Off with their heads!

After a rough week of trying to repair my laptop, I needed something to cheer me up.  So I headed over to the local pastane for tea with friends.  I really like hanging out their at the sidewalk tables.  One friend does a great job translating for me while the others try to teach me a word or two in between.  I honestly do not become bored even though I can’t follow the conversations.  I enjoy trying to catch words to get the gist, comparing tones and inflections, and listening to the laughter.

Me, Semiha (the owner), and a couple of friends

During this particular visit, one of the ladies walked over to the next shop, a fish market, and returned saying “karides çok güzel.”  The shrimp are very nice.  One thing I have alsways been able to clearly talk to this group about is food.  The next thing I knew, I was planning a dinner based on these very nice shrimp.  I invited everyone to dinner the next evening for pasta with shrimp at the sidewalk cafe.  Little did I know . . .

My friend, Necati, volunteered to walk over to the fish shop with me to help translate.  I wanted them to remove the heads for me, to make my job easier.  To my dismay, while the shrimp were nice, they were the little buggers, the ones the curl up to almost nothing when you cook them.  The ones that taste like cardboard to me.  Accckkk!  But I had already invited around 8 people.

Baby Shrimp

The fish monger’s reply was simple, they taste better if you leave the heads on while cooking.  Okay, maybe that’s true, I thought.  But my instinct was that he didn’t want to remove 2kg of shrimp heads either!  I had my friend explain to him that I wasn’t biling them.  I planned to sautee them.  Therefore, I needed heads removed.  I have to say, while at first I worried about having almost 5 lbs, of shrimp, after offing the heads, and of course, the ice melting, I became worried that I didn’t have enough.  The full bag became half a bag.  Hmmmm.  Perhaps I should have watched more closely?  nah.

It’s actually a Philly friend, Carmen, who inspired me with this dish.  He once (or twice) delivered the most lovely shrimp and pasta with TONS of garlic.  The next morning, however, I decided that so much garlic may not be to the liking of my Turkish guests.  Afterall, Carmen was true Italian with a capital “I”!

I considered toning it down, fresh basil and tomatoes, white wine, but what else.  Knowing my sister-in-law, Allie, usually gets up early and checks her facebook page, I messaged her.  She is an awesome cook, well-trained and very creative.  The funny thing is, before she could respond, her niece who lives in Australia was already sending me a recipe!  Word moves fast.  And more proof that we live in a very small world!

Meaghan’s (and Aunt Allie’s) recipe sounded fabulous.  But there was no way I was shelling out my lira for the prices of brandy here – so I was back to the white wine.  I also asked Allie about a sauce, because I recalled her cooking shrimp shells once.  Allie gave met he down-lo on the shells, as I found another recipe.

That recipe called for making a stock by boiling the shells and a few other ingredients for an hour.  It also demanded the boiling of the shrimp heads.  Doh!  Those heads were long gone.  But I went ahead with the stock and combined my favorite parts of all of the recipes.

I set off to the task of peeling the million baby shrimp.  What a big pain!  I usually leave the tails on, but not with these little guys.  There is nothing worse than wasting time trying to peel little shrimp in the middle of your dinner.

Once peeled, I realized I need to devein them.  Americans have this thing about deveining.  I usually find it unnecessary.  Let’s face it.  I’ve seen the Chinese eat shrimp with shells on.  I know they eat fish heads.  But some of these guys looked just nasty.  Thank God I have great knives – but it still took quite  a while.

The stock consisted of shells, water, onion, garlic, lemon juice, celery seed (celery is hard to find and I didn’t have it in the house), basil and thyme.

Once done, I quickly sauteed the shrimp in butter and removed them from the pan.  I know the deal with cooking shrimp.  Most people overcook them until dry and rubbery for fear that they will undercook them.  I am a pro at this.

Then I made the sauce.  Sauteed finely chopped onions (no shallots available) in butter and added lemon rind.  (Loving my new rasp, Allie!)  Then I added wine, reduced it to half.  Added the stock and reduced that too.  I added fresh chopped tomatoes and more garlic.  Mmmmm.  Then heavy cream.  At the end, I added chopped basil and parsley, the shrimp, and dumped it onto 2 lbs. of linguine.

Of course, I made a huge salad and an warm herb butter bread too.  The hubby and I packed it all up – dishes, utensils, and grated parmesan – and headed over to the pastane.

