Metro-East Living

Here’s the proper way to eat tail-on shrimp

Eating shrimp served in various forms can indeed be a challenge.
Eating shrimp served in various forms can indeed be a challenge.

Q. How are you supposed to eat shrimp that has the tail still on it when it is served in a creamy pasta dish? Also is it okay to eat boiled shrimp with your fingers?

A. Eating shrimp served in various forms can indeed be a challenge. Patience, staying calm, poised and following the appropriate table manner procedures are the keys to avoid embarrassment. Here are some guidelines for the various serving forms:

▪  Eating shrimp with tails in a creamy pasta dish: First of all, how unfortunate and thoughtless for the restaurant or hostess to serve shrimp in this manner. To eat the shrimp one at a time, take the fork in the left hand with the tines facing down into the dish or plate. Use the tines to hold a shrimp to one side of the pasta dish or bowl. With the knife in the right hand, slowly and carefully, cut off the tail of the shrimp. Place the knife horizontally at the top of the dish, or plate, with the blade of the knife facing you. Switch the fork to the right hand. Holding the tines of the fork up, place the fork under the removed tail.

▪  If the pasta is served on a plate, place the removed tail(s) onto the left side edge of the serving plate. After finishing, gently move the tails further to the inside of the plate.

▪  If it is served in a bowl with a sufficient edge, place the tail on the left hand edge. This is a precarious method, however, because, the tails may accidentally fall on the tablecloth, placemat or table. Therefore, use your knife edge to gently slide the tails into the bowl on the left side, as soon as space becomes available. When finished, all tails should have been removed from the edge and placed inside the bowl.

▪  If there is no service plate under the serving bowl, place the tail(s) on the edge of the bread and butter plate. Do not return the tails to the bowl when finished.

Whichever option you are able to select, follow the same process outlined for cutting the shrimp with the fork and knife.

Note: It is not appropriate, nor do I recommend using a pasta spoon, if provided, in this process, This spoon’s purpose is to assist you with wrapping the pasta, not cutting off a shrimp tail. Attempting to use it to cut off the shrimp tail would not only be difficult because the bowl of the spoon is not shaped for that purpose, but the process would appear to be very clumsy.

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How to eat boiled shrimp: Again, different rules apply with regard to how the boiled shrimp is served.

▪  If the boiled shrimp is being served as a shrimp cocktail for a meal, and the shrimp are large with tails, they may be eaten with your fingers. If, however, you do not want your fingers to smell fishy, they may be eaten with the sea fork (or small cocktail fork) and a knife. Do not, however, attempt to cut the shrimp inside a stemmed cocktail dish because it would be a dangerous scenario in that the dish may topple over because you do not have a third hand to steady the dish. Instead, using your seafood fork, gently spear the shrimp and place it on the service plate below the shrimp cocktail dish. Using the seafood fork and knife, cut the first shrimp into bite size pieces and eat. If sauce is provided in a separate dish for each person, you may dip the shrimp pieces into the sauce. If the sauce is served in a larger bowl to be passed, you may put a small amount of small sauce over all the shrimp in your cocktail dish before eating any of them. Repeat the process. If the shrimp are very small, without tails, use your seafood fork and not your fingers. This procedure will keep you from getting sauce onto your fingers and possibly onto your lips as you eat the shrimp.

▪  If the shrimp is being served on a plate, use your fork and knife. If lemon is served, use your cupped hand when squeezing the lemon to avoid squirting others or the table. Follow the scenario above for the sauce depending on how it is served.

▪  Shrimp served as an hors d’oeuvres may also be eaten with your fingers, if the shrimp is large, has a tail and can easily be held in the fingers. If cocktail plates are provided, use the serving utensil to place several shrimp onto the plate. Spoon some of the cocktail sauce onto the edge of your cocktail plate and then dip each shrimp into the dip as you begin to eat. Remember to step away from the hors d’oeuvres table before eating. Hold the plate in your other hand, at least 8 to 10 inches below your mouth to catch any possible drips. Holding the plate any closer to your mouth or chin would look very awkward and be unmannerly.

Again, if you prefer not to have fishy fingers, you may use a cocktail fork and knife if available. If there is no cocktail plate, and no utensils, then your fingers are your only choice. Select a shrimp, and while holding it by the tail, dip it into the sauce. Step away from the hors d’oeuvres table and bring the shrimp to your mouth to eat, while holding a cocktail napkin approximately 8 to 10 inches below your mouth to catch any potential drips. Again, do not hold the cocktail napkin directly under your chin. Place the tail into a waste bowl on the hors d’oeuvres table. If there is no waste bowl, then fold the napkin over the tail and place it in a nearby waste can. Then you may return to the hors d’oeuvres table and repeat the process. Remember a cocktail napkin is not a plate; therefore, do not attempt to place two or more shrimps on it and eat them from the napkin.

Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Dianne Isbell at Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to