News of the Food

News of the Food

Feeling Crabby

By Gretchen Giles

The town of Mendocino will be thoroughly overrun by the crustacean when its sixth annual celebration of crab, and its best buddy wine, swamp the place Friday, Jan. 21, through Sunday, Jan. 30. It is theoretically possible, for example, to spend almost the entirety of Jan. 22 in a zinc-induced swoon, as four separate all-you-can-eat crab feeds dot the day. Begin with sprightly ambition at 11:30am at Dick’s Place, stagger on to the Ft. Bragg Rotary Club for its 3pm bash, crawl to the Fensalden Inn at 5pm for a Fetzer-sponsored spate of gluttony and then pull oneself forcibly into the Lion’s Club spread at the Gualala Community Center at 6pm. The truly ambitious could mark the day’s midpoint on the Skunk Train, feasting on the annual crab Louis luncheon, which rides the rails both Saturdays of the fest.

In addition to massively overfeeding eager tourists, the Crab and Wine Days festival aids in the search for the ultimate crab cake with its Jan. 29 Crab Cake Cook-Off. Two-time crab cake cook-off winner Nicholas Petti defends his honor this year for a shot at a three-time victory. Chef at the Mendo Bistro, Petti isn’t petty about sharing his secrets. Easy enough to make at home, these cakes emphasize lots of sweet, fresh crab over filler ingredients. Serve with the Tarragon Aioli and Cabbage Salad also listed below. And plenty of wine, of course.

Mendo Bistro Crab Cakes
1 1/2 pounds Dungeness crab meat
3/4 c. Panko bread crumbs, plus additional for outer coating
2 green onions, finely chopped
1/2-3/4 c. tarragon aioli (recipe follows) oil for sautéing

Combine crab, breadcrumbs and green onions. Add 1/2 cup aioli and test mixture to see how well it holds together. If needed, add additional aioli. Do not overwork ingredients. Cakes should be loose and just barely hold together. Form into cakes about 3 inches in diameter and place one side in breadcrumbs. Heat oil in medium sauté pan over medium-high heat until just smoking, and place cakes, breadcrumb side down, in pan. Sauté until golden and carefully turn over. Lower heat to medium and sauté until heated through. Serve on cabbage salad (recipe follows) and top with additional aioli.

Tarragon Aioli
2 egg yolks
3 cloves garlic
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 dash Tabasco sauce
1/4 c. very hot water
2 c. olive oil
1/2 bunch tarragon, finely chopped

In food processor or blender, place all ingredients up to Tabasco and run machine. Pour in hot water and process for 15 seconds. With machine running, slowly drizzle in oil until a mayonnaise consistency is reached. Stir in chopped tarragon.

Cabbage Salad
1 head green cabbage
sea salt
1 bunch chives, finely chopped
1/3 c. Champagne vinegar

Remove outer leaves and core from cabbage and slice thinly. Toss with a liberal amount of salt and let sit for 30 minutes. Drain off liquid from cabbage and add chives and vinegar.

For more information on Mendocino’s Sixth Annual Crab and Wine Days, call 866.466.3636 or visit

From the January 19-25, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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