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Shrimp Tails; WHY do they Leave them ON ?!?!

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This has been a pet peeve of mine for a mighty long time....and it got to me again at lunch today.

I LOVE shrimp...but....

Why is it that when you order a shrimp dish at most restaurants, or even cook it yourself, the shrimp come with 9/10th of each one shelled and de-veined..but that last segment of shell...and THE TAIL is left on??


Weather the shrimp are sautéed, grilled, roasted, fried, or other....the Tail is always left on!

I don't get why? I though one of the marks of a well plated dish is that everything in the plate should be edible. Why do I have to pick up my shrimp with my fingers, bite and pull in order to separate the tail and get that last bit of meat?

Why aren't the tails removed prior to cooking or plating?

Curious and perplexed

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  1. When shrimp are grilled, the shell chars and adds an additional layer of flavor. To a certain extent this also happens with sauteeing and roasting.

    1. Mostly for visual appeal.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Funwithfood

        I do not find it visually appealing.

      2. BBQ shrimp are famous in Louisiana and they are cooked with the shells fully intact head and all. Most "Cajuns" eat the entire shrimp including the shell so as not to waste the BBQ sauce which is really lemon juice, garlic et al.

        1. The shrimp are machine shelled and it is easier to leave that last joint on. Restaurants are not going to invest the man hours to remove that last bit. They all claim that it is an easy handle for the diner. That is hype, very few people eat shrimp with their fingers in a restaurant especially something saucy. I have been tempted to send shrimp dishes back to the kitchen and ask that the shrimp be fully peeled and ready to eat.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Candy

            I disagree with your assertion that the machines used for shelling shrimp necessitate leaving the tail shells on. If this were true, then it should also apply to "popcorn" shrimp, which are tiny and never have the tail shells left on.

            1. re: Candy

              And guaranteed if you did it would be done by some disgruntled kitchen staffer not the chef, and you would end up with a little more than you bargained for your in entree.

              1. re: Candy

                how sure are you of your facts? i rather doubt that better restaurants are buying pre-shelled shrimp. at least I hope not.

                1. re: Candy

                  For a couple of years, I was the poor SOB in the kitchen who had to shell between 5 & 10 lbs of shrimp every night (26-30 count), and I removed the last segment but left the tail intact. IIRC, it would never take me more than about 40 minutes or so, so at the minimum wage at the time, it was less than about three bucks' investment by my employers.

                2. Chefs always say it's for aesthetics (and yes, I do believe it looks prettier), but I also think it's to make diners think they're getting a bigger piece of shrimp.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Carb Lover

                    I make shrimp all the time, and personally, I find non deveined shrimp unappetizing...I take off the shell completely so I can devein the shrimp entirely, and butterfly. There is no waste this way, and I think it's kinda gross to see people suck the tails out the shell.......Alot of Thai restaurants take the shell off, and they use very large shrimp.

                    1. re: Janie

                      Except of course, chefs in restaurants in Thailand, where the tails are frequently left on, and often so is the entire shell and the head. In that case, many Thais enjoy eating prawn heads. And the shells can be quite edible as well.

                  2. personally, i like to eat the shrimp tail shells.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: rebs

                      Thank you, I was afraid to say that :-) I love them, especially fried and crisp

                      1. re: ValL

                        No shame in eating them! If they have a yummy coating, I will eat them too. My mom makes a Vietnamese-style unshelled shrimp coated w/ fish sauce, sugar, and spices and we pop the whole thing in our mouths.

                        1. re: ValL

                          there's nothing i love more than whole shell-on salty shrimp sauteed till crispy. i'll eat the little suckers right up to the eyeballs.

                          on a healthier note, i've heard that eating shrimp shells is good for lowering your cholesterol. something in the shells binds with cholesterol and helps it pass through your digestive system. i haven't had a nutritionist or doctor confirm this, but it sounds good to me :-)

                          1. re: ValL

                            Even better when the shrimp are salt-baked. Mmmm.

                            1. re: ValL

                              fellow shrimp tail scoffer here, too.

