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Vodka-battered tempura fish

Chunks of fish are lightly battered and deep-fried,

Chunks of fish are lightly battered and deep-fried, then topped with a vinegar and ginger sauce. Photo Credit: MCT/C.W. Griffin

My husband won't eat sushi, but Japanese tempura - a thin, crisp, golden crust surrounding tender nuggets of shrimp, fish or vegetables - is another story. I don't do much deep frying anymore, but tempura is worth the effort.

Although considered a quintessential Japanese dish, tempura arrived in Asia with Portuguese traders and missionaries in the mid-16th century. The Japanese perfected it and made it their own.

The technique is the same as for other deep-fried food, but the secret to perfect tempura is in the very thin batter. Nobu Miami's executive chef, Thomas Buckley, uses vodka to make a batter that fries up extra light and crisp.

Here are tips: Use ice cold water to produce a viscous batter that clings readily to the raw ingredients.

Barely mix in the flour; this helps to make the crust feathery.

Mix the batter in small batches and use them immediately so the flour doesn't absorb too much moisture.

Fry with peanut oil, which has a high smoke point, in a deep, heavy pot.

Serve your tempura piping hot, with a dipping sauce on the side.

YELLOWTAIL TEMPURA WITH AMAZU SAUCE

Lemon-flavored rice and sweet potato chips would round out this meal nicely. A crisp, lively Raymond Vineyards 2009 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc ($20) would complement the sweetness of the fish and spiciness of the sauce.

Peanut oil for frying 1 whole yellowtail snapper (about 1 1/3 pounds), filleted Salt and freshly ground pepper 2 to 3 teaspoons all-purpose flour 1 cup vodka tempura batter (see note) 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and placed in ice water 1 Serrano chile, sliced fine 1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro 2 to 3 tablespoons amazu sauce (see recipe) Daikon radish shreds (optional) Heat several inches of oil in a deep, heavy pot to 360 degrees.

Cut the filleted fish into about 10 pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Lightly dredge in flour, dip in the batter and deep-fry in the hot oil until lightly colored. Transfer to a paper-lined dish to drain.

Pile the fried fish on a plate and garnish with onion (dried off), a few slices of Serrano pepper and chopped cilantro. Spoon some amazu sauce over or serve on the side. Place the daikon radish shreds on the side. Makes 2 servings.

Vodka tempura batter: Beat 1 large egg yolk with a scant 1/2 cup ice water and 1/2 cup ice-cold vodka. Stir in 3/4 cup all-purpose flour until barely mixed, ignoring lumps. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Source: Adapted from "Nobu Miami: The Party Cookbook" by Nobu Matsuhisa and Thomas Buckley (Kodansha International, $39.95).

Per serving (without the oil for frying): 708 calories (25 percent from fat), 17.5 g fat (4.4 g saturated, 6.6 g monounsaturated), 241 mg cholesterol, 73 g protein, 36.3 g carbohydrates, 1.4 g fiber, 333 mg sodium.

AMAZU SAUCE

1 tablespoon rice vinegar 3 tablespoons granulated sugar 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger 1/2 teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice Place the rice vinegar, sugar, ginger and salt in a small saucepan over low heat and dissolve the sugar and salt. Cool and add the orange juice. Makes about 6 tablespoons.

Per tablespoon: 28 calories (0 percent from fat), 0 fat, 0 cholesterol, 0 protein, 7.2 g carbohydrates, 0 fiber, 193 mg sodium.

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