Chikuwa Fish Cake Tempura (Chikuwa Isobe-age) is not made in the exact same way as Tempura, but it is a traditional home-cooking dish. It is crispy outside and soft inside, with a subtle aroma from the nori seaweed mixed in the batter.
Chikuwa Isobe-age is so easy to make since you buy the main ingredient, chikuwa from the store and simply deep-fry after dipping in batter. Chikuwa Isobe-age is one of those dishes that can be served as a side dish, main dish or even finger food. It is so tasty even when it is cold.
Chikuwa Isobe-age is a regular dish for many households and is perfect for bento boxes. It is an economical way of filling your stomach. When I was a school kid, I was so excited to see Chikuwa Isobe-age served for lunch at my primary school (in Japan, lunch is served at school instead of BYO). I loved it.
When an ingredient is battered with nori seaweed and deep-fried, the dish is generically called ‘isobe-age’ (磯辺揚げ). The word ‘isobe’ (磯辺) means rocky seashore and ‘age’ (揚げ) is deep-frying. The name of the dish came from the fact that nori seaweed, which is the key ingredient, is caught in rocky shores.
There are two types of Isobe-age. One type is made by mixing aonori in the batter, then deep-frying the ingredients after dipping them in the batter. This is how I made today’s dish.
The other type of Isobe-age is a type of karaage (like Karaage Chicken) with a sheet of roasted nori seaweed wrapped around the ingredient (the right photo above).
Although the type of nori seaweed used is totally different, both of them do use nori seaweed, and therefore they got the same name.
The main ingredient for deep-frying can be anything, but Chikuwa Isobe-age with aonori batter is by far the most popular Isobe-age. Because it is deep-fried after dipping in the batter, Chikuwa Isobe-age is considered to be a kind of Tempura.
What’s in My Chikuwa Fish Cake Tempura (Chikuwa Isobe-age)
You only need chikuwa fish cake and tempura batter. However, there is a secret to making the crispy tempura batter.
In the case of Tempura, you need to use cold egg water and leave powdery lumps of flour to make light and crispy batter. But for Chikuwa Isobe-age, I added mayonnaise to make the batter crispy when deep-fried.
The gluten in the wheat flour, which makes the batter gluey, does not stick to each other because of the oil content of the mayonnaise. Mayonnaise also let the moisture evaporates too.
- Oil to deep-fry (not in the ingredients photo)
- Wheat flour
- Corn flour/cornstarch
- Mayonnaise (I used Kewpie brand)
You don’t need seasonings on the chikuwa pieces before coating them with the batter since chikuwa fish cake has flavours of its own. the mayonnaise in the batter gives a good flavour to the batter as well.
I used large chikuwa, but you can also use thin short ones. Thin ones are perfect for nibbles.
How to Make Chikuwa Fish Cake Tempura (Chikuwa Isobe-age)
It is a very simple process to make Chikuwa Isobe-age. See the video.
- Cut each chikuwa into 3 equal lengths, then halve each piece.
- Mix the Tempura batter ingredients in a bowl.
- Coat the chikuwa pieces in the batter.
- Deep-fry at 180°C/356°F for 30 seconds each side.
If you are using short thin chikuwa, cut each chikuwa into 2 equal lengths.
You can slice chikuwa diagonally into about 2cm thick pieces instead of making half-cylindrical shapes. Depending on the angle, you can vary the size and number of chikuwa pieces you get. Smaller pieces are best suited for finger food.
You only need to fry them for about 1 minute in total because the chikuwa is already cooked.
You can buy frozen chikuwa at Japanese/Asian grocery stores. I stock them in the freezer at all times so that I can make Chikuwa Isobe-age in no time. Chikuwa is also great to add as a topping for noodle dishes such as Curry Udon as well as an ingredient for simmering dishes such as Oden and Simmered Shredded Kelp.
Watch How To Make It
Chikuwa Fish Cake Tempura (Chikuwa Isobe-age) is not made in the exact same way as Tempura, but it is a traditional home-cooking dish. It is crispy outside and soft inside, with a subtle aroma from the nori seaweed mixed in the batter. See the video.
Chikuwa Isobe-age is one of those dishes that can be served as a side dish, main dish or even finger food.
Don't forget to see the section 'MEAL IDEAS' below the recipe card! It gives you a list of dishes that I have already posted and this recipe that can make up a complete meal. I hope it is of help to you.
- 2 thick chikuwa (190g in total, note 1)
- Oil to deep fry (about 3cm deep)
- 2 tbsp wheat flour
- 1 tbsp corn flour/cornstarch
- 1 tbsp mayonnaise (I used Kewpie mayo)
- 3 1/3 tbsp water (50ml)
- 1 tbsp aonori
- Lemon wedges
Cut each chikuwa horizontally into 3 equal cylindrical pieces, then halve each piece vertically (note 2).
Put all the Tempura Batter ingredients, excluding aonori, in a medium-size bowl and mix gently. It’s ok to have a small amount of flour lumps.
Add aonori to the batter and mix.
Heat oil in a deep-frying pan or a saucepan to 180°C/356°F. You only need it to about 3cm deep.
Put all of the chikuwa pieces in the batter and coat them thoroughly (note 3).
Taking one chikuwa piece at a time, gently put the battered chikuwa pieces in the oil, without overcrowding the oil (note 4).
Deep-fry for about 30 seconds, then turn them over.
Cook further 30 seconds and transfer the chikuwa pieces to a tray lined with a piece of kitchen paper.
Repeat for the rest of the chikuwa pieces.
Pile the Chikuwa Isobe-age pieces on a serving plate, with lemon wedges on the side (if using).
1. Instead of thick chikuwa, you can use thin chikuwa, which usually comes in 5 short sticks in a pack. My pack of short stick chikuwa weighed 160g. Please see the photos in the post.
2. Alternatively, you can slice the chikuwa diagonally into about 1.5-2cm wide pieces. Depending on the angle, you can adjust the size and number of pieces you get. Smaller pieces of Isobe-age are suited to finger food.
3. Make sure that the batter covers the half circle section of the chikuwa pieces (see the video). Not coating this section with batter will make the chikuwa piece bent outward when deep-fried.
If you are making diagonally sliced Chikuwa Isobe-age, make sure that the batter coats the inside of the holes. It may not be easy because the batter is not watery.
4. I used a small pan to save oil, so I cooked in 3 batches of 4 pieces at once.
A typical Japanese meal consists of a main dish, a couple of side dishes, a soup and rice. I try to come up with a combination of dishes with a variety of flavours, colours, textures and make-ahead dishes.
In today’s Meal Idea, I serve Chikuwa Isobe-age as a side dish. Since it is a deep-fried dish, I picked a light dish for the Main. I think Tamago Toji is a good choice for that. It also adds bright colours to the meal.
Come to think of it, you can swap Main and Side between the two. You can have Chikuwa Isobe-age for the Main and a small serving of Tamago Toji as a side.
For Side dish 2, I picked a salad. I think that miso soup is better for Isobe-age, than clear soup.
- Main: Japanese Style Scrambled Eggs (Tamago Toji) – you can swap Main and Side dish with Chikuwa Isobe-age if you like.
- Side dish 1: Chikuwa Isobe-age – today’s recipe, you can make ahead, but it’s so quick to make.
- Side dish 2: Tomato and Seaweed Salad with Sesame Soy Dressing – or other salad.
- Soup: Miso Soup of your choice from Miso Soup Ingredient Combinations or your favourite ingredients.
- Rice: Cooked Rice.
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