Dungeness Crab

The local catch on the Pacific coast is the Dungeness crab, available in waters right off shore from November until June. Herb spends hours re-working his 6 crab traps, adding special bait bags, tying floats to the 100+ feet of nylon rope used to haul them in and making sure the doors will hinge open even in the roughest seas. Soon after opening day, the harbor outside Bodega Bay is littered with different colored and patterned floats, all placed by hopeful fishermen plotting spots on their radar screen that look lucky.

Herb’s average weekend consists of an early trip to the boat at dawn (or fog thirty), then a ½ hour cruise out into the outer harbor to drop the pots for a good couple hour “soak”, back into shore for a bowl of steaming clam chowder, then out to retrieve the catch – the limit is 10 per person and there have been several times that we’ve all reached our limits! The female Dungeness crabs, with sacks full of eggs on their bellies, Rocky crabs, starfish and anything else looking odd all gets thrown back.  After cleaning the boat and hauling buckets of crab home in the back of the truck, we put on a huge pot of water and start cooking!

Fresh crab, just whole cracked legs taken right out of the pot, dipped in butter or with a squeeze of lemon, is the epitome of a day’s hard work. But there are dozens of ways we enjoy crab, especially as a quick salad with a variety of lettuce and herbs from our garden and a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc. When you have time to prepare something a little more elegant, this recipe for Dungeness Crab and Asian Pear Salad from Chef Mark Dommen of One Market Restaurant in San Francisco is a great accompaniment for our Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc.

Dungeness Crab and Asian Pear Salad

A Perfect Match – Dungeness Crab and Asian Pear Salad with Sauvignon BlancBy Chef Mark Dommen of One Market Restaurant in San Francisco

Serves: 4


  • 2 each Asian pears
  • 1 each sprig mint, about 10 leaves
  • 1 each scallion
  • 1 ½ tablespoons lemon olive oil
  • 1 each lemon, juiced
  • to taste sea salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 8 ounces cleaned dungeness crab meat
  • 8 each dungeness crab legs
  • 2 each French breakfast radish
  • 2 ounces maché
  • 1 tablespoon basil oil, or substitute mild extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons Straus organic yogurt
  • to garnish small mint leaves


  1. Peel the Asian pears and cut them into a julienne using a Japanese mandolin with the medium teeth, or into long strips, each approximately 1/8 inch by 1/8 inch.
  2. Place the pears into a mixing bowl and add 1 tablespoon of lemon olive oil, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, a pinch of cayenne pepper and sea salt to taste. Mix well and allow the flavors to meld.
  3. In the meantime, remove the mint leaves from the sprig; saving the very small leaves for garnish and cut the large mint leaves into a chiffonade.
  4. Finely dice the scallions and mix the mint and scallion into the Asian pear salad.
  5. In a separate bowl add the cleaned crabmeat, keeping the legs separate, and dress the meat with the remaining lemon juice and lemon olive oil. Mix well and reserve.
  6. Clean the radishes and cut them into a fine julienne.
  7. Wash the maché and dry in a salad spinner. Toss with a couple drops of lemon oil and lemon juice
  8. To plate the salad, place a tablespoon of yogurt in the center of four plates. Streak the yogurt in an artistic manner across the plate.
  9. Next, place four ring molds on top of the yogurt and divide the pear mixture between the ring molds and press with even pressure.
  10. Divide the crabmeat among the four ring molds press to compact the mixture in the ring.
  11. Carefully remove the rings; the Asian pear and crab should hold its shape.
  12. Top each salad with two pieces of leg meat and garnish the salad with the julienne radish.
  13. Place the maché on the plate in an artistic manner.
  14. Finish by drizzling with basil oil or a mild extra virgin olive oil and placing the small mint leaves around the plate.
  15. Serve with a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Herb’s Crab Cakes

Crab Cake Ingredients1 pound crab lump meat – pick out all shells!
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3-4 finely chopped green onions – white and green parts added
2 cups homemade, seasoned bread crumbs or panko
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Zest from one lemon
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper to taste – lemon pepper or seafood seasoning if desired
Dash of hot sauce
4 eggs
Oil for cooking
Fresh greens for plating

Lemon Aioli Ingredients
½ cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper or lemon pepper to taste

For the crab cakes, mix together mayo, mustard, lemon zest and juice, seasoning, hot sauce, parsley and onions and one-half cup of the panko or bread crumbs. Add crabmeat and mix well (hands are the best for this part!). Form into small cakes about ¾ in inches high, and place onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment; covered with clear plastic wrap in the refrigerator (this can be frozen for a few minutes or overnight if necessary).

Once the cakes are firm, heat the oven to 250, beat the eggs in a medium bowl and put the remaining bread crumbs/panko with seasonings in another. Have a large flat bottomed frying pan hot with oil and another oven proof pan ready, and set up your production line. Quickly dip the crab cakes in the egg mixture, then the bread crumbs and fry lightly on each side until crisp and golden, adding more oil as necessary, about 2 minutes on each side. Place on the extra pan and put in a warm over until all the cakes are cooked and ready to serve.

Serve warm on a bed of fresh greens, with the Lemon Aioli in a bowl on the side. Enjoy with your family and company, and remember the good times… they pass too quickly.

Local Winter Wine & Food

Every season in the Napa Valley, even winter, seems to be a wonderful opportunity for food & wine pairing. We are always amazed how nature’s plants and animals know when to ripen at the right time to pair with some other food group! Take Herb’s favorite time of year – Dungeness crab season in the Pacific Ocean from November to June. He is out on his boat in Bodega Bay almost every weekend with friends, (weather be damned!) catching their limits. And darned if our 8 Meyer lemon trees aren’t doing their best to feed the neighborhood from January to May! What a winter combination – fresh crab, sweet lemon and crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

Meyer lemons in the Napa Valley (on a good year like 2011, when we haven’t had constant cold temperatures and rain) are like zucchini in summer . . . you don’t park your car in town with the windows down, or someone will put a shopping bag full of them on your front seat!

With a constant supply of fresh crab, (including the price of the boat, fuel, bait, mechanics and driving an hour each way, it’s now down to $598.62/pound!) we have eaten crab every way possible – cioppino, chowder, baked, marinated, and fresh out the pot, piled high with sauces, on a bed of baby lettuce from our garden, and stuffed in avocados – but most often we enjoy the fruits of our labor on an improvised tablecloth of newspapers on the island in our kitchen when friends stop by for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc after work.

Here’s our favorite crab cake recipe, simple and quick, but can vary with personal taste. Get creative and add what you want.