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Head on shrimp?

Got some today - can I steam them and eat the whole thing peel and all?

-saw a thread about it that says yes but I am still wary


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  1. I've never heard of anyone eating the shrimp shells, regardless of whether the heads are on or off. Personally, I pinch off the heads, shell the shrimp and enjoy.

    4 Replies
    1. re: carolinadawg

      There's a whole continent that views eating shrimp with the shells on as the normal way to eat them (unless they are quite oversize). A continent, btw, with 60% of the earth's population.

      So I'm pretty stunned that you've never even heard of this.

      1. re: seattle_lee

        That whole (nameless) continent must do this with a very different type of shrimp than the ones occurring locally on the continent where I live. It is in that context that I don't know of anyone who eats heads, shells and all.

        1. re: seattle_lee

          What, you mean Asia?

          I've lived here in Asia for a decade. Whole is quite common.

        2. re: carolinadawg

          It all depends on the method of preparation!!

          The attached photo is 'Fried Wild South China Sea Prawns with Spicy Peppered Salt" that fellow chowhounder Nilescable and myself had in Hong Kong this March. The shells and heads were so 'crunchy crisp' that we ate the 'whole' thing!

          The other version, from another chowmeet, are bigger Tiger Sea Prawns that were prepared just by boiling. These we need to peel the shell and heads. However, for this type of preparation, do remember to suck out the yummy brains before discarding!! Dipping sauces like Clarified Butter, Soya Sauce or Seafood Cocktail sauce are often used. However, personally, I prefer to eat them 'as is' since the flesh are so delicate, sweet and filled with Umami.

          Lastly, the third photo depicts 'Wild BC Spot Prawns' wok fried with Premium Top Soy sauce. Taken in Toronto during Spot Prawn season. Again, these need to be peeled. However, the heads in this case were much more flavorful!

        3. Yes! I use to not be able to but lately like the crunchy shells. I think there is more flavor with the entire shell and head on.

              1. re: madeliner

                You have shell them first to devein. I usually trend towards smaller shrimp so I don't have to devein.

                1. re: carolinadawg

                  you don't need to shell the shrimp in order to devein them. all you have to do is cut a sliced down the back of the shrimp through the shell and then remove the vein.

              2. entire thing is edible and the shells are a great source of chitosan.

                1. If you're still wary after reading the other thread, what makes you think this thread will change your mind?

                  (BTW, I eat the head and shells)

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: ricepad

                    just wanted a bit more info if there was any

                    1. re: madeliner

                      I would urge extreme caution if you attempt to eat the heads and shells. The shrimp I'm familiar with have pretty substantial "horns" that are very sharp and could easily cut the inside of your mouth, not to mention be a choking hazard. Perhaps others are eating a different type of shrimp. I am utterly amazed to hear of anyone eating the entire shrimp, shell, head and all. I can't imagine that would be a pleasant experience.

                      1. re: carolinadawg

                        You clearly haven't tried a deep fried shrimp head...it's the best part of the shrimp.


                          1. re: joonjoon

                            we have a very short season for local maine shrimp -- like a month. they are sweet, smallish, and often same-day boat.

                            local sushi places will serve the bodies raw, sometimes with a squeeze of citrus and the heads deep-fried along side. swoony good.

                            had whole shrimp at a cambodian place the other day that had a few jalapeno slices on the shrimp body, then battered and fried. waiter wanted to be sure we would eat the heads. "best part, yeah?" YES!

                            1. re: joonjoon

                              just found this:

                              "Fish do things differently. Fishes have evolved some organs that mammals haven't, one of them being a combination of the liver and pancreas into a single organ, the hepatopancreas."

                              from: http://www.vetmed.ut.edu/education/cu...

                              zomg, so the heads are sweetbreads and fishy-foie in one tiny package. lol. YUM!

                      2. The dish I look forward to the most when heading to chinatown is salt and pepper shrimp. Crispy fried, head and shells on and very hot and spicy. I eat the whole thing, heads and all.

                        1. I am totally squeamish about eating the shells and heads. I ate the most amazing prawns in a restaurant in Guilin and was berated by the waitress for not eating the best bits!

                          Anyway, if you don't fancy eating them but don't want to waste them you could always use the shells and heads for stock (for paella or something?)

                          1. I eat the whole think for small shrimp, usually deep fried (it's a speciality of a nearby market - tiny whole fresh shrimp, deep fried and served with pepper salt).

                            For the larger ones, I find the head too spiky and the brains kind of bitter, but I will still eat the shell.

                            1. I have never heard of anyone eating whole "boiled" shrimp - heads on with tails. And undeveined no less. Use plenty of horseradishy cocktail sauce if you do! I wouldn't eat them like that myself

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: miss_belle

                                i simply do not understand cocktail sauce with raw, steamed or boiled shellfish. why slather gussied-up ketchup on something delicate, sweet and briny?

                                and yes, i eat shrimp heads and sometimes the shells.

                              2. This is what I do with head-on shrimp.

                                Gently steam, remove head, remove shell from the body, and eat the shrimp body with a simple soy sauce, rice vinegar and minced garlic dipping sauce.

                                Then I take the heads, and deep-fry them. Cholesterol, thy name is calling ...

                                1. I'll leave y'all to it -- every time I've chomped down on a shrimp shell by accident, I've found it incredibly unpleasant - like finding a stray chunk of plastic.

                                  1. As others have mentioned, fried is the best method if you want to eat the whole shrimp with shell. This is Generally done with smaller shrimp. A u-12 shrimp shell would be too hard and thick to crunch on.

                                    And to the rest, don't knock it til you've tried it ;)

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: youareabunny

                                      Agree with youarebunny, shells taste best when crisp.

                                      If you are steaming them, don't bother to keep the shells, they won't have that satisfying crunch. But the back half of the head "neck" of the shrimp has the good stuff, at least try some of that before throwing the head away.

                                      And you don't need to eat the whole shell, Even though in China we always leave the shell on, not everyone eats it. Some eat the shell on the body but leave the tail fin and head. Others put the whole thing in their mouth and spit out the shell after. Some people even peel their shrimp.

                                    2. Shell-on fried shrimp, with their crunchy exterior and juicy interior are about as addictive as a perfect piece of fried chicken.

                                      Steamed shrimp you'll need to peel. You could eat the shells, but they would be limp and not entirely appetizing. Best to save them for stock.

                                      1. Thanks so much

                                        I did take off the outer shell after cooking because I steamed them with veg and like like jungmann wrote it wasn't easy to chew

                                        the pink/red stuff in the head (roe?) I sucked out- I never had before-it was delicious!! what a nice surprise

                                        1. I'll second those who say eating the whole is great, but only when fried to crispness, at which point the shells take on a potato-chip-like quality. It's common to do this with the shrimps dusted with cornstarch and (if desired) seasonings.

                                          Boiled or steamed shrimp shells will not attain an especially appetizing character, and the horn won't shatter, so that could be nasty. But the innards still taste good.

                                          Another option is to remove the heads and shells and make a shrimp stock. You can cook the tails separately. Has great flavor, somewhat striking orange-ish color. Shrimp stock is a useful base for seafood risotto or perhaps some kind of chowder (or maybe even poaching?)