Sweet Shrimp Tempura

This recipe was inspired by Chef Chris Chung, of AKA Bistro, just outside of Boston.  I don’t know for certain, but I would guess his recipe might have been inspired by the Rock Shrimp Tempura served at Nobu Matsuhisa’s various restaurants.  At AKA, they normally glazed the tempura with a spicy chili sauce, but for a brief period, you had the option of ordering it with XO sauce.

XO sauce is a spicy seafood condiment that originated in Hong Kong.  Its name comes from the XO designation used for fine (extra old) cognac.  The sauce is typically made with dried shrimp, dried scallops, ham, onions, chili peppers, garlic and soy.  I occasionally make it in large batches, but you can buy it in jars from specialty markets or online.

As for the shrimp, in restaurants I usually see rock shrimp, which is a smallish warm water shrimp with a hard shell (hence the name rock shrimp).  I use sweet Maine shrimp, which are small pink shrimp harvested in the winter months off the coast of Maine.  They are very delicate and sweet, and go perfectly with the crispy tempura batter and savory sauce.  Because they are so delicate, it’s important to go light with the sauce and cook them quickly.  If you can’t find fresh Northern shrimp, or they are out of season, rock shrimp or small shrimp cut in half would work as a substitute.


For the Sauce

1 egg yolk

3 tablespoons XO sauce

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

A pinch of salt and pepper


For the Tempura

1 cup cake flour

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon cornstarch

ice water


For the Shrimp

1 pound fresh Maine shrimp

Flour for dredging

3 - 4 inches of oil heated to 370F in a heavy cast iron pot, or other heavy pot

Chopped chives for garnish


1.     Make the sauce by whisking the ingredients together in a small bowl.

2.    For the tempura, using a medium bowl and chopsticks, whisk the egg yolk with about 1 cup of ice water.  Stir in the cornstarch, then slowly add the flour, whisking with the chopsticks.  You may not use all of the flour…you want the consistency of lumpy heavy cream.  Don’t over stir, lumps of flour are OK.

3.    Working in batches, dredge the shrimp in flour, dust off (I lightly shake them in the spider I use for frying), dip in the tempura batter, then fry in the oil until just golden and crispy, about 2 minutes.  Drain on paper towels.

4.    Toss the still warm shrimp with some of the sauce in a large bowl.  Use only enough sauce to just coat.

5.    Garnish with chives and serve.