How to Eat Prawn Tails and Heads (and Why You Should)

How to Eat Prawn Tails and Heads (and Why You Should)

When it comes to eating animals, most Australians seem to favour muscle and flesh over innards, heads, tails, tendons, and anything that isn’t, well, muscle and flesh. That’s too bad, because those are some of the best bits with the most flavour, particularly in the case of prawns.

There’s flavour in those shells

Photo: Claire LowerPhoto: Claire Lower

The biggest issue most people run into when trying to branch out into head-to-tail prawn cuisine is one of texture. Even when deep fried — which we’ll get to in a moment — the feeling of chitin and tomalley (hepatopancreas) can take a little getting used to.

If you want to ease yourself into the world of no-waste, whole-prawn enjoyment, you can start by using the shells, tails, and heads to make an umami-packed prawn stock. Just grab any leftover shells you have (I keep a bag in the freezer), cover them with water. Bring the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for 15 minutes, tasting every once in a while, until your stock is packed with prawn flavour.

If your tails came from a batch of seasoned prawn — say a Cajun boil or scampi — you can expect a little bit of that flavour to come through, but the predominate notes will be deeply savoury and a little funky. You know, prawny. Use your prawn stock to make risotto (or plain rice), a seafood stew, or anything else you’d usually use a stock for.

Fry the whole thing

The easiest way to enjoy the heads and tails of a prawn is to deep fry the entire thing, and then eat the entire thing. According to Chichi Wang of Serious Eats, fried prawn heads are a symphony of contrasts:

Deep-frying prawns with heads still on amps up their savoury richness and creates a wonderful textural contrast between the crisp shells and the oozing tomalley-like contents of the heads.

The crispy and crunchy exterior gives way to the rich, juicy innards, creating an enticing bite. Wang’s recipe for Chinese-Style Deep-Fried Salty Prawns may seem a little intimidating, but prawns are small and fry fast, and the cornstarch creates a wonderful coating for your seasonings of choice to cling to. Once their fried and seasoned, eat them whole, no peeling needed.

Make a snack out of the tails

Don’t have whole prawns, but still want to wade into the world of tail-eating? You can just fry the tails (or any other part of the shell) by themselves. All you need is shells (with any vein removed), corn starch, salt, and whatever other seasonings you like on crunchy things. Coat them in the cornstarch and salt like Epicurious recommends here, fry them up crispy, and top with fresh herbs, cracked pepper, or chilli flakes.

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