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Apr 11, 2007 02:23 PM

Tail-On Shrimp Protocol

I'm sure it's happened to most of us, at one point or another: we order a dish containing shrimp and they're presented with the tails-on. But what is the accepted manner of removing the tails (presuming that you don't prefer to eat them - some do, some don't)?

1 - Stab the shrimp with your fork and basically bite-off the flesh to the base of the tail? Then what happens to the tail? Does it fall back onto the plate/table/your lap?

2 - Secure the shrimp body with your fork and then cut-off the tail using your knife? What if you're eating a soupy or well-sauced dish and the tail ends-up floating around the dish? Or (as usualy happens with me, 'cause I'm just not that coordinated) does the tail go shooting-off onto the table - onto your lap - or (as happened the other night, and yes I was mortified) become airborne and land in your dining companions glass of wine?

3 - Secure the tail with the side of your fork (basically holding it down against the plate) and then using a knife to cut-off the body?

4 - Using your fork to attempt to cut through the body at the base of the tail (not always practical if the shrimp are at all over-cooked)?

Other questions:

If the shrimp is fried, is it permissable to pick-up the shrimp by the tail and eat it with your fingers?

When eating fried shrimp (including tempura), is one expected to eat the tails?

When eating a "shrimp tempura roll" do you eat the tail? (And just how do you get that section of the roll, with the tail sticking out of the end, into your mouth, anyway?)

Is it permissable to "peel open" the tail to get that last succulent bit of meat?

Where should you place the tails after they've been removed?

And just what is the rationale of leaving the tails on, especially if the restaurant goes through the trouble to peeling and deveining? Is this tradition? Is it rude to remove the tails prior to serving? (Seems to me, at least in cooking at home, that it's a lot easier to remove the tails when peeling and deveining rather than trying to keep them on. But maybe that's just me.)

Just wondering.

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  1. I, too, am uncoordinated and have a hard time removing shrimp tails. I've had some success holding the shrimp down with my fork, sliding my knife between the shell and the meat, and popping the tail off that way. But it doesn't always work and the tail often ends up where I don't want it. If it's fried or there's no sauce, you can pick it up.

    My understanding is that the tails are left on for presentation. I'd be happy to sacrifice a pretty tail for easier dining.

    1. I usually do number 3. Securing the meat with the fork and cutting with the knife should prevent any unexpected PROJEC-TAILS (I just HAD to :p).

      I've never eaten a shrimp tail, at least not willingly, in any cuisine. When eating tempura, there's a good chance you're using chopsticks and it's easy to simply place the tail on the edge of your plate as you bite the rest of the shrimp off. I've also been known to hide them in a soup bowl after I'm done with that, or hiding it on my lap napkin to be surreptitiously placed on the table as we leave.

      I enjoy eating fried shrimp with my hands as long as they're not too greasy. Again, I put the tails somewhere out of sight if at all possible. I wouldn't peel open the tail in any instance.

      1. Quite a few of the upscale Greek places in Chicago serve shrimp dishes with the shell on -- would you eat all that extra chitin? Must be good fro your finger nails...

        1 Reply
        1. re: renov8r

          Chitin and keratin aren't the same thing. Keratin is a protein and is what fingernails and hair are made of. Chitin is a poly-saccharide (complex carbohydrate) and is what crustacean shells and reptile scales are made of.

          Chitin won't help your nails or hair grow. But it does help wounds heal faster.

        2. Tails are edible, and tasty in many preparations, especially fried.

          If shrimp are served tails-on then pick them up by the tail, place shrimp in mouth, and squeeze the tail firmly and it comes right out of the tail. Then place the remains on anything you want like a napkin, empty bread dish, etc.

          4 Replies
          1. re: JMF

            That doesn't work if the shrimp is in a sauce. Fingers get very sticky.

            1. re: mojoeater

              Serving tail-on shrimp in a sticky sauce should be forbidden by law, right up there with serving gooey BBQ chicken on the bone with plastic forks. If someone has stuck you with a platter of those, I say you are well within your rights to eat them with your fingers and then wipe'em off on the tablecloth. And here's a tip (this is for real): to loosen the meat from the "socket" of the tail, squeeze it between thumb and forefinger on the top and bottom, not the sides, as you're biting on the main part. The meat should come out effortlessly. Hey, I been doing this an AWFULLY long time...

              1. re: Will Owen

                In a rational world, serving shrimp with tails on means the tail is a little handle for eating finger-food style. If the shrimp are in a sauce and are wearing their tails and/or shells, somebody in the establishment has his concepts garbled.

                1. re: Sharuf

                  I agree whole heartedly here. In sauce, they HAVE to be completely undressed.
                  Other than that, the tail is there for you to use as a handle. You are required to use your fingers. Consider it "Peel n Eat" with some of the work done for you.
                  A general rule of thumb, food that has to go to your mouth and then back to the plate should return in the same fashion. So if you stab it with you fork to take it to your mouth, protocol is that you return the tail with your fork. Good luck with that.
                  I'd just put it off to the side on whatever plate it came on.


          2. I read things like this and wonder if there is something wrong with me that I don't worry enough about these things.

            I have no advice other than this - you should definitely get the little yummy bit of meat out of the tail before discarding. If the Queen of England served me tail-on shrimp, let me promise you I would get those tasty divets out with some semblance of grace.

            5 Replies
            1. re: andytee

              *laughing* I normally don't worry about these things - but after the flying tail into the wine glass" trick last weekend, I got to pondering (and I've lots of time to ponder 'cause I'm hand-raising some orphaned critters, which means lots of sitting still and day dreaming while holding bottles and syringes). (Er, and this is one of the more "normal" things that I ponder, too.)

              I must ask, how would you get out those tasty divets in a graceful manner? (I am called "Gracie" by friends 'cause I'm anything but.)

              1. re: ElsieDee

                How I get em out?

                Well, yeah, fingers in most cases.

                In a casual setting - pick it up, split it with fingers, stick my tongue in, etc.

                In all but the most formal setting, including "fancy" restaurants - discreetly pin the tail to the edge of the plate with a finger, and stick in a few tines of my fork to extract the meat. If it bugs you, take the damn tails off in the kitchen. I'm stubborn about this, real gourmets will eat with fingers anytime, and will cook and serve shrimp with shells, heads, and all sometime. Just suck it out, same as a lobster. Why be delicate?

                In a "Queen of England" setting - pin the tail of the shrimp to the edge of the plate with the flat of my knife blade. Dig in to extract meat with tines of fork. Eat.

                Or, wait until you see the Queen use her fingers (bet she would!) and then do the same.

              2. re: andytee

                LOL!!! I so agree! i was just wondering how to reply..all that fussy stuff, and well heck I would use fingers or whatever to get that tail off and with that good little piece into me!

                Sometimes, ya just gotta dig in.

                1. re: andytee

                  Bravo, andytee, waste not, want not. Whether it's a paella or asian or pasta dish, once I recognize the shrimp are tail-on, I do my detailing immediately so that I am licking fingers and soiling linens only the once. I usually stack the tail shells like little cannon balls on my bread plate, as if there is some obscure mannerly protocol for the task that I know and others quietly learn while pretending not to notice.

                  1. re: Veggo

                    LMAO, I am sooo the same way! at home I love to BBQ the suckers whole because part of the fun is licking my fingers between each bite but out, if the tails are still on, i tail the first thing so I can enjoy my dish all at once.
                    Damn that's why I love you guys (every damn one of you). :)