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Should restaurants leave the tails on shrimp?

Perhaps I don't know the correct technique, but it really bothers me when restaurants leave the tail-shell on shrimp in dishes that are not intended to be eaten with your hands. Yesterday I ordered a bowl of pho and was very put off that I had to de-tail each shrimp myself- they were so hot from the steaming bowl of soup that my fingers burned.

I know that cooking shrimp in the shell adds flavor and can protect the shrimp from being overcooked, but shouldn't they remove it before serving if it's not meant to be finger food? Is this standard, or are restauarants just being lazy?

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  1. Who said you had to detach the tails? That's a tasty source of glucosamine right there.

    1. a former co-worker said they were a good source of fiber.

      it was kinda weird when he asked for the shrimp tails from another co-worker's plate.

      1. The thought of eating the tails grosses me out, but I don't mind that restos serve dishes with the tails on.
        When we eat shrimp cocktail, of course you use your hands and pick the shrimp up by the tail.
        For dishes that include shrimp- at home, I take all the tails off. For company, I leave a couple on for looks.
        At home, eating take out Thai, for example, I'll pick the shrimp up and eat it because it's just me and DH.
        In a restaurant, I'll use utensils and leave the tail meat for etiquette sake.

        1. I hate when restaurants do this especially in a dish that is not meant to be eaten with your hands. I always take them off at home and the thought of eating them disgusts me.

          1. I've never really understood it, but apparently once upon a time leaving the tails on was a sign that the shrimp was fresh because frozen shrimp had the tails removed along with the shell. I do not know if that is true now, was true then, or if it is just an old saying that was never true but lots of people believed. That could explain restaurants leaving the tail on, they wanted people to know (believe?) that they were serving fresh rather than frozen product.

            2 Replies
            1. re: KaimukiMan

              I've never heard this, and at least for the last 35 years, it hasn't been true, but may have been before that. Shrimp have been sold by the frozen 5lb box, tail on since at least 1977. I love eating the tails, btw.

              1. re: KaimukiMan

                I've always heard the tails on was for 'presentation'.

              2. I prefer it only with shrimp cocktail, otherwise it drives me nuts.

                1. It annoys me too in something like pho or pasta. Simlarly, it bugs me if I order pasta with other sorts of shellfish and have to deal with clam and/or mussel shells that are often too hot to handle. It is fine in soup or a bowl full of clams/mussels with a bit of broth becuse I will find myself using the shell as a spoon. But that said, I do like dishes that you find sometimes at (usually) Chinese restaurants where the shrimp is cooked with the complete body shell (typically sort of deep fried often aong with the head) in which you are supposed to eat the shell --crispy like a shrimp chip if done right (or rather, done the way I like it).

                  1. Ugh, this bugs me too! Whole, shell-on shrimp is fine. Shrimp cocktail where I can use that tail as a handle is fine. But don't give me something in sauce or broth where I somehow have to figure out how to tear off that little bit without getting my hands dirty.

                    1. To me, the last tail segment (the part that's covered with shell in tail-on shrimp) is the sweetest bit of all, and I've never had a problem picking it up and prizing that last little bit out with my teeth. I'm pretty good at it and don't make a scene, at least i've never heard any comments or gotten any dirty looks. Most of my in-laws are probably too busy chewing with their mouths open or sucking air through their front teeth to notice, however.

                      1. It isn't laziness, it is for presentation. You're eating Vietnamese food, tail-on shrimp is standard. If a Vietnamese person did not want to eat the tail of a shrimp, he would not reach into his burning hot pho to pick the tail off. Either I can detach it with my utensils while the shrimp is in the bowl, or if it is small enough, I would put the shrimp meat in my mouth, and then pull the tail off with with my fingers, in the same manner as if you were eating barbecued ribs. Or, you can put the whole shrimp in mouth, eat around the tail, and then remove the tail with a utensil.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: jaykayen

                          its done of those things chopsticks are really handy for

                          1. re: jaykayen

                            My thoughts exactly.... No need to go shoving you fingers into the hot soup to pick them off.....

                          2. Pho? Maybe they are using frozen tail on shrimp originating from SE Asia. You should ask them.

                            1. Tail, yes. The entire shell (especially in a hot dish) no.

                              1. I can understand why it bugs you, but it does not bug me.

                                1. Tails? They should leave the heads on, too. I love sucking the gunk out of the head. That certainly wouldn't be inappropriate in pho. There are few dishes that I would consider "not intended to be eaten with your hands."

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: LorenzoGA

                                    I have never seen frozen "head on" that are worth eating,but, a nice batch of fresh caught shrimp, the head brains et al, is all very tasty when sucked out........

                                    1. re: LorenzoGA

                                      I grew up sucking the heads of boiled shrimp before peeling the shrimp and eating the flesh. Leaving the tails on in any other method of preparation does not improve or detract from the flavor in my opinion. I think its just for "show".

                                    2. I have a hard time remembering shrimp dishes from vietnamese/chinese/thai/ Malaysian restaurants that don't include either the tail or the entire shell and tail.....

