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Jun 23, 2015
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WINE WITH…Susan’s Crab Cakes

Crab cakes are to the mid-Atlantic region what gumbo is to Louisiana or lobster rolls are to Maine. Around here (we live in Baltimore) you can find crab cake sliders or burgers, crab cakes with curry sauce or Hollandaise, crab cakes doused in marinara sauce (mama mia!), and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Some of these preparations can be quite good, but for us, the best crab cake is usually the simplest one. To pull this off, the crabmeat must be pristinely fresh, the "filler" (bread or cracker crumbs) kept to a minimum, and the seasonings added with a very light hand.

Our friend Susan, who is not only a University of Maryland law professor but who also makes the best crab cakes around, shared her recipe with us. "It's the classic mid-Atlantic crab cake recipe'" she says. "The key is to not weigh them down with a lot of different ingredients and to be sure and refrigerate them before you cook them." The beauty of this recipe is that chilling them helps the mixture stick together without having to use a lot of mayonnaise, egg, or other binder.

Susan’s Crab Cakes

Yield: 8 large or 12 small crab cakes

2 pounds fresh crabmeat (preferably jumbo lump)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup good quality commercial mayonnaise (Hellman’s or Duke’s, for example)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 teaspoons crushed saltine crackers or panko crumbs
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Lemon wedges for garnish

At least 3 hours and up to 6 before serving, combine all ingredients except the butter and lemon wedges. Form the mixture into patties (make them gently rounded rather than flat). Arrange them on a baking sheet and refrigerate.

About 15 minutes before serving, preheat the broiler. Brush the top of the crab cakes with butter and broil them until they are hot and nicely browned. Do not turn them over. Serve at once.

* * *

We love crab cakes, which is why we’ve featured them a number of time in different guises in this column over the years. This recipe is a basic or classic one--no sauce, no condiments, nothing to gussy anything up. You taste only the succulent crabmeat, so you need a wine that allows it to play the starring role. This means that big, lush, oak-driven wines are invariably too heavy and powerful. They get in the way, and don’t so much accompany the crab cakes as bludgeon them. Lighter whites work much better, though do beware ones that are so delicate as to turn tasteless when paired with a rich dish like this. The five wines we are recommending below all paired well in a recent tasting. Despite offering varied flavor profiles, they all tasted neither too heavy nor too light, so were, as the story has it, “just right.”

Questions or comments? Contact us at Talkofthevine@gmail.com

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Ca’ Montini, Trentino (Italy) Pinot Grigio “Terre di Valfredda” 2013

(Imported by Enovation Brands)

$16

A very flavorful Pinot Grigio (no, that’s not an oxymoron), this wine is fuller on the palate than you might expect, so it has enough textural substance to accompany crab cakes. Its zesty citrus flavors refresh you as you eat.

Domaine Vincent Delaporte, Sancerre (France) 2013

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$29

Neither as searing as a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc we tried nor as ponderous as a California rendition, this Sancerre offers a medium body, citrus and faintly herbal flavors, and a long, very satisfying finish. It made for a lovely match.

Avant by Kendall-Jackson, California, Chardonnay 2013

$17

Clean, crisp, and lively, this Chardonnay offers only a faint hint of oak, supplanting the taste of wood with bright, fresh fruit. While it lacks the earthiness or minerality that can characterize the best Chardonnays made in this style (think Chablis), it comes at a very fair price and is extremely tasty. In addition, secondary complexity, while wonderful in a wine sipped on its own, can get lost with food. Nothing like that happens here.

Spice Route, Swartland (South Africa) Chenin Blanc, 2014

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$20

Complete and beautifully structured, with all its elements in harmony, this Chenin Blanc was a definite star in our tastings. Though dry, it tastes so juicy and sumptuous that it echoes the crab’s inherent sweetness, and its length on the palate keeps its flavors going long after it is first sipped. This was a nearly perfect match.

Valdelainos, Rueda (Spain) Verdejo 2013

(Imported by Grapes of Spain)

$15

A youthful, lively wine from a grape variety and a region that frequently over delivers given the usually low price tag, this is a vibrant, even vivacious wine. It has just the right amount of acidity to be refreshing rather than mouth-puckering, and offers a veritable basket full of summer fruit flavors. Those flavors, coupled with its having just enough heft, made it a delicious crab cake partner.