Friday, August 20, 2010

Maryland Crabs and Wine, USA

A few weeks ago Robert J. Parker tweeted: “Maryland’s greatest culinary delicacy – blue channel soft-shelled crabs are starting to arrive … lightly floured and sautéed in butter.”

Maryland – with the large Chesapeake Bay – is indeed blessed with Blue Crabs which came in different forms, when you eat them at a Crab Shack. In addition, Maryland boast some interesting wineries that produce wine that go very well with Maryland Blue Crab dishes.

The Blue Crab

The blue crab is a crustacean found in the waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Coast of Central America and the Gulf of Mexico. Male and female blue crabs can be distinguished by their "aprons", or their abdomens. Male crabs have a long, narrow apron, while mature female crabs have a wide, rounded one.

Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs

The Chesapeake Bay, located mainly in Maryland is famous for its blue crabs. Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs undergo a seasonal migration; after mating, the female crab travels to the southern portion of the Chesapeake, fertilizing her eggs with sperm stored up from the last mating months or almost a year later. In November or December, the female crab releases her eggs. The crabs hatch in a larval form and float in the mouth of the bay for four to five weeks, then the juvenile crabs make their way back up into the bay.

Picture: Maryland

Four Ways to Eat Chesapeake Blue Crabs

Hard Shell Blue Crabs

Blue crabs are most often eaten in the hard shell. Steaming them in large pots with water, vinegar and seasoning is the norm on the East coast. You need the whole experience: the smell of steamed crabs in the air, a pile of large steamed blue crabs covered with Old Bay Seasoning, ready to be cracked with wooden mallets, accompanied by corn on the cob, plus a roll of paper towels and a metal bucket for tossing the empty shells.

The cooked crabs are cracked by hand, but most diners will use a small knife to pry the shell apart and cut the unwanted parts from the crab. The meat is pulled out and eaten directly.

Picture: Hard Shell Blue Crabs

Crab shells can be very sharp and because the interior of the crab comprises a series of compartments separated by a somewhat pliable but still sharp shell, getting the meat out is also a lot of work for the relatively small amount of edible crab meat.

Soft Shell Crabs

The Chesapeake Bay is famous for its soft-shell blue crabs. As crabs grow larger, their shells cannot expand, so they molt the exteriors and have a soft covering for a matter of days when they are vulnerable and considered usable. Crabs caught just after molting are prepared as soft shell crabs: first cutting out the gills, face, and guts; the crab is then battered in flour, egg, and seasoning, then fried in oil until crispy. The entire crab is consumed, legs and all.

Pictures: Soft Shell Crabs

Usually crabs must be eaten within four days of molting to be useful as soft-shell crabs. They begin to rebuild their shells after that, and when eaten, have a thin shell. These are often referred to as “papershells” or “tinbacks” and are more crunchy when eaten, making them less desirable.

This molting is highly seasonal and usually lasts from early May to July in the Chesapeake Bay. The soft shell season is longer in other regions.

Crab Cake

Crab cakes is another delicacy. Crab Cakes are basically Hamburgers made out of crab meat. We ate it recently as a starter with tomatoes and avocado on the side.

Picture: Maryland Crab Cake

Maryland Crab Soup

Usually I start my crab dinner with a Maryland Crab Soup. This is a kind of an Italian Minestrone with crab meat. The other fish soup I have come to like on the US East Coast is the New England Clam chowder. New England clam chowder is a milk- or cream-based chowder, traditionally made with potatoes, onion, bacon or salt pork, flour or hardtack, and clams.

Pictures: Maryland Crab Soup

Crab Shacks in the Washington Area

Where to crack into piles of steamed blue crabs? Here are my favorites in or close to the Washington DC area are:

Jimmy Cantler's: Be prepared for long waits on the weekends, but the tranquil riverside setting in Annapolis is worth it. Cantler's is about 45 minutes from DC. 458 Forest Beach Rd., Annapolis.

Tim’s Rivershore Restaurant and Crab-house: a favorite place for Harley riders and RocknRoll lovers on the shores of the Potomac, about an hour south of Washington DC. 1510 Cherryhill Road, Dumfries

Bethesda Crab House: A Bethesda favorite that has been around for 50 years. 4958 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda

Quarterdeck: Arlington's Quarterdeck is a super casual, no-frills kind of seafood joint in Northern Virginia. 1200 Fort Myer Dr., Arlington

Maine Avenue seafood market: You can pick up live crabs to steam at home or buy some already steamed at the Washington DC seafood market on Maine Avenue at the Potomac river. It is a fascinating place. 1100 Maine Ave.

Pictures: Crab Claw in St. Michaels

Maryland Wines

There are 41 wineries licensed in Maryland. Boordy Vineyards is Maryland’s oldest winery, established in 1945. Since then, the Maryland wine industry has grown rapidly and now consists of more than 40 wineries. Still, Maryland is a very small wine producer, with only about 100 hectares of vineyard area.

St. Michaels Winery

St. Michaels Winery is located in the Chesapeake Bay resort town of St. Michaels. It was founded in 2005.

The wines are crafted from grapes grown in the 28-year-old vineyard in nearby Wye Mills and a newly acquired vineyard in Henderson, Maryland. In addition. St. Michaels also use grapes from 5 other Maryland growers, as well as regional and national growers.

Interestingly, St. Michaels Winery produces a California Cabernet Sauvignon – with grapes sources from California. St. Michaels Winery also makes non-vitis-vinifera wines, for example a Concord wine.

