Fried fish can either be heavy or light, it's all in the batter. And no batter is lighter than a Japanese tempura, which coats the fish in a gossamer layer of crunchy goodness. Done right, it is even low fat because the tempura blocks fat from getting into the fish, which then steams within the crust. Tempura recipes cry out for a sauce, and in this case, you can use a garlic aioli, which is like a homemade mayonnaise. This recipe uses California halibut, but you can use any firm fish: cod, striped bass, tilefish, sturgeon, walleye, eels, grouper, snapper, rock cod, etc. Firm flesh is the key here.
- 1 lb fish (white firm, such as halibut or cod or walleye, cut into 2-inch chunks)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup sparkling water (ice cold)
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 cup rice flour (you can use all-purpose wheat flour, too)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Canola oil or other oil for frying
Make the aioli. Chop the garlic roughly and put into a mortar and pestle. Add the salt and the mustard and pound it into a paste. This will take a few minutes.
Heat enough oil to cover the fish pieces in either a Dutch oven or a deep fryer. You will need about a half gallon. Don't worry, after you are finished, let the oil cool, strain it to get the bits out, then reuse it. You can reuse oil several times. Heat this oil until it is very hot – about 370 degrees.
Salt the pieces of fish well on both sides.
Make the batter. While the oil is heating, make the batter. Tempura batter needs to be made and used quickly. This is very important.
Mix together the flour, cornstarch, salt and baking soda in one bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the ice cold water – it must be ice cold or this will not work – and the egg yolk.
When the oil is hot, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk them together until just combined. Do not over mix.
Dip the fish pieces in the batter and into the oil. Shake off a little before you put them into the oil, but remember this batter is thin and runny. Do not overcrowd the pot.
Fry in batches, at about 2 to 3 minutes per batch. Drain on a rack set over a paper towel to catch the oil that drips off.
Serve at once with a dollop of the aioli alongside the fish.