Perfect Pairings: Crab Cakes and Albariño

Crab CakesIf crabcakes are on the menu, that’s what I order. I love-love-love crabcakes.  They’ve been my go-to favorite food since my college days…you know, back when we all had spare time to do things like experiment with recipes and have impromptu wine parties.

The good thing about my near-lifelong obsession with crab cakes means that I spent decades perfecting my recipe for them.  I vaguely remember the first crabcake recipe I ever made…it was in a cookbook I purchased at Moe’s Bookstore on Telegraph Avenue in the early 80’s.  The author was either Craig Clairborne or Pierre Franey…one of those early “gourmet” chefs who published recipes in the New York Times (I definitely remember some connection to the NY Times). Therefore, despite many twists, turns, and changes, this recipe is somehow inspired by that first crab cake recipe, churned out on many a weekday evening for the gang of pre-med, pre-law, and women’s studies students who were my roommates and pals back in my Berkeley Days.

Bubbly Prof’s Crabcakes – Ingredients:

  • 1 pound crabmeat
  • 1 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup red bell peppers, roasted and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (for sautéing, although they can also be baked.)

Procedure:

1.   Using a large bowl, check out the crab meat to make sure it is clean from bits of shell and other things.

2.  Add the following ingredients to the bowl, and, using your hands, mix them all together lightly: 1/2 cup Bread Crumbs, Green Onions, Red Bell Peppers, Sour Cream, Lemon Zest, Worcestershire Sauce, Chopped Dill, Dry Mustard, Salt, and Black Pepper.

3.  Crack one egg into a small bowl and whisk lightly.  Add to the crab cake mixture and, using your hands, mix well.

4.  Put the mixture, covered, into the refrigerator for about one hour.  You can skip this step, but it makes the mixture easier to handle.

5.  Shape the mixture into patties:  if using for an entree, this recipe should make 8 good size crab cakes and will feed four people.

6.  Crack the remaining egg into a flat bowl (such as a pie pan) and whisk together with 1 tablespoon milk.  Set up another flat container (a round cake pan or even a dinner plate will do) and place a portion of the remaining bread crumbs in it.  Using a somewhat standard breading procedure, dip each crab cake into the egg mixture, then roll around in the bread crumbs, patting them down so you get quite a nice coating. If you like to work ahead of time, at this point, you can place the crab cakes on a baking tray, over with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for several hours.

7.  When you are ready to dine, heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, sauté the crab cakes for 4 to 5 mintues on each side.  Be sure to monitor the heat so the crab cakes remain at a sizzle but don’t burn.  If you have two large pans, you can cook all the cakes at one time – otherwise cook them in batches and keep warm in the oven until they are all ready to go.  If you prefer, the crab cakes can be baked in a 350º oven for 25 minutes.  Use a large sheet pan or cookie sheet, coated with spray oil.  Give the crab cakes a quick spray with the oil to encourage a crunch, and bake until brown.  You can turn them half way through the baking to give them a crunch on both sides, or leave on one side the entire time for a different style of cake (both delicious).

8.  You can serve these crab cakes with just a squeeze of lemon and perhaps a nice bit of salad on the side.  You can also serve them with your favorite version of tartar or cocktail sauce.  I usually use the sour cream I have leftover from the recipe to make an impromptu sauce using lemon juice, lemon zest, and whatever else I find in the kitchen.  If I have extra dill, that is ideal, but on occaision, I have used capers, parsley, finely chopped pickles, and  a touch of mustard. 

The Pairing:

This dish, with is subtle tastes, salty seafood flavors, and crunchy-soft texture, would obviously pair well with a wide variety of white wines.  All you really need for a great match is a light-to-medium bodied, crisply acidic (especially if you serve the crabcakes with a squeeze of lemon or other acidic topping), fruity white wine. Unoaked Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and any number of light, Italian white wines – including, – heck, maybe even starring, Prosecco would work just fine.  I’d avoid low-acid whites such as Viognier or Gewurztraminer, and also pass on overly complex or oaky wines such as New World Chardonnay or even my beloved Champagne.

Paco and LolaAnd yet my ideal pairing is Albariño, particularly those from Rías Baixas in Spain. Albariño (or, as it is called in Portugal, Alvarinho), is thought to be native to the Iberian Peninsula, although whether it first originated in the Minho region of Portugal or the Galician corner of Spain is up for debate.  Either way, the grape stars in both regions; as a main ingredient in the delightfully light and sometimes spritzy Vinho Verde of Portugal as well as the new superstar white wine of the Rías Baixas region in Spain.

Albariño based wines have all the basic components for an ideal pairing with a seafood dish such as crab cakes:  crisp in acidity, refreshing on the palate, medium-bodied, and moderate alcohol. The wines are highly aromatic, leading with fruity and floral aromas that often include white peach, apricot, melon, pineapple, mango, honeysuckle, orange blossom, lemongrass and green apple – to mention a few. 

But Albariño has other qualities that made it my first choice for crab cakes.  For one, the grape is widely grown on the Atlantic Coast, and on my last trip to Spain, I seem to recall relaxing in a café in the old section of Pontevedre, dining on crab cakes and sipping Albariño.  (As a matter of fact, I took the train from Santiago de Compostela to Pontevedre for this express purpose – luckily Shields T. did not mind.) But more to the point, Albariño tends to have that fleeting, mineral-like aroma of “clean seashore” or “salt air” that I often notice but can hardly describe. Jancis Robinson and Company, in their book Wine Grapes, describes this aspect of Albariño as “a marine note.” 

While not quite sold on any one of them, I have used the following terms to describe this aspect of a wine: Wet Sand, Slate, Oyster Shell, Salinity, Gunpowder, and Steel; perhaps I should just call it “The Beach.”  However you describe it, this aspect of Albariño makes it both one of my favorite wines, and my top choice for crabcakes.  Give it a try!

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...Full time for 16 years!

One Response to Perfect Pairings: Crab Cakes and Albariño

  1. Bill Laverty says:

    Just enjoyed a 2011 Albarino with my Crab Cakes. Wonderful suggestion. Thank you.

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