Sadly, there were only 5 of us for dinner although I had expected 8 to 10 people.  No worries.  We dug right in.  Everyone thought it was delicious.  The pasta had a rich shrimp flavor, although the sauce could have been creamier and I could have used more shrimp.

But the next thing I heard was one of my friends say, “The shrimp are better if you cook them with their heads!”  Ugh.  Was this a Turkish thing?  I started to wonder, how the heck do we eat them with their heads?  Surely this would require dipping one’s hands into the pasta and sauce, making quite a mess to remove each and every head.  And what about the shells?  Is it possible to remove the shells and leave on the heads?  Does no one care about the huge veins I removed?

We had a great night.  A few others joined us later and a couple actually took home the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Dinner with Friends

I went home thinking about those heads.

The next day, I updated my Facebook followers on the success of the meal.  And shortly thereafter, Allie’s brother-in-law Keith posted, “they are better with the heads!”  Geez Louise, Keith! Were you spying on us?  There it was again.  The heads are haunting me!

So I’ve decided to ask my readers here, what do you think?  Heads or no heads?  If you like to cook them with the heads on, how do you do it?  I know I can simply look this up online, but I’m curious.  How many of you cook shrimp with their heads?  Would you do if if you had many hundred baby shrimp?  What about the shells?  The veins?

Aaaah, the heads.  Reminds me of a Doctor Demento song I used to hear on the radio:

Fish heads, fish heads.  Roly, poly fish heads.
Fish heads, fish heads.  Eat them up.  Yum.

Took a fish head out to the movies.
Put it in my pocket and I paid the price of one.

Hee hee.  Hee hee.

8 thoughts on “Off with their heads!

Add yours

  1. The Turks seem to like heads left on everything. I really can’t eat anything that’s looking back at me with that ‘please don’t eat me’ expression. I’m just a soft Englishman who’s used to industrially cleaned prawns and pre-cut bits of dead animals neatly displayed in polystyrene trays in supermarket chiller cabinets. If I had to kill my own dinner I’d be a veggie.

  2. Just wouldn’t have the patience to fiddle with the little fellas – middle size; off with their tails, shells and heads – the big jobbies get to keep everything, just love picking them apart and sucking my fingers afterwards.
    Bit like ‘heads you win – tails you lose’ – or is it the other way round?

  3. Hey T,

    Send me an email saying what your laptop is doing or not doing. It could be just a case of a build up of tremendous junk, registry fractions, malware, previous history, mru’s, unused file extensions and a need of of a deep hard drive fragmentation that is needed to be set straight. I can tell you were to go to get free software programs that will repair these issues. All those put together will cause your comp. to be slow, non responsive, “blue screen of death” and not being able to gain access to websites. plus a host of other infractions. Drop me a line.


  4. Heads on for the flavor but OFF! to eat! Great story Terry I would guess that it was delicious no matter! Oh and by the way more Garlic because Garlic don’t need no reason! (Ala Alton Brown!)

  5. Bravo on a fab dinner (I am usually not brave enough to face the potential tennis-ball-consistency shrimp that result from my efforts) and a great post. Glad to see Dr. Demento’s fish heads surface here. I am marveling at the it-takes-an-international-and-networked-village-of-friends-and-family phenomenon that went on to get your shrimp dish going for the party!

    I am as usual LOLing on Jack’s commentary and whilst I would place myself in the same category in general, I have gotten much more used to the heads-on fish. This summer, we had a wonderful moment with our 12 y/o niece (an aspiring blogger), who took the fish by the fins, as it were, and tried out a Sultan’s favorite, fish cheeks. You can see her comments on that experience here:

  6. Hey Terry, we’re practically neighbors !

    The next time you’re on Tunalı, pop into Doğan Gıda at the corner of Bülten and Bestekar across from Kebap 49. They have celery – Yessss !

    They have a lot of other imported goods and sometimes they’ll even have limes and sweet potatoes too, but I’m waiting until I win big in Monopoly before I reach for those.

    Love your blog ! I’m a big fan of Aşağı Ayrancı too !

    All the best, Joseph

  7. Heads off, with that recipe, no other way. Only time with heads on is if shrimp are size of a small car. Oh I miss super shrimp with enough garlic butter to swim in.

    Karen xxxx

    PS Thanks for writing such good stuff, I have read so much rubbish lately on blogs that it is a pleasure to come here

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