Saturday, December 18, 2010

Crustacean Celebration: The Big Boys Weigh In

They were dubbed the three tenors of Portland chefs: Vitaly Paley, Philippe Boulot and Cory Schreiber. Think what you will of that moniker, but the dinner they orchestrated to celebrate the certification of Oregon's crab industry as sustainably managed by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) was a multi-layered symphony to our state crustacean. (OK, OK, enough with the musical metaphors.)

Crab and mushroom shepherd pie.

I received an invitation to the event the week before and couldn't say yes fast enough. It promised not only four courses reflecting the special place that the Dungeness crab, or Metacarcinus magister, holds in our state's food pantheon, but with wines to match from local wineries. See why I hit the reply button so quickly?

Like the certification received by the West Coast albacore fisheries earlier this year, which included tuna caught from California to British Columbia, the crab fishery as a whole, including crabbers and processors, was assessed against rigorous MSC standards. These included assessment of the stock, effect of the fishery on the ecosystem and the fishery management system. It's only one of five in the world to achieve this prestigious designation, and the only one of the five Dungeness fisheries on the west coast to be certified. Is that cool or what?

Ribeye with kale, black truffles and crab.

As for the dinner, it kicked off with a classic crab salad with plenty of shredded crab, grapefruit sections, lovely soft leaves of Oregon chicory and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds (top photo). The wine was a stunning 2009 Pinot Blanc Estate from Bethel Heights, a spicy, full-bodied, lovely complement to the bright, sweet flavors of the salad, and to my mind the most memorable wine of the night.

The second course was a slightly disappointing crab and matsutake mushroom shepherd's pie, mostly because the crab and mushrooms were indistinguishable from the thick layer of mashed potatoes on top. A good idea, but the execution was lacking, and the Domaine Drouhin 2008 Chardonnay "Arthur" poured with it only confirmed my lack of excitement over the wines I've had from them.

Poached pear with pistachio panna cotta.

But the thick slice of medium rare Carman Ranch ribeye that came next, with a side of creamed kale and black truffle hollandaise and three intact hunks of crab leg on top, was to die for, especially paired with the Penner-Ash 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, a big-but-not-over-the-top, earthy mouthful. The fact that the crab wasn't the focus of the dish but was used as a garnish didn't bother me in the least and, to me, showed that Vitaly Paley has a sense of humor and isn't afraid to bend the rules. Good job!

Crab was noticeably absent but hardly missed in the dessert of poached seckel pear with a pistachio panna cotta perched on a salty, crunchy round of spice cookie, and the Adelsheim 2008 DeGlace of Pinot Noir was nice, but what I really craved was more of that pinot blanc from the first course. Though if at this point you're thinking, "Well, wah wah wah, Kathleen, too bad for you…" I wouldn't blame you, since over all this crab-filled performance piece deserved a standing O.

Check out this season's Crustacean Celebration series: Pasta with Crab and Radicchio, Deadly? I Think Not, and Let Them Eat Cakes. See also: last season's series starting with Hot Artichoke and Crab Dip (and links to other posts in the series).


Julie said...

I was thinking before you said it that the Shepherds Pie would lose the taste of the crab. It just doesn't work that well for seafood, as the potato always absorbs a lot of the flavour.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Actually, I'm thinking I may have to try this, either with the mashed potatoes or as a pot pie with a biscuit crust. Regardless of which turns out, it'll be a fun (and tasty) experiment!

Neha said...

Earlier I have baked Mushroom Shepherd pie with chicken but after reading this I would love to bake it with Crab too.