                            2. re: rebs

                              I'm with you rebs and vail... Especially if they are fried, always eat the tails. If you served me fried shrimp without the tails I would ask where the rest of the dish is.

                              1. re: rebs

                                I agree. I leave them on at times for a few reasons. Aesthetics, ease of handling if you are eating with fingers and they taste good. If you don't want to eat it, a good pinch will work to remove the tail from the flesh. Even in restaurants where I'm using a knife and fork, it's easy to separate the tail with a well placed knife without sending the shrimp flying across the table.

                              2. If you've spent any time in Asia, you'll know the answer is, "Because they're delicious and nutritious!"

                                I'll never forget my first lunch in Bangkok, where my Thai hosts looked curiously on as I left my shrimp tails on my plate. One pal said, "Are you going to eat those?", and when I demurred, proceeded to finish them like so many leftover french fries. After that, I started chewing and swallowing them like the locals. No big deal, really; certainly added some fiber to my diet, and probably some calcium.

                                Cultural differences are endlessly entertaining! Next time your buddy expresses horror at the idea of eating tripe, kidney, brains, chitterlings, or any other organ meat, just say "hot dog"! Rich people food in Western Europe, poor people food in America, everyday food in most other places. What exactly is it that makes one part of the animal okay to eat, and other parts taboo, or just disgusting? Strictly what you were brought up with.

                                Throw off the chains of your parochial culture: eat shrimp tails!

                                1. I'll weigh in on this from the food prep side. Most of the shrimp's shell can be stripped away in one quick motion but removing that last little bit of shell and tail is a pain in the butt. If you try to do it too quickly you stand a good chance of tearing away part of the shrimp with it. If you do it slowly and carefully you triple the time it takes to shell a pound or two of shrimp. I don't know if this is the rationale restaurants use but I know it's why I never bother removing the tail.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Paul

                                    Really? When I work with shrimp I find it easier to take off the tail. I usually rip off the tail first which usually takes 3/4 of the shell of with it, just leaving one last little piece to rip off.

                                    Or is that a sign of unfresh shrimp? I don't know.

                                  2. When I was a chef I wanted the last bit of shell left on for a presentatin of cold shrimp but always fully removed for shrimp that were to be eaten with knife and fork. However, this must have totally blown the minds of my staff becaust I can think of nothing at the moment, except for Hot plates for hot food, that was more universally disregarded. So I'd postulate the answer to your question is stupid, lazy cooks.

                                    Maybe I was wrong about the cold shrimp, though. It looks a little better, but who wants to be standing around a party with a shrimp tail in your hand? And it's not like the tails are clean and dry...

                                    1. They may be left on for any number of reasons, as discussed below. As for how to deal with them should you not want to eat them:

                                      Fork in head-end of shrimp. Knife at base of shrimp, right where the fan starts. Push down with knife while pulling with fork. Try not to have the fork all the way through the shrimp; you don't want it scraping on the plate.

                                      1. Maybe its all in my head but i feel as if the shrimp shrink less when they have the last tail segment on when i cook them.
                                        Also i have always found that when i leave the entire shell on when cooking, especially when boiling or steaming and removiong afterwards the shrimp have a better flavour and texture. The shell really adds alot of that wondeful shrimpy taste.
                                        I mean the reason you can make soups and stocks with just bones or shells is beacause there is so much flavour that can be extracted in those "waste" parts.

                                        And getting the meat out is easy, when you get to the last bite of the shrimp simply grasp the meat between your front teeth and twist the tail slightly while pulling./ It pops right out. Or you could just eat the shell like i sometimes do, especially when fried. Speaking of that the heads are really good when fried too.

                                        1. The only time I'd remove that last segment of shell is for an etouffee, gumbo or other saucy dish, where it would be a real mess to fish the shrimp out and remove the shell. Otherwise, it stays on, as a handle to hold the shrimp as you nibble. I've eaten my share of them when they're crisply fried. They look very pretty attached to a butterflied, fried shrimp.

