How to Eat Shrimp Tails and Heads (and Why You Should)

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When it comes to eating animals, most white Americans seem to favor muscle and flesh over innards, heads, tails, tendons, and anything that isn’t, well, muscle and flesh. That’s too bad, because those are some of the best bits with the most flavor, particularly in the case of shrimp.

There’s flavor in those shells

Image for article titled How to Eat Shrimp Tails and Heads (and Why You Should)

Photo: Claire Lower

The biggest issue most people run into when trying to branch out into head-to-tail shrimp cuisine is one of texture. Even when deep fried—which we’ll get to in a moment—the feeling of chitin and tomalley (hepatopancreas) can take a little getting used to.

If you want to ease yourself into the world of no-waste, whole-shrimp enjoyment, you can start by using the shells, tails, and heads to make an umami-packed shrimpy stock. Just grab any leftover shells you have (I keep a bag in the freezer), cover them with water. Bring the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for 15 minutes, tasting every once in a while, until your stock is packed with shrimp flavor.

If your tails came from a batch of seasoned shrimp—say a Cajun boil or scampi—you can expect a little bit of that flavor to come through, but the predominate notes will be deeply savory and a little funky. You know, shrimpy. Use your shrimp stock to make risotto (or plain rice), a seafood stew, or anything else you’d usually use a stock for.

Fry the whole thing

The easiest way to enjoy the heads and tails of a shrimp is to deep fry the entire thing, and then eat the entire thing. According to Chichi Wang of Serious Eats, fried shrimp heads are a symphony of contrasts:

Deep-frying shrimp with heads still on amps up their savory richness and creates a wonderful textural contrast between the crisp shells and the oozing tomalley-like contents of the heads.

The crispy and crunchy exterior gives way to the rich, juicy innards, creating an enticing bite. Wang’s recipe for Chinese-Style Deep-Fried Salty Shrimp may seem a little intimidating, but shrimp are small and fry fast, and the cornstarch creates a wonderful coating for your seasonings of choice to cling to. Once their fried and seasoned, eat them whole, no peeling needed.

Make a snack out of the tails

Don’t have whole shrimp, but still want to wade into the world of tail-eating? You can just fry the tails (or any other part of the shell) by themselves. All you need is shells (with any vein removed), corn starch, salt, and whatever other seasonings you like on crunchy things. Coat them in the cornstarch and salt like Epicurious recommends here, fry them up crispy, and top with fresh herbs, cracked pepper, or chili flakes.


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