Friday, April 01, 2005

3 ways to eat a shrimp's head

first i must thank two people for making this blog possible; valerie who showed us the 3rd and by far more glamorous way, and blanca who gave me the incentive by saying "the head of shrimp is the only thing that steve is afraid of eating". pride is a terrible thing and the shrimp have suffered all the more for it. second, i must urge only intrepid eaters to continue, this is not for the faint hearted ...

as a shellfish (mariscos), the shrimp is a crustacean (as opposed to molluscs; mussels, clam, squid etc.) and shares this family with lobsters and crabs. they date back 200 million years so we should at least understand something about them before we eat their heads...


shrimp in the natural spanish habitat; the seafood counter ...


they are what we call a "decapod" (well, what i now call a decapod) meaning they have 5 pairs of legs. like the rest of the crustaceans, they have a forward part (head or cephalothorax) and the rear portion (tail or abdomen). the head is actually quite a bit more than just a head, it also includes the main digestive, circulatory, respiratory and reproductive systems. mcgee likens it to the equivalent of our head and trunk put together. the tail is basically a swimming muscle that moves the back end plates. all of this means that whilst i was originally turned off by the idea of eating a shrimp's head, i'm horrified by the idea of eating their head and all essential organs ... good.

many people will never be served a shrimp with a head on. the reason for this is that the liver (digestive enzymes) are contained here and breakdown quickly once the animal is killed. this spoilage can be reduced by removing the head or keeping the shrimp on ice. basically, the further away from sea you are the less likely you are to get a shrimp with head attached. this part of the body is also the richest in flavour and therefore considered the best part of, especially, lobsters and crabs.

i had my first plate of real 'mariscos' (shellfish) at a wedding in spain. as an irishman it was odd enough to be eating fish, let alone having to peel their shells from their backs and eat them. i was quite proud of myself as i ate through the plate. strange thing that i noticed was that despite not eating the heads, there was no pile building up on my plate. i looked around and noticed that blanca was hoovering all the heads from the plates around us. with her lips pursed against the "neck" of the head and a sharp intake of breath, she was sucking the insides out. i'm not going to expand on this further; it was a bad to witness as it was to recall and write. samcooks has written a good article on the joys on "sucking shrimp head".

in spain it is very difficult to find a shrimp (gamba) served to you without its head on. the main reason for this is that the head will retain much of the flavour of the shrimp whilst being cooked. even in spain, a land dedicated to eating seafood, it is not completely normal to eat the head of shrimp. spain is the second largest consumer of fish in the world. i have had the pleasure of eating fish in japan; the largest consumer of fish...

at the end of 2004 we were with some friends in a sushi restaurant in tokyo. when it came time for the heads of the shrimp to be addressed, the chef thankfully took the burden of choice away from us. he grilled them in a mini oven at the side of the kitchen. he then opened the heads and served them to us outside of their shells.

valerie recently showed us the french way of eating shrimp head. as it is french, it far more delicate and refined. i have now adopted it as my chosen method of eating shrimp head ... i call it the grasp and pull technique:

step 1 - the "grasp". take the hands of the shrimp (what i fondly call the “hands”; the 5 pairs of crawling appendages on the head), hold the nose (the hard nub of exoskeleton above the eyes)



step 2 - the "pull". pull the lower portion of the head from the hard upper shell. the inner organs will be revealed. eat in the manner you see fit …



note: shrimp are categorised as warmwater, coldwater or freshwater. we were eating warmwater mediterranean red shrimp (gambas rojas). many shrimp died in the writing of this blog, i owe them all a debt of gratitude.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

By the way, i also enjoy eating heads of shimp - my father believes that there is most flavour and nutrition in it - in fact Japanese value eating brains of crab for instance. tohotoho 

Posted by Taro Potato

Sam said...

the best way to eat shrimp head is to deep fry them and eat them like shrimp crackers

VISING said...

Is it healthy to eat the shrimp and lobsters head?? where do you get the cholesterol?

VISING said...

is it healthy to eat the shrimp and lobsters head

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