Have you ever eaten a shrimp head? Personally, they’re not my thing, though I have been known to knock up a shrimp head stock now and again.
In fact I don’t just use shrimp heads but the heads and shells of any crustaceans. Lobster, crab, prawns, and crayfish shells all make flavoursome, umami-packed stocks.
In some Asian countries, the humble shrimp head that we often throw in the trash is considered a bit of a delicacy. Fried till crispy and eaten as a snack. Or just split in half and the juices sucked out….. which I’ve tried and can report the flavour as a little bitter. Stick to the sweet-tasting tail meat I say.
That doesn’t mean that you should bin those shrimp heads though. And don’t throw them just because you don’t have a use for them right away, pop them in the freezer for another day.
The price of crustaceans like lobster, crab, and shrimp are at an all-time high because of overfishing and responsible cooks should extract every last drop of flavour.
With that in mind here’s 5 ways to use up those shrimp heads, lobster shells, crab carcasses, or whatever crustacean shells you’re left with after dinner.
Ok, so strictly speaking you don’t have to use shrimp heads, the shells of any crustaceans will produce a rich flavoursome stock.
I’m not going to give out a long-winded recipe either (I’ve got a few coming up)
There’s a recipe for fish stock here. So all you’ve got to do is substitute the fish bones for crustacean heads or shells and you’ll have an awesome base for soups, stews, sauces, and risottos. You could even add some gelatine and turn it into a savoury jelly like you see in some of the more fine dining restaurants.
There’s a couple of things I do to improve the flavour when I’m whipping up shrimp headstock though.
First, roasting off the shells in a pan or the oven concentrates and adds a nutty flavour. Secondly, consider bashing up the shrimp heads a bit to help release the flavour and reduce the cooking time.
Another thing to bear in mind when you make a stock with lobster or shrimp heads is that it can produce a liquid with quite a dark colour. Most of the time this won’t matter but it will affect the finished dish.
So, say if you were going to use the shrimp headstock in a risotto or for a white sauce than you might omit the heads and just use tail or claw shells which will give a much clearer, lighter coloured stock.
One of the tastiest things you can make with a load of leftover shrimp or prawn heads is a delicate shellfish oil. This recipe takes a little time but it’s well worth the effort. The resulting infused oil has a faint smell of the ocean and a light salty sea favour.
Once made it keeps for months and there’s just so much you can do with it. Drizzle it over a salad, some lightly steamed vegetables, or pasta. Use it in a dressing, whack it into an aioli or a mayonnaise, put it in a tapenade or pesto the possibilities are endless….
To make a shellfish oil here’s what you’ll need –
A scrupulously clean 1.5 litre (3 pint) Kilner jar
1 litre / 2 pints oil (don’t use extra virgin. A pomace, groundnut, or vegetable oil works just fine)
1kg / 2lbs of shrimp, prawn or crayfish heads.
Aromatics – I normally use peppercorns, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, garlic, bay, and thyme.
Here’s how to make it.
Pre-heat your oven to 100c / 210f. Chop up the shrimp heads and place them on a roasting tray and dry them in the oven for 2 hours.
Once dry put the heads and aromatics into the Kilner jar and pour in the oil.
Place the Kilner jar in a tall pot lined with foil (the foil will stop the jar banging against the sides once things get boiling)
Fill your pot with salted water making sure it comes up to the same level as the oil.
Bring to the boil and cook for one hour, then cool completely at room temperature.
The sterilized shellfish oil will keep for months in the fridge unopened. Once opened, decant it and use it within 2 weeks.
Rich and decadent this is another great way of using up leftover shrimp heads. It’s a recipe adapted from the great Michel Roux and like the shellfish oil above there’s a lot you can do with it.
My own personal favourites are to whisk it into a classic beurre blanc. Or to clarify it and use it in a hollandaise. It’s delicious melted over steamed asparagus or you could use it to gently saute some fresh thin fillets of fish like sole, plaice of john dory.
To make shrimp butter here’s what you’ll need –
50g / 2oz of clarified butter
2 small shallots (finely diced)
1 small carrot (finely diced)
450g / 1lb shrimp heads
1 glass of white wine
Pinch of cayenne pepper
450g / softened butter
How to make it –
Melt the clarified butter in a pan, add the shallot and carrot and sweat gently till cooked. Then remove with a slotted spoon.
Add the shrimp heads to the pan and cook over a high heat for 2 minutes.
Pour in your white wine then add back in the vegetables along with the cayenne.
Turn down the heat, cover with a lid, and cook very gently for 10 minutes.
Remove the contents from the pan and allow to cool completely.
Once cool, place your shrimp head mix into a blender along with the softened butter and whizz to a pulp.
Pass the shellfish butter through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.
Roll out a couple of overlapping sheets of cling film and place a line of the shellfish butter down the centre, then roll it into a sausage shape for easy storage.
Refrigerate or freeze till needed.
Who would’ve guessed that the shells of crustaceans had any nutritional value. As it turns out the exoskeletons of crustacean like shrimp and prawns are the best natural source of glucosamine.
This naturally occurring chemical is essential to the health of cartilage within the body. And glucosamine supplements are often used to ease joint pain, arthritis, and back pain.
The most effective way to get a regular source of it in your diet is to make a shellfish powder unless you fancy shrimp head broth for lunch every day.
To make it, simply chop up your prawn, lobster, or shrimp shells into evenly sized pieces and dry them out in a low oven (100c / 210f ) for 2 to 3 hours. Once the shells are completely dry whizz them into a powder and pass it through a fine-mesh sieve and store in the fridge.
This shellfish powder can then be used very much like a seasoning. I like to sprinkle it on a piece of fish before it hits the pan or I’ll often add a little to fried rice, risotto, or paella.
The Classic Shellfish Bisque
Last but not least the classic shellfish bisque. This is a bit like the soup that time forgot and I haven’t seen it on a restaurant menu in years. Even if I did I probably wouldn’t order it.
The problem is that resteraunts used to never actually put any shellfish in it and it was just made from shells.
Tasty all the same, but if you’re going to go to all the trouble of making it at home and can afford it, than be generous and chop up some of the sweet tasting tail and claw meat to put through it.
There you go, 5 great ways to use up those shells you’d normally throw in the trash.
Do you eat shrimp heads ? or have you got any interesting recipes for using them up?
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