Soft Shell Crabs

Last night, I returned to Four Sisters again with a bunch of friends. Of course our meal was excellent, but what stood out was the soft shell crabs that I ordered. I've been on a mission to try everything that I normally wouldn't eat. I'm sure you'll be amazed when I say this, but it was the first time I'd eaten soft shell crabs and I didn't realize what I was missing. For some reason, I'd always imagined that I'd have a real problem with the texture, as if the "shell" would be crunchy or chewy in some manner. Plus, I'd always thought that there just has to be something in the crab that you're not supposed to eat. I mean, seriously, you're supposed to eat the whole thing?

Anyway, all those misconceptions went away last night when I took my first bite of the soft shell crab, which was lightly breaded and fried. Prior to frying, the soft shell crabs were salted and baked, which left them with a slightly salty flavor and really brought out the flavor of the crab. On the side, I was brought a small plate of salt, pepper, and limes with which I was instructed to squeeze the limes into the salt and pepper, mix them together to make a sauce, and then dip the crab in it. Our waiter was extremely helpful throughout the night, in fact, it was probably the best service I've received at Four Sisters. He helped us choose dishes that we'd like and explained how to properly eat each dish, which is really helpful when your entree consists of three different plates with different ingredients on them.

Other stars for the night would be the caramelized pork spare ribs which were very tender and flavorful. We had the lean strips of beef salad again, which went over well with everyone. Oh, and we also had a couple orders of the pork spring rolls which had to be the best damn spring rolls I've ever had. All in all, the dinner for the six of us was extremely reasonable considering the amount of food we ordered at about $50 a couple. I'm sure we'll be going back again.

So now I can cross soft shell crabs off the list of foods I've never eaten. Still to go are:
Squid or octopus or any sea creature with tentacle like appendages (Cuttlefish is a good example)
Frogs legs
Snails or escargot
Any kind of animal tongue
Insects of any kind (thank you JS)
Anything with the word "Blood" in it, like blood sausage.
Plain steamed cauliflower - the smell just turns my stomach
My grandmothers pizza - seriously, she used to put wheat germ in the pizza sauce.

I'm sure there are lots of things that I've never eaten that I could list here, but these are the things that I know I've had a chance to eat and I've shyed away from them because I thought they looked or sounded gross.


T. Hudson

You've never had squid? Not even as calimari or ika? Or tako sushi?

As for the insects, I'm not sure how you distinguish marine arthopods from land insects as far as food sources are concerned. Crawfish, lobster and shrimp are in the same category as crickets and spiders in my book. Very, very yummy, that is. Except for the shrimp. I just don't like shrimp.

You don't have any annelids on your list, either. Does that mean that you have tried them, or that they are so far off the "food" scale that you don't even consider them? They are also scrumptacular and very, very lean meat.


LOL. You got me. Yes I have had calamari, but there's a big difference in my mind between eating rings of fried calamari and actually eating a whole squid. The baby squid salad at 2 Amys comes to mind, which I have yet to try.


Sweetbreads? Tripe? I had Shoat at City Zen... probably wouldn't have ordered it if I truly grasped what it was. We ate at Vidalia this weekend, my wife was unnerved by the shrimp served with the heads intact :)


I mean, is anybody eating the shrimp heads? Am I missing out? Is there some sort of danger that one may see normal, decapitated tails on one's plate and question the authenticity of the animal? This also goes for shrimp served in a salad or pasta dish that haven't had the tail removed - this is baffling to me.


Rio Grande in Bethesda and Arlington has Frog Leg Fajitas that are to die for.... I too, thought I'd never eat frog, but those fajitas were delicious. They do taste a little like chicken!


Frogs legs are very similar to chicken legs, just a bit more like white meat than dark. Get them from a top of the line fresh seafood restaurant.

Get snails at the best french restaurant you can find with the perfect combination of butter and garlic.

For the tongue, find a mom and pop type mexican restuarant that serves tongue tacos.

The insects I have eaten where chocolate covered -no real taste to them. Belgian chocolate is best!

As for the blood thing, I do not like blood sausage nor blood pudding but I have had a pork dish at a vietnamese restaurant and did not know at the time it was boiled in blood. I was surprised.

Cauliflower is in my garden. If your wife is going to breastfeed don't let her eat it for several months after the baby is born. It will give the baby a stomach ache and lots of painful gas.

