Up until a few years ago, if you asked me where I was from, the answer was a twisting word game with an ever-changing answer. Often I'd turn the question back on the asker, "What do you mean by from? Do you mean most recently? Or originally? Or where do I live?" These days, the answer hinges on something other than an existential dilemma regarding identity, or what part of my personality (the New Yorker, the mountain girl or the wino) I'm currently cultivating. These days it hinges on what I'm eating, and for that reason I can say, unequivocally, that I'm from California.
You see, it's crab season in California, and up and down the coast, hard-working fisherman, with their leathery, callused hands, are pulling up trap after trap from the icy Pacific teeming with Dungeness crabs. Of course, savvy Southern Californians don't get as giddy about Dungeness crabs because our supply of local, sweet, meaty Red and Yellow Rock Crabs are so plentiful year-round (though they are at their best this time of year). Nonetheless, while our brethren across the nation are cooking up dry turkeys and Honeybaked hams for Christmas, the truly Californian among us are conceiving of recipes--from crab cakes to chili crab to cioppino--for their festive seasonal meals, myself included.
For the drinker, crab is remarkably friendly, with pairings only limited to the stretch of your imagination. K&L's Cindy Westby loves to pair her husband (and K&L Champagne buyer) Gary Westby's crab cakes (recipe below) with a riper Chablis like the 2007 Domaine Vocoret Chablis 1er Cru "Les Forêt" ($19.99), which still manages to maintain its limestone minerality despite its round fruit and is, frankly, a steal for only 20 bucks. K&L's Anne Pickett, on the other hand, likes herb crab with an Asian flair: Roasted Dungeness Crab with Garlic Noodles, topped her list, a homemade riff on an tangy, spicy dish at San Francisco's Thanh Long. Rather than pair the dish with a slightly sweet Riesling to cut the spice, or a spicy Gewurztraminer to play it up, Anne suggests pairing it with a medium-bodied, slightly tannic Nebbiolo like the 2004 Travaligni Gattinara ($29.99). Melissa Lavrinc Smith says, "Eek. I'm a simple girl when it comes to crab: steamed whole, served with mayo and a Muscadet (Le Clos du Chateau "L'Oiseliniere" Muscadet Sèvre et Maine) or Sancerre (Millet Insolite)."
Earlier this week (I was getting my festive on a little early) I enjoyed a homemade version of a Hungry Cat favorite, Red Rock crab with whole grain mustard butter and toast points, with a dry glass of Amontillado Sherry from Herederos de Argueso ($24.99), but the dish would have been fantastic with a saline, oxidized wine like the 1991 Lopez de Heredia "Viña Tondonia" Blanco Reserva or the vibrant, slightly tropical 2009 Pierre et Catherine Breton "La Dilettante" Vouvray Sec ($21.99). And, of course, if you're looking to make merry, you can never go wrong with Champagne! The Michel Loriot "Cuvée Reserve" Brut Champagne ($29.99), which is made entirely from fat-loving Pinot Meunier will definitely elevate any celebration from merely fun to fabulous.
Are you inspired yet? Here are a few more crab recipes to make any Scrooge into a regular Bob Cratchit:
Sunset Magazine's 22 Ways with Dungeness Crab
Rasa Malaysia's Chili Crab
Judith's Dungeness Crab Cioppino
Foodwoolf's Improvised Maryland Crab Soup
Gary's Crab Cakes
3 tbsp sweet butter (plus more for cooking finished cakes)
1/4 cup dry white wine
day old sourdough in small cubes - approx 1 1/2 cups
Pick crab meat into large bowl, set aside. Sauté shallot and bread in butter until shallot is translucent, add wine. Once the wine is evaporated/absorbed, let cool. When cool, add to crab mixture. Add egg to crab mixture;sa mix lightly and season to taste with salt and pepper. Form crab cakes with hands and place on plate lined with wax paper. Refrigerate for 2 hours (if possible). Sautée crab cakes in more hot butter until brown on both sides and heated through. Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges if desired.