If you haven’t yet figured it out by our names, we are Japanese—well, half Japanese. Our dad is full Japanese and our mom is as Caucasian as you can get. That’s why all our children have light hair and the girls have blue eyes.
Unfortunately, however, we aren’t very culturally Japanese. Our great grandparents came to America from Japan, so a lot of the culture has been lost through the generations. But once a year, we dig deep down inside and pull out all the Japanese culture we can find. Every New Year’s day, we host a big open house and serve Japanese food—sushi, tempura, chashu, teriyaki chicken, fish cakes.
The tradition actually started years ago with our dad’s Aunt and Uncle. We spent every childhood New Year’s day at their house, eating Japanese food and playing with cousins. When both of them passed away, our parents took it up and hosted it for many years. Three years ago we moved it to my (Sumiko’s) house because we have more room than our parents. Our parents pretty much do all the food, with a few exceptions.
My favorite food that we serve at New Year’s is tempura. I just can’t get enough of it! For those who are unfamiliar with Japanese food, tempura is vegetables and shrimp that have been battered and fried—so yummy! This is one of the dishes that my parents delegate to someone else. Our good friend Sandy has been our tempura cook for quite a few years now. She faithfully arrives early so she can mix up the batter and start frying. Hours later she’s still in the kitchen, making sure everyone who comes gets fresh tempura no matter what time they show up.
Tempura is not hard, but it is messy and time consuming. All the ingredients can be found in most major grocery stores. Panko is Japanese breadcrumbs. Thanks to panko’s growing popularity among celebrity chefs, it is now widely available. WinCo carries it in the bulk bins! Memmi sauce may be harder to locate. Our mom buys it at a Japanese market we have in the area, but I have also found it at Safeway (Vons), Ralphs, and Raley’s (Nob Hill/Bel Air).
Cleaning and deveining shrimp is a lot of work. My parents usually do that well in advance so as to minimize active prep on New Year’s day. Simply lay your deveined shrimp in a single layer on a plate. Place a sheet of wax paper on top, then add another layer. Wrap the entire plate in plastic wrap and place in the freezer. The morning of cooking, move the plate from the freezer to the fridge.
Because frying is a messy process, and Sandy ends up frying all afternoon and into the evening, we minimize the need for deep cleaning by covering the stove and adjacent counter with foil. We also wrap cardboard in foil and lean it against the backsplash.
2½ c. flour
Yellow food coloring (optional)
Measure flour into medium bowl; set aside. In small bowl, whisk eggs to break down. Whisk eggs into flour as much as possible. Gradually add water until batter is the consistency of pancake batter. Stir in food coloring, if desired. Just before using, drop in a few ice cubes.
Oil for frying (we use canola)
Vegetables, cut/sliced to bite-sized pieces (mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, sweet potatoes or yams)
Shrimp, cleaned, shelled (tails left on), and deveined
Panko bread crumbs
Heat oil in large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Test for proper temperature by dripping some of the batter in—batter should immediately start sizzling and bubbling. Be sure vegetables and shrimp are dry. Dip vegetables in batter and fry until golden brown; drain on paper bag, paper towels, or cooling rack. Dip shrimp in batter then dredge in Panko. Fry until golden brown and drain. Serve with tempura dipping sauce.
Tempura Dipping Sauce
Mix one part memmi sauce with four parts water.