I want to eat at your grandmother's.

What is your opinion of the duck, spring onions and plum sauce at Peking Gourmet Inn down in Falls Church on Leesburg Pike? The duck is the best I have ever eaten. The Jeo-Yan Shrimp too. Those 2 dishes are all we ever order.


JCC, I've never had issues with eating sweatbreads. I don't see that shoat is much different than veal. There is probably nothing wrong with eating the shrimp heads although, I generally shy away from anything with the eyes still on it. To reference A Christmas Story, I don't like things smiling at me. ;)


Also, Angie, I love Peking duck, but I have yet to find a place that makes it nearly as well as Yanyu did. Peking Gourmet Inn, huh? I'll have to check it out.


Oh, and as far as cauliflower goes, the only thing that I like that has cauliflower in it is the cauliflower panna cotta with caviar on top at Komi. Get there soon while they still have it!


Best Peking Duck is Hands Down at Mark's Duck House in Fall's Church -



You can still get Yanyu's peking duck at Spices. It is on their specials menu (which has about 5-6 Yanyu holdovers) and even better you can get a half-duck (5 pancakes) which is perfect for one or a whole duck if your dining companions are smart and want to share.




On the shrimp head topic, you don't eat the head. They are inedible. The reason for keeping the head on is for the flavor and it makes a big difference! It's like a bone-in steak or cooking a whole fish verses just the fillet. It adds some great flavor to the dish. In addition, restaurants keep the head on for the visual presentation as well, very dramatic.

In the South, it is common practice to use head-on shrimp for low country boils, shrimp & grits (which is what I assume y’all had a Vidalia), BBQ shrimp, etc.

Not too many places up here carry head-on shrimp; the seafood markets on the waterfront do as well as a few specialty stores. One of the reasons is storage, head-on shrimp go bad a lot quicker than head-off shrimp so up here you'll see them as previous frozen.

Some people suck the head of the shrimp but that may be overkill – they aren't crawfish!

I would highly recommend using head-on shrimp for your next dish but be careful handling them – the heads have a sharp protrusion/horn just above the eyes.


You touched on a topic near and dear to me - soft-shell crabs. I simply love these things and never can get enough of them.

It is interesting that you had your first one at Four Sisters. If I might make a suggestion of trying the soft crab Po'Boy at Louisiana Express (Bethesda) or the softies at Hank's Oyster Bar (haven't been YET but heard great things), you can't go wrong.

Frying soft shells is the quintessential way of preparing them but I have also grilled softies many times and WOW! A whole other way to enjoy them. Some people stuff them with the likes of goat cheese, applying it where the deadman fingers (a.k.a. gills) use to be – under the flaps, which brings an interesting element/flavor to it.


Actually, shrimp heads are edible. And most of my family loves them (except for me). There is some meat in there, which is a bit of a mooshy mess because there are some enzymes that break it down during the cooking process, which leads most people to avoid them. And that's probably why they spoil so quickly.

If you have the opportunity, shrimp that's boiled alive is supremely different from those that are cooked from frozen. The texture is much closer to lobster. (I think it's one of those things with dead shellfish and instant decay.)


They serve shrimp head-on as part of dim sum at Lei Garden. The shrimp is dredged in flour, deep-fried, and salted, and can be eaten in its entirety. I was resistant until my husband insisted, but he was right. The heads are just fine - prepared that way, at least.

My grandmother made her spaghetti sauce with squid (not fried, just simmered in the sauce), so I grew up with the stuff. YUM.

Oh, and octopus, served grilled with olive oil, garlic, and lemon? Sooooo good. It's really simple and wonderful.

I've never had tongue burritos, but I would also recommend a tongue sandwich from a good deli. Order it just like you would pastrami - on rye, with mustard, maybe onion. Good stuff. Sliced and on a sandwich, it's indistiguishable from other lunch meats... it's not like, a big tongue on a piece of bread or anything. :)

And to whoever mentioned tripe - yum. I grew up on that, too.

I've had frog legs but they didn't really excite me.


I apologize about the misinformation; I guess I was wrong on the shrimp head issue. I've not heard of consuming the shrimp head in its entirety.

