Since You Asked: Strategies for shelling cooked shrimp

Why do restaurants from low-end to elegant leave the tails on cooked shrimp? It's a pain to take them off when shrimp is part of an entree!

— Jim C., Medford

Tails left on cooked shrimp are meant to be decorative. That they drive you crazy at the same time is simply coincidence, although it may not seem so during the holiday season when practically every meal or party is awash in tail-on shrimp.

Like paper frills festooning a crown rib roast, the tails do give a shrimp dish an extra dimension visually. And they can be handy handles on shrimp eaten as finger food.

Good luck getting restaurants — or holiday hosts, for that matter — to take off that tail. The good news is removing the tail is a snap.

Usually, the tail is attached to a segment of shell in which there's a bite of shrimp left. If you are in a situation where you can use your fingers, pick up the shrimp and tug it gently from the shell. Squeezing the shell end can loosen the meat inside. Or put the shrimp in your mouth, start chomping down on that segment of tail shell and suck the meat out of the tail. Put the empty shell segment and tail piece back on your plate.

When using a knife and fork, cut straight across the shell segment where it connects to the tail. Then spear the remaining piece of shrimp peeking out of the shell with your fork and ease it out. That last nugget usually comes away easily. If not, use a knife to cut open the shell segment, then pull out the meat.

You can always leave that last bit of shrimp in the shell along with the tail; there are no rules requiring you to eat it.

Send questions to "Since You Asked, A la carte" Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; e-mail to

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