One of my favorite dishes is crab cakes. I like them made mostly of crab with very little “cake.” So when PairCraft asked me to find the right wine to pour alongside this recipe, I gladly accepted the challenge. As I discovered, the key to pairing with this dish is working with its inherent richness and toastiness.
–Christy Canterbury, Master of Wine
Fresh-from-the-bay crab, pan-caramelized into rich cakes—no recipe is quite so luxurious, and few are as effortless. Other than the luscious crab meat, just about everything is likely already in your pantry or fridge. The result is so good, you don’t need sauce to enjoy them. The original recipe comes from chef Andrew Zimmern, via Food & Wine.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
1 egg, beaten
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
20 Saltine crackers, crushed
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil, for frying
Lemon wedges (optional), for serving
- 1. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire, Tabasco, and egg until smooth.
- In a medium bowl, toss the crab with the crackers. Fold in the mayonnaise mixture. Chill 1 hour.
- Form crab mixture into 8 patties. Over medium-high heat in a large skillet, heat oil until shimmering. Cook cakes until golden-brown and heated through, 3–4 minutes per side.
Christy’s Pairing Philosophy
With food and wine pairings, I look for a match, a complement, or a contrast.
Match: A wine and a food have similar weights, flavors, and possibly textures. For example, a big, lush white wine with lots of weight and texture might be a match for the crab cake. Such pairings can be sublime in their continuity yet risk being “matchy-matchy” and creating palate fatigue.
Complement: The wine and food share a common flavor, texture, or acidity level. There is one link, rather than many, that brings them together. For the crab cake, this might be the toast and spice notes from the oak in a barrel-aged wine.
Contrast: The wine and food seem wildly different, but some quirk or trait in the wine brings a contrast that creates an intriguing connection. For the crab cake, that might be a wine with high acidity.
Commonly, pairings match or complement. But I was craving refreshment for this hedonistic dish, and I thought that a contrast would deliver a “wow” factor. That isn’t how this tasting turned out.
Looking at the crab cake ingredients, I knew there were some tricky, underlying factors:
In sum, there’s luscious crabmeat made creamier with mayo then contrasted in texture by crunchy crackers. Everything is perked up by spice, tang, and pungency.
Sparkling wine with medium-plus acidity, a creamy texture and flavors of brioche, toasted nuts, spice, and apples
Pol Roger Brut Reserve
Full-bodied, oaked white wine with medium acidity, a velvety texture, and flavors of melted butter, toast, and apples
DeWetshof Estate "Lesca" Chardonnay
Full-bodied, oaked red wine with medium acidity, a velvety texture, and flavors including toast, spice, and coconut.
Elderton "Estate" Shiraz Barossa
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