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Jun 11, 2013
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Wine With…Crab Cakes with Tarragon Aioli

In Baltimore, where we live, fresh crab is everyone’s favorite fare. Marylanders believe that the fastest way to reach gustatory nirvana is by banging whole steamed crabs with a mallet and picking out the meat, or simmering fresh crabmeat in a soup, or slipping a sautéed soft shell crab into a sandwich. But when there’s a special wine to be savored, crab cakes make the miracle match, especially when they’re garnished with a dollop of tarragon-spiked aioli.

Crab Cakes with Tarragon Aioli

Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a first course

Preheat oven to 400°

For the Crab Cakes:

1 pound fresh lump crab meat
5 teaspoons panko or other fine breadcrumbs
2/3 cup mayonnaise
I teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 whole egg, beaten
1 dash Tabasco or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon neutral vegetable oil or olive oil

Pick through crabmeat to remove any bits of cartilage or shell. Add the breadcrumbs to the crab. In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, beaten egg, Tabasco or cayenne, and salt; then fold the mixture into the crabmeat.

Form the crab mixture into four large patties or six smaller ones. If possible, arrange the crab cakes in a single layer on a platter or sheet pan and let them rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour (this helps them firm up and keep their shape during cooking).

To cook, place butter and oil in a heavy ovenproof skillet over high heat. Sear the crab cakes for a couple of minutes on each side, then slide the pan into the preheated oven and finish cooking for about 5 to 7 minutes.

For the Aioli:
(May be made up to 24 hours ahead)

2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk
1/2 to one cup olive oil
1 tablespoon each minced fresh tarragon and parsley

Place the minced garlic in a food processor or blender. Add the lemon juice and mustard, then the egg yolk and salt. With the motor running begin drizzling in the oil in a slow, steady stream, almost drop by drop. As the mixture begins to emulsify you can pour the oil in a little faster. It will probably take about ¼ cup of oil for the mixture to reach the appropriate mayonnaise consistency, but you can keep adding up to another half cup of oil. Turn the motor off, add the minced herbs, and pulse them into the aioli. Transfer mixture to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Don’t despair if the mixture happens to separate, or fails to emulsify. Simply pour the mixture into a pitcher or other container with a pouring spout. Place another raw egg yolk into the blender or food processor bowl. With the motor running, drizzle the original mixture in drop by steady drop until it is clearly emulsifying, then continue adding it in a slow, steady stream.

* * *

Crabmeat is inherently rich, and the addition of the tarragon aioli makes this modern rendition of an old-time favorite even richer. So while a white wine is definitely called for, you need to be sure not to choose one that is too delicate or nuanced. We tried a delicious single vineyard Mosel Riesling with our crab cakes, and the wine simply got lost. On the other hand, the five wines we are recommending all had sufficient textural heft and depth of flavor to hold their own. One other thing to keep in mind: Unlike a great many seafood dishes, this one is in no sense harmed by overt oak flavors in a wine. So while you don’t need to choose a wine that has been barrel-aged, don’t be afraid to do so.

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Approx. Price


Feudi di San Gregorio, Falanchina del Sannio (Campania, Italy) 2011

(Imported by Palm Bay International)


Chesapeake blue crabs don’t live in the Bay of Naples, but if they did this surely would be a world-famous wine and food match. The wine is lush and tropical, so complemented the succulent taste of the crab cakes perfectly.

Frank Family Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay 2011


This is not a new-styled, light-bodied California Chardonnay, but instead an excellent example of the rich, full-flavored, buttery sort of wine that has made the Golden State’s versions of the variety so popular. It definitely shows the influence of oak, as well as exhibiting plenty of abundant citrus and tropical fruit. A delectable pairing.

The Ned, Marlborough (New Zealand) Pinot Gris 2012

(Imported by Pelican Brands)


No evident oak here, just pure, direct juicy pear and apple fruit flavors which we found meshed especially well with the aioli. The wine has plenty of natural richness, and a sexy because silky texture.

Domaine Pichot, Vouvray (Loire Valley, France) “Domaine le Peu de la Moriette” 2011

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


Off-dry, so definitely showing a sweet streak, this wine brought out the sweetness in the crab. If your tastes tend towards a drier wine at the dinner table, don’t go in this direction, but if you enjoy a sugary note, you’ll find this to be a superior match.

Stags’ Leap, Napa Valley (California) Viognier 2011


A favorite of ours for many years now, this Viognier avoids the problems that mar the majority of California renditions, as it neither tastes hot and alcoholic not feels heavy and cumbersome. On the contrary, it’s rich but at the same time harmonious, with a floral accent that contributes intriguing complexity. That hint of a spring or summer garden meshed beautifully with the anise-like note from the tarragon in the aioli, and the wine’s voluptuous texture enabled it to strut its stuff proudly in this particular pairing.