The Wine Portfolio

Here is the St. Michaels Wine Portfolio, including winemaker notes.

Long Splice

St. Michaels Winery Long Splice perfectly combines Seyval - a French-American hybrid - with Chardonnay grapes, all lovingly grown in our vineyard near St. Michaels. Drink dry, crisp Long Splice with dishes using garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes. Acidic and dry, it combines well with salty foods. Great with oysters.

Chenin Blanc

This dry Chenin Blanc leads with gorgeous florals, then pops with zesty acidity and finishes with honeyed florals — quite the performance. Excellent with sushi, seafood and white meats.

Pinot Grigio

Our Pinot Grigio is fruity, flinty and crisp, and this Pinot pairs well with sharp cheeses, garlicky dishes and roast chicken.

Sauvignon Blanc

Bronze Medal Winner in the 2006 Governonrs Cup, St. Michaels Winery Sauvignon Blanc has light, crisp notes of melon, apple, and tart plum. Pairs well with dill cheese, herbal seasonings, and fried or white fish in a light cream sauce.


An unoaked Chardonnay with snappy, fresh notes of lemon and grapefruit, this dry wine pairs well with sharp cheddar cheese, pecan-crusted catfish, and all types of seafood. Stands up to creamy sauces. Especially nice with fried oysters.


St. Michaels Winery Viognier melts on the tongue with sumptuous, flowery notes of lavender and orange blossoms, at once herbaceous and grassy, buttery and crisp. This once-rare wine is making a comeback, with over 2,000 California acres planted to the grape, up from just 30 French acres in 1960. Viognier is still hard to come by, and a treat once you find it. Pairs well with steak, Asian or Indian food, or pork tenderloin in Dijon mustard sauce.

A Nice Dry Rosé

Our dry Rosé, made from Pinot Noir grapes, bursts with fresh strawberry and crispness. Served chilled, it pairs beautifully with a light avocado salad, spicy vegetable couscous or crab seasoned with Old Bay.

Island Belle Sangiovese

Named after the historic log canoe Island Belle, our sangiovese is light bodied with a clean finish. It is perfect with grilled chicken, pasta salad with pesto, or barbecued pork ribs.


St. Michaels Winery's sexy Syrah sashays forth with forest blackberry, light smoke and licorice flavors. It can take a flank steak in an Asian marinade, barbecued country pork ribs or smoked salmon with a grainy mustard sauce.

Pinot Noir

Raspberries and very light toast bring our Pinot Noir together with grilled lemon salmon, Asian dishes and aged farmhouse cheddar.

"Martha" Chambourcin -- Mount Felix Reserve

These grapes journeyed down the Chesapeake Bay in the Skipjack Martha Lewis from Havre de Grace, MD. They have been oak-aged to form this soft and slightly spicy wine. Pairs well with pasta in red sauce, lamb or beef with mushroom sauce, or a roasted turkey dish.

Picture: Cheasapeake Bay


Smooth black cherry, chocolate and light oak make our unique Merlot perfect for grilled rib eye steak, curries and fresh, off-bitter green salads.

Maryland Cabernet Sauvignon

The grapes for our Maryland Cabernet were lovingly grown in our vineyard in nearby Wye Mills, at a quarter-century old, the most mature on the Eastern Shore. Our Maryland Cab’s light and graceful finesse, slightly smokey, pairs it perfectly with pasta in red sauce, risotto, veal or pork, or mildly spicy fusion dishes. (Not available for wholesale.)

Cabernet Sauvignon

Our California Cab, refined in French oak, has a full berry richness and mild tannins. It pairs it perfectly with lightly spicy fusion dishes, fine blue cheese, game, beef or barbecue.

Pinot Blanc

Pinot Blanc is a variation of Pinot Gris and related to Pinot Noir. This grape is still an outsider to U.S. wine culture, but not for long. A light, soft, rounded wine with a gentle perfume of grapefruit, pineapple, apple and hints of spice. Perfectly balanced between dry and sweet, St. Michaels Winery Pinot Blanc is versatile with food pairings. Try it with fish, chowder, chicken, and pasta with creamy sauces.

St. Michaels White -- Vidal, Maryland Eastern Shore

This wonderfully balanced, slightly sweet white wine offers the natuarl fruitiness of the vidal blanc grape with hints of citrus. Wonderful for sipping on a carefree afternoon, or pairing with a seafood salad with raspberry dressing.

Gollywobbler Red

This fun, fruit-forward wine is made with a combination of Concord grapes and a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon. A great picnic red with hints of lime and lemon. Drink it well chilled over crushed ice, or as a spritzer or martini.

Gollywobbler Pink

The newest addition to our Gollywobbler family... A fun-filled blush created by blending our Niagara and Concord grapes. The perfect blend for those hot summer days by the pool.

Gollywobbler White

Made with Niagra grapes and a large dose of fun. Drink Gollywobbler White on the rocks with pineapple and citrus; mixed with juice and club soda; in a white Sangria, or as a martini. A great picnic wine.

Chocolate Zinfandel

The sin ... is in the zin. Sumptuous chocolate mixed with oak-barreled Zinfandel equals “Mmmm.” Drink Chocolate Zin as an after-dinner delight, with chocolate mousse and raspberry sauce, or as dessert.

St. Michaels Winery
Saint Michaels, Maryland, US

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