Deep-fried, crisp, fluffy batter surrounding juicy, perfectly cooked prawns used to be a party dish my mom would make on special occasions. I would pull up a stool and watch her while she shelled and de-veined what seemed like hundreds of prawns. The pile of shells would get bigger and bigger as she went – it always seemed to me that the pile of peeled prawns were so much smaller, and to my child’s eye, the more to less equation seemed unequal somehow.
When all the prawns were peeled, she would heat up oil in her coal black wok until it was shiny and shimmering. Right before frying, her chopsticks would fly while she quickly whisked a mix of flour, water, baking powder and salt in a bowl. With a flick of her chopsticks, a small ball of batter would fly in to the wok, sizzle and float to the top.
Held by their tails, my mom would carefully dip the prawns in the batter before gently lowering them in the waiting oil where they would swim until they were golden brown and crispy. My mom would scoop them out with her wood and wire spider and put them on a waiting paper towel lined oval platter.
My brother and I always wanted to eat the prawns right away, but my mom would swat us away, telling us we’d burn ourselves. The golden mountain of prawns would taunt us as we played on the kitchen floor. When it was time to eat, eating fast was ideal; at parties, the mountainous platters would disappear in minutes.
We didn’t, and still don’t call my mom’s deep fried prawns “tempura,” but essentially that’s what they’re most similar to. Back then, I didn’t know what tempura was, and to be honest, my mom’s deep-fried prawns aren’t like traditional tempura at all. Imagine my surprise when one day, at an izakaya, ordering tempura ebi rice balls yielded what looked like my mom’s deep-fried prawn perched a top an onigiri ball.
The ebi tempura with rice wrapped in roasted laver and dipped in soy sauce is like a taste explosion in your mouth. The izakaya doesn’t make the rice balls anymore, so I took it upon myself to re-create them at home. They make a great appetizer, or if you’re like me and love deep-fried prawns, you can make a meal out of them.
Ebi Tempura Rice Ball Recipe
8 large prawns, de-veined and shelled, tail left on
1/2 cup ice cold water
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
oil for deep-frying
cooked Japanese rice
roasted laver or seaweed
Heat about 2 inches of oil in a deep-sided pot until it reaches 350˚F. While the oil is heating, gently mix the flour, baking powder, salt and cold water into a batter. Do not over mix; lumps in your batter are just fine. Do not mix the batter early or let it sit, you want to mix it right before you fry your prawns.
When the oil is ready, dip your prawns one by one into the batter and gently drop into the hot oil. Fry in batches so you don’t over crowd the prawns. Drain on a paper-towel lined plate.
Make the rice balls with slightly wet hands. Shaped 2 or so tablespoons of rice into a ball, like shaping a snowball. Place on top of a sheet of roasted laver, top with a prawn and enjoy immediately with soy for dipping.