In the United States, one of the most popular seafood items is the humble and delicious little shrimp.
You can find them on menus at restaurants that range from Italian to Creole to Thai, all because they are so versatile and their subtle, sweet flavor complements so many dishes.
While you are probably most familiar with peeling and then eating your shrimp without the shells, you might be wondering whether you can eat the shell or not!
So, can you eat shrimp shells? You absolutely can eat shrimp shells. Many cultures and cuisines from around the world enjoy eating the whole shrimp (eyes, head, shell and all!) for interesting texture, flavor, and nutritional components to their dishes.
Read on to discover more about eating shrimp shells, what to do with them if you don’t want to eat them, and some tasty recipes for shrimp that you can try today.
Can You Eat Shrimp Shells?
When it comes to eating shrimp shells there is absolutely no reason you can’t eat the shells.
There isn’t anything unhealthy or bad about them, and they aren’t going to make you sick. However, a lot of folks just simply don’t enjoy the texture of the shrimp shell, which is why it is often discarded.
On their own, the shells of shrimp don’t really have a ton of flavor until they’ve been cooked and seasoned. They are excellent though at absorbing and trapping flavors as they cook, which can make them really yummy to eat.
A lot of cuisines, such as Thai or New Orleans, will do chili shrimps and other bold seasonings that are packed with flavor.
If you can get past the rather crunchy, poky texture of the shells you can enjoy the delicious seasonings of these cuisines.
Enjoying your food to the greatest possible extent is never a bad thing and if you’re paying a pretty penny for shrimp, then you might as well enjoy every single morsel!
Can You Eat Shrimp Heads?
If you’re like me, you might enjoy watching a variety of cooking shows to find inspiration and to drool over the recipes and creations of the chefs.
I remember watching Masterchef Australia and seeing someone eat the head of a shrimp for the first time and wondering, is that safe?
So, can you eat shrimp heads? Yes, you absolutely can!
A lot of different cuisines prize shrimp heads as the most delicious part of the seafood, so if you can get past your preconceptions around eating the head of the shrimp, then you might be in for a deliciously pleasant surprise.
Technically, most people don’t eat the entire head. What they do is crunch down and then suck all the flavor and such out of the head of the shrimp.
This technique is best done with large shrimp or prawns and of course, you need to purchase head-on shrimp.
The fresher the shrimp, the more sweet and delicate and wonderful the flavor will be, so if it is in your budget and able to be found in your hometown, I highly suggest giving it a try.
Best Uses For Shrimp Shells
If you have read everything and tried the shells and said, “You know what? Just not for me”, that’s totally fine! There are still other ways you can get some nutritional benefits from the shells without having to eat them as they are.
One of my favorite things to do with shrimp shells is to make a delicious seafood broth out of them.
You can use shrimp shells, fish bones, lobster shells, or whatever seafood you have on hand to make a flavorful broth or stock that you can use to cook grains, as a base for soups and stews, or in sauces.
Depending on the type of shrimp shell you are using, the flavor can be subtly different. Ultimately, though you will be able to make a subtle, seafood-rich broth that you can use in many preparations in your kitchen.
How To Make A Shrimp Shell Stock
To make a shrimp shell stock you might need to save up your shells from a few shrimp meals.
I like to store them in the freezer in an airtight bag until I have at least 1 larger freezer bag full. The more shells you can save, the richer the flavor of the stock you will make.
- Shells from 2-3 pounds of shrimp
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 yellow onion, quartered with the peel on
- 6 cloves of garlic, smashed with the peel on
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 3 celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 6 cups of water
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 large strip of kombu (optional)
- In a large stockpot or saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium for about 1 minute or until bubbling slightly.
- Add the shrimp shells and sea salt and saute until the shells start to turn pink and a little fragrant.
- Next, add the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery. Stir until combined with the shrimp shells then cover with a lid and let cook for a few minutes. You want the veggies to soften slightly. Don’t worry if a bit of brown starts to develop on the bottom of the pan—that’s flavor (called fond)!
- Once the veggies are softened add the water and gently scrape any brown fond off of the bottom of the pan with a spatula or spoon.
- Add the bay leaves, peppercorns, kombu, and balsamic vinegar, then stir everything together.
- Turn the heat to high and bring the stock to a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1-2 hours. The longer you let it simmer, the deeper the flavor that will develop and the more it will reduce.
- After the stock has simmered for an hour or so, remove it from the stove and let it cool for about 1/2 an hour.
- Pour the stock through a strainer to remove the shells, vegetables, and spices.
- Portion your stock into 1 cup containers. Write the date and contents on a piece of masking tape, stick it to the jar, then store in the fridge up to 1 week.
How To Freeze
- Portion the stock into 500 ml mason jars or containers, leaving at least 3/4 of an inch of space at the top so that the stock can expand as it freezes.
- Seal the jars.
- Take a piece of masking tape and write the date and contents on it before placing it on the jar.
- Let the stock cool in the fridge overnight before moving to the freezer. Use within 3-6 months.
Garlic Chili Prawns/Shrimp Recipe
If possible, try to find shrimp or prawns with the head and shell on for this recipe, since they will give the dish extra flavor and texture.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
- 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 pound of shrimp, shell on (heads too if possible)
- 1 tablespoon of garlic chili paste or red chili flakes
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar, coconut palm sugar, or honey
- 2 green onions, minced, and 1 teaspoon sesame seeds to garnish
- Heat a frying pan or cast-iron skillet over medium heat.
- Add the oil or butter and garlic and stir-fry for about one minute.
- Next add the shrimp, garlic chili paste, soy sauce/tamari, and brown sugar (or other sweetener), quickly stirring to coat the shrimp in everything.
- Cook for about 4-5 minutes, or until your shrimp starts to turn an orangey-pink color. Be careful not to overcook your shrimp since they can turn rubbery and unpleasant.
- Remove your shrimp from the heat and add to a bowl.
- Stir in the green onion and sesame seeds and enjoy!
You can peel the shrimp first, or suck the shrimp out of the shells to enjoy maximum flavor.
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