I don't make this fried shrimp recipe just so I can eat the shrimp heads. That would be like making chocolate chip cookies just for the chocolate. You need both: the interplay between the richness and the supporting structure. But certainly the shrimp heads are the lure, the main attraction.
Here is one of my first cultural class memories. I am quite young, and my parents and I have not been in this country too long, and my mother, in her attempt to be a generous hostess, fries shrimp with their heads still attached.
Our guests, all American-born, are totally horrified, and I spend the rest of the evening eating most of the shrimp heads from the platter. I am maybe five or six years old and I could not be happier. There could be nothing sweeter and tastier than those shrimp heads. For in their armored shells you will find the hepatopancreas, the digestive organ that in lobsters and crabs would be called tomalley.
Shrimp hepatopancreas tastes like tomalley, only shrimpier, and more liquid-like.
(I tried to take a picture of a head full of its rich ruddy innards, but it was just too unflattering and maybe graphic an image, so you must use your imagination.)
Like tomalley, it's a rush of rich-tasting stuff and you would be best advised to use your fingers and eat quickly. The smaller the shrimp head, the less of a barrier there is between the outer shell and the inner goods. You bite down, its liquid center releases, and you munch, shell, antennae, and all.
This is a simple recipe, the only caveat being that you need to deep-fry the shrimp. But it's not really an ordeal. Shrimp frying lasts three, five minutes, tops, even for shrimp that are quite large.
This recipe is one Cantonese version of deep-fried shrimp: once the shrimp are fried, you toss them with minced garlic, green onions, and red chili pepper flakes, all of which you have browned with a bit of oil. The garlic and green onions cling to the just-fried shrimp . Sprinkle salt, pepper, and whatever other spices you like. The seasonings will stick pretty well to the shells, which are coated in a little egg and cornstarch or flour, but whatever does not cling to the shrimp will be fun to grab from the platter.
If you want to continue in a Chinese vein, you can add things like five-spice powder or ground Sichuan peppercorn. Or, you can sprinkle on Old Bay and smoked paprika.
It is finger-licking good. When the shells are perfectly thin crisp and the innards are ripe for the eating, the balance between the two is pretty wonderful.
About the author: Born in Shanghai and raised in New Mexico, Chichi Wang currently resides in Manhattan, where she divides her time between writing, cooking, and tracking down the best noodles in the city.