This may sound foolish but it is true. I am very fond of shrimp tails. I eat shrimp from its head down to its tail. I leave nothing untouched, nothing unappreciated.

I cook shrimp almost always with shells on — deveined and cleaned, of course. With a pair of kitchen shears, I cut through the shell along the shrimp’s back starting from its head and ending right before its tail. I remove the black veins with a tip of a paring knife and rinse the shrimp in cold water. The heads and shells are packed with flavor but when I do remove them I always leave the frilly tails intact. The trimmings go straight to a pot of boiling water where I make shrimp stock for pancit or for a simple vegetable gisado.

When shrimp is grilled or fried, I like to nibble on the crunchy tails. They give the shrimp’s plump meat a delightful crunch. And besides, tails make shrimp perfect for pulutan. Pulot [poo-loht] is to pick up in Filipino. Pulutan [poo-loo-tahn] is an appetizer or a small plate eaten with one’s fingers, typically paired with beer or wine. The shrimp tail serves an essential function. It is the convenient handle that one grasps with one’s fingers to pick the shrimp up. The crunchy way — and the only way — to enjoy gambas al ajillo and camaron rebozado with a swig of San Miguel beer.

So, am I the only fool who fancies shrimp tails? Tell me it isn’t so.


Gambas Al Ajillo Recipe

3/4 pound medium-sized shells-on shrimp, about 16 pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1 to 2 Thai chilies (optional)
1/2 teaspoon pimentón
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon minced parsley

Remove the shrimp heads and shells but keep tails intact. Do not toss shrimp trimmings but keep them to make shrimp stock. Devein and clean shrimps in cold water and set aside.

Place garlic, chilies (if you prefer it hot), and olive oil in a skillet. Fry garlic over high heat until it begins to sizzle and turn brown. Add shrimp and pimentón. Stir fry over high heat until shrimp is done, about two to three minutes. Do not overcook the shrimp. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately from the skillet.


Gambas Al Ajillo

  • Niecey Roy-RomanceAuthor

    Yum! My mom makes something similar like this for me using garlic and she fries the shrimp whole (head on). We sit at a low table on the floor where she peels the shrimps for me (yes, yes, I’m an adult, but this makes my mother happy), we dip it into a garlic/pepper/vinegar dipping sauce. I enjoy the meat of the shrimp and she enjoys the rest of the shrimp. Frying them with the head on makes this amazing flavorful juices. Thanks for sharing! LOVE this blog :)

  • Lulu

    No, Jun . . . you are not the only fool that “fancies” shrimp tails . . . I too then must be a “fool” . . LOL! Besides they look better with the shrimp tails on especially for “presentation” . .. LOL! I think this recipe is easy enough for me to try. Now I know what pimenton is. Ha! Ha!

  • Jun Belen

    Lulu, Market Hall in Rockridge has pimenton! Hope all is well.

  • Anonymous

    I am also a fan of eating the whole shrimp- shells and all! In fact, I’ve been known to pinch the uneaten tails from the people who leave it on the plate- not strangers of course..but my husband mostly! I love sauteed shrimp as a pulutan- what a great idea in time for the Super Bowl. Just need a big hunk of crusty bread for dipping.

  • Row

    *raises hand* I often munch on shrimp tails, especially when the shrimps are deep-fried… crunchy! This will be great for pulutan! Thank you. :)

  • Arthur B Raleigh

    I grew up on the coast of NC and love shrimp. Although, I never had them with tails on until I went off to college. It wasn’t just in the culture to eat “uncleaned” shrimp.

  • Norma Torres

    This is delicious and beautifuly plated….

  • Catherine

    I wish I could grab the shrimp of your post Jun, they look absolutely delectable! I’m not a shrimp tail eater, but I’ll try it next time it’s grilled (since I’m a big fan of crunchy savory food!)… oh and you’ve convinced me to have shrimp this weekend :)

  • Jun Belen

    Thank you, Catherine, for writing. I hope you had a great weekend!

  • Jun Belen

    Thank you, Niecey, for writing. Shrimp in garlic/pepper/vinegar sawsawan sounds delicious! What beautiful memories!

  • Lisa

    Definitely going to try this, Jun. I love the Spanish variation, with dry Sherry…I have no doubt I will enjoy your version just as much.

  • Digant Sharma

    i am going to try Gambas Al Ajillo Recipe. it’s really awesome Recipe. Thanks for sharing such a great version. Delhi Stay

  • Diane @ Vintage Zest

    I love your blog! I just subscribed and am combing through the archives to read all your posts. Although I wish I knew how to cook Filipino food, there were never any people in my life who cooked with recipes. It was more of a watch, learn, and taste education. Now as an adult, I can’t seem to recreate them without at least the foundations of a recipe, so I’m happy to find a place to start with your blog. Thanks!

  • Shana Jespersen

    I’m trying your pan de sal recipe as we speak and thought I would look around you’re blog while the dough is rising.. This is what’s for dinner! And I too eat the tails. I’ve also been known to eat the heads if they are lightly fried (like you get in a Japanese restaurant when you order the sweet shrimp).

  • Jun Belen

    So happy to meet someone who thinks heads and tails are the best part! Great minds think alike. Thank you for writing, Shana, and for trying the recipes.

  • Jun Belen

    Thank you, Diane. That’s the way to do it. I remember Jacques Pepin said once in an interview before that that’s the way to learn how to cook: start with a recipe, try it once, try it again until you make it your own.

  • Jun Belen

    Dry sherry sounds wonderful!

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  • SuChing

    No, you’re not the only one who likes shrimp tails. In fact, i’m like you. i eat the shells too when possible. and its head of course. When I was young, i was told that the shells are good for our nails as it makes it stronger. so i never stopped eating since :)
    anyway, i love Gambas Al ajillo!


  • Jun Belen

    So glad I’m not the only one! :-) Thank you for writing, SuChing.