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Favorite recipes: Crab cakes
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Crab cakes

A lot of my friends take a fundamentalist approach to crab: If you can't bring home a live crab and cook it at once, they insist, you just don't get the sweetness and delicacy that makes crab special, and you might as well not eat crab at all.

That's easy to say if you live on a seacoast. But for those of us 700 miles or more from the nearest salt water, you do what you have to do. For me, that means shunning canned or frozen crab and being wary of the corporate supermarket fish counter, but keeping my eye out for those special occasions when our quality local fish markets get in packaged fresh, unfrozen crabmeat.

A recent batch was perfect, whisked to the land between the coasts so rapidly that it still seemed perfectly fresh and sweet, and so well prepared that it needed no additional "picking over" beyond a quick check to ensure that there were no gritty bits or chunks of shell in it.

You'll pay for this treat - at $20 per pound, a 12-ounce portion sufficient to serve two cost about $15. But then I considered the price of a restaurant main course and decided it was worth the toll. I rate crab right up there with roast beef or leg of lamb for its exceptional affinity with wine.

So what to make? Crab cakes seemed exactly right. I put together the following recipe, as I often do, based on a combination of instinct and a number of recipes from books and online sources.

It's a quick procedure, but it's best to start a couple of hours before diner so you can give the cakes time to firm up in the refrigerator before you pan-grill them.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

CRAB CAKES
12 ounces (350 grams) lump crabmeat
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 egg
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning or crab boil seasoning (see below)
sea salt
black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
4 to 8 saltines

CRAB BOIL SEASONING
1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon white peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon whole allspice
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon dill seeds
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
Dried red-pepper flakes to taste

PREPARATION:

1. If you don't have Old Bay seasoning or if you simply like the idea of making your own crab boil, use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to crush all the seasoning ingredients into a fine powder. If you don't have all the spices, feel free to omit or substitute, as every Down East crab house has its own recipe anyway. The point is simply to bring together a chorus of different but compatible voices in the choir of spice.

2. Put the crabmeat in a bowl and "pick it over" if necessary to remove bits of shell and cartilage.

3. Beat the egg briskly with a fork or whisk until it's foamy, then add the lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, seasoning mix, and salt and pepper to taste, then whisk until blended. Stir this into the mayonnaise and blend well.

4. Blend the mayonnaise mixture and parsley into the crabmeat, handling it gently to avoid breaking up the lumps of crab. Break saltines into small pieces with your hands and stir them in, starting with three or four and adding saltines until the mixture seems thick enough to form into balls.

5. Form into four balls, which should be about the size of golf balls or a little larger. Put them on a lightly oiled plate, flatten them slightly, and put in the refrigerator to rest for an hour or two.

6. Crab cakes may be broiled under the broiler or pan-fried in about 1/3 inch of hot fat, but I like to sautee them on a nonstick skillet in a scant amount of canola or peanut oil, a procedure that imparts a nice crunchy brown exterior without adding much fat. Four minutes over high heat on each side, flipping them gently once, should be just right.

MATCHING WINE: As noted, crab cakes call for a rich white wine, and Chardonnay in general is a good choice to answer the call. Another excellent option would be either of the two aromatic Italian whites that I recently reviewed, Terradora 2000 "Terre di Dora" Fiano di Avellino or Terredora 2000 Loggia della Serra Greco di Tufo.

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If you have suggestions or comments about The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter, or if you would like to suggest a topic for a coming edition and recipe, please drop me a note. I really enjoy hearing from you, and I try to give a personal reply to all mail if I possibly can. The Ask A Question form at http://www.wineloverspage.com/ask_a_question.phtml is the easiest way to reach me, but if you prefer, you may also send E-mail to wine@wineloverspage.com.

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Thursday, May 9, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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