to completely expose the digestive tract. Carefully remove it from the body of the shrimp, and put it on a paper towel to be disposed of.

In some cases, this digestive tract might break into pieces while you are trying to extract it. If this happens, all you need to do is turn on your faucet and let the water wash over your shrimp for a little bit. This should wash out this unwanted tract. If you have a shrimp deveiner, you can also use this to take out the digestive tract if you are working with smaller shrimp.

Take Out the Nerve Cord

In some cases, the shrimp might have a nerve cord that you want to take out as well. To check to see if it has one, turn it over. If the shrimp has a visible nerve cord, it will be visible along the body’s inside curve. It should appear as a dark line.

You might be interested in knowing that removing the nerve cord is not essential to this process. The nerve cord is actually edible. However, it is usually best to remove it because keeping it in can negatively affect the aesthetics of your tempura shrimp at the end.

If you are a beginner or novice in this process, you can omit this step because the tempura batter will cover up this nerve cord anyway.

The step can be somewhat challenging since removing this particular cord is a little bit more difficult than taking out the digestive tract. If you’re not careful, you could end up completely slicing through the shrimp, which is not what you want to do. 

The process of taking out the nerve cord is fairly similar to that of taking out the digestive tract. Just run your paring knife through this nerve cord to expose it, cutting through the flesh of the shrimp. Lift it out and get rid of it.

Make Cuts Along the Body

There are two ways that you can do this step. This is the part where you are butterflying the shrimp. Most commonly, people butterfly shrimp by cutting the flesh along the backside. However, it is also an option to butterfly the shrimp along their inside bellies.

Cutting Along the Back Curve

If you have already taken out the digestive tract, you need to deepen this cut a little bit. Put the tip of your paring knife into the cut, close to the head of the shrimp. Then, carefully slice along the back of the shrimp until you get to the tail.

Make sure that you don’t cut entirely through the shrimp. Just cut deep enough to see the body divided into two halves that are still connected with one another, much like a butterfly.

With every individual shrimp, once you have butterflied it, quickly rinse it under cold tap water. Then, put it into ice water to keep it cold and fresh while you go through the same process with the rest of the shrimps.

Cutting Along the Inside Curve

This is similar to slicing along the back, but it can be a little bit more complicated to slice along the shrimp’s inner curve. Take your paring knife and split the shrimp into two halves that are still attached to one another along the inner curve. Make sure that you don’t slice entirely through the shrimp.

Cut Along the Split

Then, holding onto the shrimp’s tail, make four or five extremely shallow cuts that are perpendicular to the length of the shrimp along the belly.

You want to make them shallow because you don’t want to cut all the way through the shrimp since this would ruin the entire project.

Rotate and Squeeze

Now, it’s time to turn the shrimp over again so that the backside is facing up. Now, gently use your fingers to pinch the shrimp and press down on its flesh. Move your fingers from the tail to the tip, back and forth, to strengthen it and make it as long as you can.

At this point, your shrimp is flat and will be ready for frying in tempura batter. You can reasonably expect it to remain straight during this process as well. Before you coat the shrimps in batter, you will see pretty big incisions all along with each shrimp, which won’t necessarily look good. However, this won’t matter because you are about to cover all of these imperfections with tempura batter anyway.

How to Make Shrimp Tempura

Now that you have learned how to butterfly shrimp, it would be good for you to learn a basic shrimp tempura recipe. For this recipe, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 10 shrimp, or prawns (most commonly, people use black tiger prawns for this recipe)
  • Oil with a neutral flavor, such as canola or vegetable oil
  • Cornstarch or potato starch (to dust the shrimp)
  • 1 large egg
  • 200 milliliters of ice water
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup of Japanese soup stock, or dashi
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of mirin
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 2-inch slice of daikon radish

Here are the steps on how to make a tempura sauce:

  1. Combine the Japanese soup stock, sugar, and mirin in one small saucepan.
  2. Mix the ingredients, and bring them to a boil.
  3. After this, turn the heat on low and allow the mixture to simmer until you see that the sugar has dissolved entirely.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat source and put it aside.

Then, butterfly the shrimp as we have described above. Ensure they are dry since water on the shrimp can cause the oil to spatter during the frying process.

Now, it is time to make the tempura. To do this:

  1. Fill a medium-sized pot or a wok with oil so that it is at a level that is about 1-1/2 inch or 3 centimeters from the bottom. 
  2. Heat it to about 340 to 350°F, and make sure that it stays at this temperature through the process. You can use either a thermometer or chopsticks to check the temperature. If you’re using chopsticks, all you need to know is that when you see tiny bubbles surrounding the chopsticks, that means that the oil is hot enough for deep frying.
  3. Once the oil is hot enough, or maybe slightly before, you can gather all of the temp or batter ingredients. These include the egg, ice water, and flour. 
  4. Put the flour into a large bowl, and in a separate container, slowly put the egg into very cold water. Whisk the egg and water mixture very quickly, and get rid of the foam that you see on the surface.
  5. Slowly and carefully, pour this mixture of egg and water into the flour. Mix this batter, but don’t overdo it. It’s okay to leave some lumps in this batter. Make sure that the batter stays cold at all times. Also, make sure that you are ready to deep fry it right away after preparation so that the wheat gluten is not activated.
  6. Now, you can dust the shrimp with cornstarch or potato starch. This will make it more likely that the shrimp will actually stick to the batter. Then, coat the shrimp within the temporary batter. 
  7. It’s time to deep fry the shrimp. Do it until you see that the shrimp is golden brown, which should take about two minutes. Do not put too many shrimp into the pot at the time because the oil temperature will go down quickly. Also, make sure not to overcook the shrimp.
  8. Transfer the deep-fried shrimp to a plate that is lined with a paper towel or a wire rack so that you can drain off the excess oil. Between batches, try to remove any stray crumbs within the oil because these will burn and compromise the oil quality if you leave them.


If you are interested in preparing shrimp for tempura, it’s worth learning about the butterfly process for shrimp. It might be somewhat challenging to do this and keep each of the shrimps in one piece, but as with any other endeavor, practice makes perfect.

Once you have butterflied all of your shrimp, you can coat them in tempura, which in itself is a challenging process despite how simple it looks. However, if you are capable of preparing all of your shrimp for tempura properly and then coating it with high-quality tempura, your efforts will certainly be worthwhile.

Here are some of my favorite sushi making tools

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you find it useful as you make sushi at home. Here are some tools I’ve used that I hope you’ll find helpful, too. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to use any of them, I will earn a commission. But honestly, these are the exact tools that I use and recommend to everyone, even my family.

Rice cooker: For getting started, I really like Zojirushi Rice Cooker. The Zojirushi Rice cooker does not only make rice-cooking dirt simple, but it is a quality gadget that cooks better than most chefs can. Unlike most kitchen gadgets, it does not sacrifice quality for convenience.

Knife:The Kai Knife is one of the best sushi knives in the market. Made in Japan’s famous knife-making capital, Seki city.