A popular appetizer for a reason, crab cakes maintain numerous enthusiastic followers. Two innovators, Tom Douglas and Shelley Lance, even wrote the book: I Love Crab Cakes! 50 Recipes for an American Classic. An ongoing battle rages over who produces the best examples in Baltimore, but others swear by those hailing from the Carolinas.
At any rate, these are little lumps of heaven, normally fried and comprising crab meat, bread crumbs, eggs, milk, onion and seasonings. Although no one knows definitively how crab cakes (deemed by some to be an American dish) came to the United States, some believe the English introduced them to early settlers.
However, the practice of joining meat with other ingredients to form patties dates back to ancient times, according to food historians. The scarcity of these meats drove folks to stretch what they had. Here in the United States, crab cakes are normally associated with Maryland, although devotees can be found in any place in the country with a healthy crab industry: mid-Atlantic states, Gulf Coast, Pacific Northwest and the northern California coast. Here are our experts' picks for the best wine to pair with this traditional American dish:
My company recently provided an educational wine reception for a very large financial institution at the City Club of San Francisco. I knew ahead of time that crab cakes would be a menu item, so I immediately began tasting through several Napa Valley Chardonnays to find one that had the richness of butter but also a little sweetness, which I assumed would pair well with the sweetness in the crab. I chose Rombauer Chardonnay, which is always a crowd pleaser. When we arrived the night of the event, I was a bit concerned, as the crab cakes had a dab of spicy sauce on top, but after tasting both the wine and the cake, I knew the wine could handle the pairing. Rombauer Chardonnay is now my wine of choice for crab cakes, with or without the sauce! – Roxanne Langer, Founder and Wine Educator, WineFUNdamentals, Penryn, CA
Ok, no brainer, and not so hip to say, but California Chardonnay is delicious with crab and the weight of the cakes. Something moderately oaked, like Patz & Hall or Chappellet, come to mind. – Chris Blanchard, Master Sommelier, Chappellet Winery, St. Helena, CA
Editor’s Note: Of the three Chardonnays offered by Patz & Hall (Mount Veeder, Russian River and Sunset Vineyard), the 2006 Mount Veeder Chardonnay may be the crab cakes’ best mate, with its tart apple aromatics, butterscotch and apple pie flavors and rich viscosity countered by an unexpected crisp finish. The other two would be close seconds – the Russian River with its tropical flavors balanced by a cool minerality and the Sunset Vineyard, characterized by delicate floral and spice aromas, yet tropical and custard-like flavors. Similar to the Patz & Hall selections, Chappallet’s 2008 Napa Valley Chardonnay finishes on a refreshing note – great with the crab cakes – but its profile consists of tangerine, pear and nutmeg aromatics with flavors of pineapple, lemon and oak spice.
Dungeness is the only crab in my world! Being a Northern California native, I pick Dungeness crab over the other varieties. My husband Mark is an amazing chef who prides himself in highlighting the fresh flavors of the ingredients. He continually wows our guests with his crab cakes, which have a touch of mayonnaise, panko bread crumbs and old bay seasoning – just enough to hold the delicate crab meat together. The crab cakes are sautéed in a small amount of oil until golden brown on each side and served with a salad of thinly sliced red onion and fennel. My wine of choice with this dish is the 2005 Terre Rouge Roussane from the Sierra Foothills. The richness of the stone fruit flavors and crisp citrus balance beautifully with the sweet crabmeat and herbaceous fennel. – Tracey Berkner, Owner and Sommelier, Taste Restaurant, Plymouth, CA & The Union Pub & Inn, Volcano, CA
One of my favorite times to live in the bay area is the fall, when crab season is in full swing. There is something fun about drinking wine that reminds you of springtime in the middle of winter – it is so refreshing. With crab cakes, I like the 2007 Terlato Pinot Grigio Russian River Valley. This wine is aromatic, sensuous and seductive with so much going on in the nose and on the palate. Its complexity coupled with a refreshing crispness make this pinot grigio quite elegant.The delicate flavor and texture of the crab is not lost with the Terlato, but enhanced. The wine has just a hint of barrel aging which adds a subtle richness. – Gregg Lamer, Wine Educator, Vino Five-O ~ The Premium Wine Outlet, Napa, CA