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Kent Wang

Shrimp heads

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What is the delicious red stuff in shrimp heads? I presume it's brains, but is it perhaps tomalley? The taste is similar to crab and lobster tomalley.

This is why I always buy head-on shrimp. I quickly pan-fry the heads in a cast-iron skillet, suck all the brains out, and toss the remains into a shrimp stock.

I wonder if it's possible to efficiently scoop out the brains in order to make some kind of extremely decadent dish.

I hear it's high in cholesterol. Are there any other health concerns?

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lol...i doubt there is any efficient way to scoop out the stuff in the heads... but if you enjoy the way you are having it now it sounds perfectly good...perhaps you could come up with a more appetizing way of describing it than "sucking their brains out", though..... ;)

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. . . . suck all the brains out, and toss the remains into a shrimp stock.

The remains of the head, not the body, yes? These are Gulf shrimp?

My local shrimp are small, like 2" max with head. I've never really noticed any tomalley in the head area, just the dark digestive vein where a spine would be, if they had a spine.

Is the stuff in question bright red after cooking?


Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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It is red in the raw shrimp- right?

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I prefer sucking prawn heads over shrimp heads. They're bigger, much more satisfying because you get more of that tasty red brain stuff.

I believe the red stuff in shrimp/prawn heads is the same as in lobsters. Is that roe?

And beware of sucking too vigorously, or you'll end up getting a mouthful of that squishy red digestive sac at the very top of the head - extremely unpleasant. :wink:

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The stuff's pretty good out of good quality raw prawn heads, too, when it's dark green. Dang tasty !


QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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These are farmed American white shrimp. It's red when it's raw and even redder when cooked. I find that the redness is a good indicator of freshness.

I doubt it's roe as every shrimp has them, not just females.

I suppose a good appetizer would be just a bowl of these heads.

I always buy head on, shell on shrimp. The shells and heads (minus the brains I've sucked out) go into a stock. Of course you can never suck all the brains out so there's always a fair amount of brain juice in the stock, making it all the more delicious. One problem with the brains in the stock is that when you boil it the brains foam up and get stuck to the side of the pot, so maybe less than half of the brains actually end up your soup or whatever.

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The stuff's pretty good out of good quality raw prawn heads, too, when it's dark green. Dang tasty !

Wait, are you saying that you eat it raw?

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Yes. But only from the best prawns/shrimp. It's like uni, brown crab meat and fish livers - it needs to be very fresh, and it needs to be good quality, and when it's not good it's really bad.

Also, all the (female) roe I've met on prawns/shrimp has been carried between the legs, along the 'abdomen'.

Like you, I find the brains don't infuse well in water, but try anything, for example, butter or cream based, or infuse the prawn debris in oil and use that to make mayonnaise for prawn sandwiches, or as you like. You heard it here first :wink:


Edited by Blether (log)

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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Agree with Blether, roe is found between the legs of prawn/shrimp. I'd say the "red stuff" is tomalley rather than brains. The prawn/shrimp is a pretty simple creature, I doubt they'd have brains that big.

Edit: seen a few recipes involving prawn tomalley in Google.


Edited by CFT (log)

Best Wishes,

Chee Fai.

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Like you, I find the brains don't infuse well in water, but try anything, for example, butter or cream based, or infuse the prawn debris in oil and use that to make mayonnaise for prawn sandwiches, or as you like. You heard it here first :wink:

Thanks for the tip. I made a big batch (2.5 lbs of whole shrimp) of stock with the shells and heads (which I've sucked, but they still have quite a bit brains/tomalley left in them), strained out all the shells, dropped in a few tablespoons of chicken fat (I find that animal fat congeals better (harder) than butter and oils), and chilled it in the frige. The chicken fat collected at the top, trapping all the shrimp brains, which I then skimmed off.

I then cooked some pasta with this "shrimp butter" and tossed in some sous vide shrimp (140F). The "butter" was incredible. It developed a consistency similar to alfredo sauce but was insanely shrimpy. This was the absolute best shrimp pasta I've ever had, maybe even the best preparation possible.

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Kent -- how much water did you use for the stock, and how long did you simmer?

And just to clarify: you made the stock just from the leftover shells, not from the whole shrimp, correct?

This sounds wonderful: I never would have thought to try the chicken fat. Do you think duck or goose fat would work as well?

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Just shells (and heads). It started as 2.5 lbs of whole shrimp; not sure how much just the shell weight would be. I simmered in about 3 quarts of water, which means the pot is packed pretty solid with shells. This results in a very flavorful stock. If you did 4-5 quarts, it would still be pretty good.

To make the shrimp butter, it wouldn't matter how much water you use because the brains all float to the top. If you're using a short and wide stock pot (like a dutch oven) it might be a good idea to transfer to a taller and narrower pot when chilling so the brains are only spread over a small area, so you don't have to use as much fat to trap it.

I think any animal fat will work well as whenever I make a duck stock, for example, the fat on top ends up pretty hard and is easy to skim off. When dropping in the fat, you'll want to make sure it melts completely and then stir it up a bit so it's evenly distributed.

I've tried toasting the shells but I find it makes the stock too toasty.

If you like to suck on the heads before tossing them in the stock, I used to pan fry them in a cast iron skillet but found that the brains were getting a little burnt at the end. So now I pan fry for a few minutes then pour in water and let it cook to finish.

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Thanks, Kent -- this is all very helpful. Now I just need to wait until the next batch of shrimp with heads on shows up in my market again. Could be a long wait...

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Growing up fishing on the Texas coast we often used live shrimp for bait. I was always instructed that the dark spot about the size of a bb right behind the horn was the shrimp's brain, and we always hooked them right behind this spot as putting a hook through it would result in a dead shrimp. Sounds like you have some other part of the anatomy apart from brains here, although repeated reference to brain sucking does make for amusing reading.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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