I've read to just pull the head and peel the shrimp – never mentioned anything about eating the actual head. Interesting, I'll certainly investigate this further. I just wanted to warn against the sharp horn that is on the head - that certainly can't be good going down.


I adore Four Sisters with an unholy love, but now that you've tried their soft shells (sea bugs!) now is the time to branch out and try them at the most excellent Minh's in Courthouse, as well as at Little Viet Garden, where the food isn't as good, but the ambiance outside is amazing.

I also love my softshells Thai style, although Vietnamese style is far better.

Finally, try the whole fried fish at a Vietnamese restaurant sometime. (And y'all up there, I'm part Greek -- we eat all of that weird stuff and more. I am shameless when it comes to eating bizarre organs, heads, etc. I have almost no food issues.)


Jason, congrats on taking the plunge with the soft shells. I never would have considered ordering them at 4 Sisters but based on your description it sounds like they do it right. Soft shells are amazing, but they are so trendy, and as a result you see all kinds of awful things being done to them by overbearing chefs. Soft shells should be fried (deep fried or sauteed), and should be given simple preparations that let the flavor of the crab shine through.

Ready to try more tentacles? If you taste the cucumber & octopus salad at Tachibana and don't absolutely love it, I'll send you a check for the bill (and I'm not even a cucumber fan).


Oh yes, you haven't been to Peking Gourment Inn? It was George H Bush's favorite restaurant in DC and although W doesn't eat out much, he still shows up from time to time. Nothing overly adventurous about the menu, but they have a first-rate peking duck, plus a few unique standout dishes: 1) Garlic sprouts, which they grow themselves and when in season can be ordered with shrimp or chicken, 2) The aforementioned Jeo Yaen Shrimp, which are obscene -- simply the most decadent plate of fried, peppered, jumbo shrimp you've ever tasted, and 3) Szechuan Beef Proper, which is an equally decadent plate of fried, glazed, spicy shredded beef. Prices are ridiculous for chinese food, but I dare say it's worth it for these dishes from time to time.


Since you love 2Amys so much, I suggest going there for their soft shell crab panini, on the specials menu. I went there the other night, not in the mood for a long line nor pizza, but was under obligation from friends. Waiting just a short bit, the server suggested the panini, saying other customers had been pleased. I'm a tough critic - and I must say, this was excellent!


LOL! Guess what I had Saturday afternoon. Check my photo section.


Well, I beat another one tonight. I had the octopus salad at 2Amys with lemon zest and olive oil. It was fairly yummy, but it took me a while to get used to the texture of the octopus.


I have beef tongue today for the first time at Samanthas. It had an odd consitancy, but it was good, and tasted a lot like pot roast. I guess I can cross one more off my list.

Mrs. DCFoodie

Just a note to all fathers-to-be out there: For the love of God, do not order and consume beef tongue in front of a pregnant woman, ever. I now unfortunately speak from experience.


I got word of your site from your wife's blog. I don't live anywhere near the DC area, but since I'm going to culinary school and food is my passion, reading different blogs and what not about restaurants is really cool to me.

Anyway, I totally understand your food phobias. Before I went to school I had no idea what caviar tasted like, had never had much fish like salmon or escolar, and never ever thought of putting a snail in my mouth.

But school has definitely opened my mind. I can't say that I would eat snails again, but it was cool to say, "hey, I've tried that." I think it was the texture that made me shy away from the escargot. It really doesn't have much of a flavor, I mostly tasted the butter, herbs, and garlic we cooked it in.

Squid is good, too. When I made it in school I stuffed it with different olives, onions, and some other stuff that doesn't seem to be coming to mind, and then braised it in a tomato sauce. They were good. Also a texture that takes some getting used to.

I've had alligator meat. That's also good. I could go on with what I've tried, but I don't want to write a book in your comments section.

Cool site, though. If I ever make it to DC I'd love to try out some of these restaurants.


One more items to add to the list. Animal genitalia -- like deer penis.


Tacos de la Lengua (beef tongue) are definitely the way to go. Delicious.

I haven't tried it, but I have a recipe for Cabrito in Sangre (kid goat cooked in its own blood). If you'd like, I'll send you a copy. Said to be a real Mexican delicasy.

My personal list also includes cockels (popular in Britain) and Mountain Lion (said by the old mountain men to be the best meat on the continent).

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