                                      1. It is something that may seem strange to Western tastes/ettiquette, how about a nice steaming bowl of Pho, (Canh Ngot), with whole fish nose to tip of the tail. Try eating that with a fork, knife and spoon; yet my Viet friends can eagerly make fast slurping work of the fish and leave nary a morsel of flesh anywhere on the carcass. Again it is Cultural, if one wants real ethnic foods, one should eat it the way it is intended to be eaten. Then, there is always "Popcorn Shrimp" at Red Lobster.............................

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. I agree with you 100%. Tail/on only for shrimp cocktail that is passed @ a party. I worked in sales/marketing for one of the biggest shrimp companies in the US for close to twenty years. In that time, peeled & deviened farm raised shrimp have taken over most of the market which is sad because they SUCK, flavorless, insipid & usually loaded with the chemical Sodium Tripolyphosphate (used to add water weight). Even if it not declared on the label most Asian & South American packers use this chemical. P&D Tail/on are much more prevalent than tail off so I think it just done out of habit. If you want good shrimp buy shell-on headless wild caught shrimp and peel them yourself.

                                          1. I'm with LorenzoGA on this: there aren't many dishes I couldn't accept as finger food, despite what Amy Vanderbilt and Mrs. O say about fried chicken ;-) I get tail-on shrimp in pasta dishes a lot, sometimes in pho or other SE Asian soupy things, and I've gotten adept at pulling off the tail shell and leaving the meat where I want it. You just give the little collar of shell attached to the tail blades a good pinch, then tug on the tail whilst holding the shrimp in your teeth. Usually works.

                                            When I cook and serve shrimp at home, I buy the "easy-peel" kind and take the tails off before cooking them, but that's mostly to accommodate my guests, or my own tendency to want as few obstacles to consumption as possible … and I never feel put-upon when they're served to me with tails.

                                            1. Fried shrimp or prawns *without* their tails? That's as evil as serving a roast chicken without the oysters or the Pope's Nose.

                                              I keep waiting for some processor to perfect freezing and selling JUST the tails for bisques, stock and frying up as cracklin's.

                                              My own cooking rule on the subject is not finger-food-or-not, but whether the body of the critter is served whole. If it is, even in stews, cioppino, paella, etc., then I WANT my guests to grab 'em, squeeze 'em and suck 'em.


                                              1. It sure would be nice if the tail shell were removed while leaving the tail meat, as I prefer not to eat the shell, and I prefer not to touch the shrimp with my hands in the dishes you're describing.

                                                However, the norm seems to be that they are served with the tail shells, so I've gotten used to using my hands. A little annoying, I agree.

                                                Personally, I avoid ordering shrimp at Vietnamese and some other Asian restaurants. I am a pretty big Pho fan and go often, but gut feeling is that the meat quality is really low in this genre of restaurants mainly because of how cheap the prices are, and I am somewhat concerned about eating low quality seafood and shellfish in comparison to low quality beef and chicken. Maybe I should be more concerned about the latter, but for some reason I don't like the idea of eating fish and seafood that is really cheap, as I imagine the filthy waters they could have been potentially raised in.

                                                However, cheap beef and chicken might be cheap because the meat is tough, or the bird is small or less plump, but might be equally safe in comparison to other cows and chickens.

                                                Part of my impression of the meat quality is probably biased by the way meat appears in the many Asian groceries I frequent, mainly to buy unusual produce, spices, rice, and imported items. It just doesn't seem like the same quality as it is where I buy my meat in other grocery stores.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: alarash

                                                  I'm inclined to agree with you -- our local Asian market proudly boasts about their wall of fish tanks, but the water in those tanks is so filthy and murky that I have absolutely no interest in consuming anything that has "lived" in it.

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    That water is probably many times cleaner than most any aquaculture farm.

                                                    1. re: jaykayen

                                                      we weren't talking about aquaculture farms, but okay.

                                                2. Diss my table manners if you will, but I've always treated shell-on shrimp in any dish as an invitation to pick them up with my fingers.

                                                  1. Tails don't bother me...the whole shell would, but the tails do not.

                                                    It's easy enough to pick it up by your fingers, with a fork, or with chopsticks (whichever is appropriate) and bit the shrimp off at the tail. Discard the tail.

                                                    Want an easier way? If shrimp are fried and have the tails still on, I just eat the tail. We eat alot of fried shrimp HEADS & legs...so the tail doesn't bother us in the least.

                                                    1. I'm with you and was in fact thinking about this last week. I had pasta with shrimp and had to cut the shell off every piece before I could enjoy the dish.

                                                      I also don't like the shell left on for shrimp cocktail, when dining in a restaurant. That's why G-d invented the fish fork (JK). At home, I don't care and don't even bother with a fork at all. I went to brunch last Sunday and there was a bowl of shrimp, sauce in another bowl and again, cut off all the stupid shells off one by one. What a waste of time and energy.