                                          1. Well, there's the fact that, as others have said, shrimp tails are yummy, especially fried.

                                            But you lost me at "in a well-plated dish, everything on the plate should be edible"...
                                            1) see above
                                            2) um, don't go to Europe or Asia, or authentic restaurants in those cuisines. (or a lobster or clam shack, or whatever) I just got back from the Cinque Terre and Venice. Your fishes in fritto misto are looking at you with all their fishy parts intact (hard to eat but yummy). What about linguine with clams? I want shells, please.
                                            3) not to put too fine a point on it, but if the question is a more Alfred-Portale-worthy plate or more yumminess, I'll go with more yumminess, please. Kind of especially here at (/looks up at title) "Chowhounds."

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: GildaChubb

                                              This drives me nuts too, especially when they leave the tails on in scampi. I get so ticked that my hands have to get yucky. I don't find it more appealing in the least to leave the tails on, I just find it plain old irritating.

                                            2. Thanks for this topic. This drives me insane. I can understand for shrimp cocktail or anyother finger food. But when the shrimp are in a sauce? It seems extremely rude of the restaurant to make their diners fish around with their fingers and become a mess.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: nathanac

                                                boy Nathan - what else do you not want to do with your fingers and hands? Of COURSE one eats with them! (and sometimes lick the fingers, too) Oh - sorry - talking about those darn tasty shrimp tails and shells, weren't we?

                                                1. re: nathanac

                                                  EAT THE SHELLS! They're holding all that wonderful sauce just for you!

                                                  1. I agree with ricepad and Tom Swift.I usually always leave all the shell intact when roasting,grilling,boiling or bake stuffing.As with any seafood shell,they enhance the flavor of the food greatly.Also,I like to eat the complete shrimp from tail to head,especially when grilling.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                      1. re: alkapal

                                                        One of my absolute sushi bar favorites: live shrimp sushi, then the heads - antennae and all - quick-tempura fried and served....utterly fantastic, and the little antennae are like shrimp fries.. Scrumptious...

                                                        1. re: Alice Letseat

                                                          most sushi places that do sweet shrimp, will deep fry the heads and give you some ponzu on the side for dipping. Just be careful because those little heads have some sharp points.

                                                    1. I think Ms. Manners (sorry J. to be presumptious with your honorific) would agree - the issue is the lack of fish forks and/or finger bowls and hot napkins.

                                                      although sometimes eating with your fingers is quite OK and all you really have to do is pinch from the base of the tail to get it out.

                                                      1. When at a standing and eating event does one collect the tails as trophies. Oh look I got to eat more shrimp than you?

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: NOLAWOMAN

                                                          If you eat the tails, you can say, "You effin' pig! Look at all the shrimp you got! I didn't get ANY!"

                                                        2. Whenever and wherever I order phad thai with shrimp, the first thing I do is dig out all the shrimp and remove the darn tails.

                                                          1. Natures handle! No need to fuss with forks in a cocktail sauce. Cooked shrimp is slippery. The tail helps me hold on!

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                              But what do you do with the handle. Chase the server down and return it? Or perhaps just fling it over your shoulder. I am being silly. After a childhood growing up in seafood restaurants in Louisiana I find the oh leave it on because you will know it really is a shrimp somewhat funny

                                                              1. re: NOLAWOMAN

                                                                Napkin? Appetizer plate? What was everyone else doing with the tail? LOL...

                                                            2. I have seen shrimp fried whole (antenna and all) in authentic Asian restaurants.

                                                              1. For flavor and ease of handling as finger food. If the tail is on, taking it off is easy if you want to; if there's no tail you can't add it.

                                                                1. A pet peeve of mine as well.

                                                                  1. So....lots of opinions here! Let me throw mine in as regards shrimps and their tails. I don't like eating shell. It's like that piece of popcorn that gets stuck in your teeth that is so hard to remove (and why I don't eat popcorn very often despite the great smell and taste). I love grilled shrimp, but the grilling often causes the shell and the meat to cling, often wasting that last bite. If shrimp is not grilled, removing the tail is pretty easy: give a hard pinch to the joint between the body and the fan of the tail, then pull the tail. It will (almost) always come away without tearing the flesh. When I cook, I always do this to the raw shrimp so there is no impediment to eating. I do save the shells. They make for very flavorful sauces and stocks.