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.