Does it bother you how shrimp aren’t straight? I know, it used to bug me too, until I learned how to make tempura shrimp—crispy, long, and perfectly straight. All credit for this achievement goes to the patient Origami crew, and Chef Ichi-san Ichikawa, for the chance at a tempura job back in sweltering summer of 1999.
To keep shrimp long and straight, start by making a few slits in the “belly” of the shrimp—three should suffice, but no more than four. Make your cuts shallow, only enough to release the tension in the curving muscle of the shrimp body.
At this point the shrimp should lay relatively straight, the small slits in the belly will allow the curve of the shrimp to spread and flatten.
Next, in order to get a pro-quality tempura shrimp, you need to “break” the shrimp. Gently push the shrimp into a cutting board, breaking the flesh a little, and in the process, stretching them out and straightening the last remnants of any shrimpy curvature. It can be tricky. Push too hard and you’ll break too much and the shrimp will split and break into little pieces. It should not take much force—no hammering or calisthenics—more of a gentle nudge. Encourage the shrimp to stretch a bit.
Now your shrimp should lay flat and straight, perfect for dipping, rolling into a crunchy sushi roll, or crisscrossing straight above a bowl of noodles.