You Might Want To Reconsider Throwing Out Shrimp Shells. Here's Why

Very often — maybe a little too often — shrimp is served with the tails perfectly intact. Why is that? Chefs and cooks have offered a handful of reasons, according to The Washington Post. Maybe it preserves some flavor. Maybe it's simply more attractive and eye-catching. Fiona Lewis, a chef and fishmonger, told the Post, "I have absolutely no idea why it's done." So, there's that.

Lewis did add that it makes sense to keep the tails attached for finger foods, like shrimp cocktails. After all, it's easier to hold. But shrimp tails in a pasta dish or stir fry? That can be a little more confusing. Rick Martinez, a recipe developer and former food editor at Bon Appétit, thinks it's got something to do with appearance. "To be honest, I think it's really an aesthetic thing," he told The Takeout.

But besides appearances and shrimp-holding convenience, shrimp tails hold a lot of nutritional and textural value. And they're flavorful. That's right, they're totally edible. You can eat them, fry them, or at the very least, save them up for a seafood stock. In any event, you shouldn't be tossing these tails out so soon.

Fry 'em up

It's no secret that the United States likes to waste a lot of food. We toss out bruised fruit and mushy vegetables at an alarming rate, according to The Atlantic. But in other parts of the world, food waste is a different — and sometimes less upsetting — story. Just look at Koya City, a Japanese restaurant in London that began frying up shrimp heads as a crunchy, oily bar snack. It's not only a clever way to utilize the entire prawn, but a perfect accompaniment to a cold beer, according to The Guardian.

You might not want to swallow the tail from your cold shrimp cocktail — it might be a little unpleasant on the first try. But if your shrimp is fried, crispy, and even breaded, why not eat the tail for some crunch? People do it. Bruce Mattel does it, and since he's a dean at The Culinary Institute of America, we're pretty open to his advice. "It's calcium. It's not unhealthy or dangerous," Mattel said of shrimp tails, according to Marketplace.

Take stock of your shells

So maybe you're not ready to indulge in some crispy shrimp heads and tails. We understand. There are other wonderful uses for your shrimp shells. Think of them as you'd think of your chicken rotisserie bones: They're flavorful, they hold nutrients, and they're far too tasty to end up, unused, in the garbage. Use your shrimp shells to make a seafood stock. Cook the shells with onion, garlic, salt, and pepper — even some tomato paste and white wine, if you're going the Ina Garten route (via Food Network).

What's the use of seafood stock, you ask? So many things. Shrimp stock can be used as a base for so many savory dishes: from stews to bisques to gumbos and paellas. It will take your risotto to the next level. It will allow you to look at shrimp as more than a tender seafood, but as a shellfish whose shell actually holds a ton of tasty potential (via My Recipes).