The Weekly Eater
A reader called to say she had gotten into yet another fight with a relative over Salt and Pepper Shrimp served at a restaurant. Happens all the time to me too when I find myself at a Chinese banquet stripping the little crustacean, only to have some uncle chide, "Eat the whole thing! It's edible."
Shall we shell?
So this caller wanted to know if shrimp shells possess any nutrition benefits and whether their jagged edges could cause some kind of intestinal damage.
Shrimp shells are formed from chitin, a hard cellulose. Local dietitians could find no nutritional analyses on the shells. One, who did not want her name used, said, "I wouldn't eat the shells. If someone were trying to make me eat them, I'd say, 'Here, eat mine too.' "
Doctors, being a litigation-wary sort, did not want their names used either. Although one physician cautioned that those with diverticulosis, balloonlike protrusions in the colon or intestines, may get an infection if shells lodge in the sacs, two shell-eating gastroenterologists said that the shells can be eaten if they are well chewed.
Consult your personal physician if you're worried. But for many people, the decision whether to devour shrimp, shell and all, will be based on preference, and done at their own risk. I'll eat the shell about a quarter of the time, only when the shrimp is so crispy it's hard to discern where the batter ends and the shell begins.
But ask educator and author Douglas Chong and he'll say it's rude not to eat the shell. He only avoids he thorny spikes on the heads. "Why would the chef go through all the trouble of battering, seasoning and frying it until it gets very crispy, if he meant for you to peel off everything meticulously?
"I see people peeling and peeling and peeling, and here, he's spent all this hard work in getting it all crispy. To me, by the time they pull everything off, all the best part is gone."
However, Chong says he recalls the dish was crisper in the past, when restaurants simply used a blend of flour, white pepper and salt, sometimes a hint of five-spice, to coat and flavor the shrimp.
TODAY, restaurants tend to add garlic, green onions and red peppers, which have a tendency to moisten the shells.
"To me, it's a totally different dish," Chong said.
Either way, the dish can only be appreciated hot, and therein lies another danger, in knowing when the shrimp are in their perfect hot state, but not so hot that the oil will scald your tongue. Leave it to the Chinese to live and eat dangerously.
The best place I know of -- I'm sure you'll correct me with your favorites -- is KIN WAH CHOP SUEY. The shells are crunchy, made the "dry" way by chefs from Hong Kong. Heads on. Cost: $8.25 for a dozen. At 45-588 Kamehameha Highway in Kaneohe. Call 247-4812.
Here are other places where I have been known to eat the shells on good days. These go the garlic, chili pepper, green onion route. Prices are for about a dozen pieces:
BO LAI: 1117 S. King St. Call 597-8201. No heads. Shells are slit for easy removal; $7.25.
DOUBLE EIGHT: 1113 Maunakea St. Call 526-3887. Heads on; $7.95.
SEA FORTUNE: 111 N. King St. Call 538-6366. Heads on; $6.95.
Students of the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapiolani are ready to show what they've learned, through the Tamarind Seafood Restaurant on the school's campus.
A TASTE OF THE SEMESTER
Dinners run $19.95 for Lemongrass Braised Clams to $32.95 for Maine Lobster -- complete with a choice of appetizers such as Pan-Fried Soft Shell Crab with Lobster Sauce or Shrimp Rolls with Lilikoi Sauce; a choice of soup or salad; and a dessert of the day.
The restaurant will be open 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays tomorrow through Dec. 8. Reserve at 734-9488.
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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:
-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- below average.
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