Wagner’s Crab

Food and wine pairing is achingly fashionable at the moment. I’m afraid my knowledge about which wine to pair with what food doesn’t extend beyond when to drink Chablis and why Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t work with rhubarb crumble. I am, however, very good at food and performance pairing.  In case you haven’t come across it, food and performance pairing is the art of what to eat after a trip to the theatre. To give you an idea:

The Cherry Orchard – bitter cherry clafoutis and a litre of vodka.

Death of a Salesman – hotdog with a friend who feels a failure.

Waiting for Godot – a picnic of chicken and raw carrots while waiting for an acquaintance who never turns up.

Titus Andronicus – nothing for a week.

I now know what to eat after a Wagner opera. Having just seen Wagner for the first time in the form of the English National Opera’s production of The Flying Dutchman, I’m proudly in the post-Wagnerian phase of my life. Orla Boylan‘s interpretation of tragic Senta – intense, introverted and slightly obsessive – is mesmerising. She’s a magnificent soprano who combines touching sensitivity with a deep, visceral power.

At dinner after the performance, there was something on the restaurant menu that seemed perfect to follow such high and intense drama – crab. Not a prissy crab, dressed and piled softly back into the shell from whence it had come and piped with mayonnaise stripes. But an armour-plated Wagnerian crab that looked as though it had just clattered into the restaurant, clambered onto the table and said “Ok – I dare you.” With crackers and probes, snippers and forks, it was a war of attrition to see who would win – the crab or me.

Orla is the best soprano to have at the dinner table. Not only does she sing so beautifully that you want to weep, as a teenager she had a holiday job boiling, cracking and dressing the crabs that her dad caught in pots. After the soaring performance of The Flying Dutchman, there was the impressive drama of watching Orla do battle with the crab, hoiking out morsels of meat that the rest of us failed to find.

I watched The Flying Dutchman with a very clever friend who grows things almost as well as Orla sings things. My friend’s magnificent garden is crammed with herbs that would make even a fish-finger fan want to cook.

Aniseed-flavoured sweet cicely overflows in flouncy, lacy heaps, along with drifts of lovage, clouds of wild flowers, perky rhubarb and things I’ve never heard of.

So, in honour of the magnificent Orla Boylan – as well as The Flying Dutchman and my friend’s glorious garden – here is Wagnerian Crab Salad with Sweet Cicely and Wild Flowers along with a glass of Sweet Cicely and Cucumber Cocktail. The crab isn’t the macho monster that I did battle with after the opera. But just as you can’t watch a Wagner opera every day of the week, you can’t fight a crab every day either.


  • 1 part Limoncino
  • 1 part gin
  • 5 parts lemonade
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Quarter of a cucumber, peeled
  • Ice cubes
  • A handful of sweet cicely tender stems, to taste
  • Sweet cicely leaves to decorate
  • Lovage stalks, trimmed to make straws

Combine all the ingredients, apart from the decorative leaves and lovage stalks, in a food processor. Puree to a liquid and pour into a glass. You can strain the liquid if you prefer. The stems of lovage are hollow and make perfect straws. They add the most delicious flavour of perfumed celery to any drink. Garnish the cocktail with sweet cicely leaves and add a lovage straw.


Serves 2

  • 100g white crab meat
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 dessert spoon creme fraiche
  • A few chives plus the flowers
  • A few sweet cicely stems and leaves, chopped finely
  • Zest of 1 lemon plus a squirt of lemon juice
  • Seasoning
  • Viola flowers or any other edible flowers

Slice the avocado and divide between two plates. Combine the crab, creme fraiche, lemon juice and zest, seasoning, chopped chives and sweet cicely stems. Pile on top of the avocado and decorate with chive flowers and sweet cicely flowers.

Eat and drink the above after any Wagner opera. They go together perfectly.


  1. I think these should be in everyone’s picnics this season at opera festivals, Garsington and so on, in fact, I think caterers such as Jamie Oliver’s Fabulous Feasts, should have them in their interval suppers too! Inspirational, and oh so original and refreshing.
    As ever, your writing makes for such good reading.

    1. Such generous comments – thank you so much. It was a pleasure to write of course, given how beautiful the singing was and how stunning the gardens.

  2. I agree with mitzi. Stunning as usual charlie. I can’t fault your presentation, and the food looks as good as ever. Magnificent!

  3. Long ago I accompanied a friend to part of the Wagner Ring cycle. We sat in the magnificent but achingly uncomfortable chairs of San Francisco’s opera house. Afterwards I understood why fried food is so popular. I was certainly fried after the performance.

    I believe your crab and cocktail is particularly fitting for The flying Dutchman. Thank you for a well written and beautiful post.

    1. How funny – your fried food argument proves the argument, don’t you think? Thanks so much, Lael.

    1. I’m so delighted that you think so, Sally – thank you. And I’m glad to oblige with the gin.

  4. I do like this performance/food pairing concept, and wonder whether it would be over-trivialising to suggest morsels to accompany the reading of individual blog posts? Thoughtful and entertaining posts are always further enhanced by a dainty little morsel, I find.

    1. So true. There’s lots of exam revision going on in our house at the moment – tasty little snacks help keep it on track too.

  5. I’ve got tickets for Falstaff next week, so guess I should be okay for a pie and a pint?
    Your cocktail looks delectable.

    1. And for La Sylphide a few days later … now that could be difficult! Porridge and salt, followed by meringue kisses? Or a featherlight oatcake? Edinburgh rock might be the perfect combination of Scottishness and fairy pastels. A slab of Black Bun presented with a calorie counter on the side for would-be sylphs? Or a soupçon of cockaleekie soup in a thimble-sized porcelain bowl?
      I think Covent Garden is missing a trick here!

      1. Brilliant, Mary – I love all of them. Delighted to see you getting into the spirit of things. We’ll persuade Covent Garden one day!

  6. I am the same. I wouldn’t be able to suggest which wine would go with what and I love your performance pairing..;) That crab sure looks gorgeous enough for me!! And I now have a serious case of garden envy!!

    1. The garden is absolutely beautiful, Simone – a real treasure trove of herbs and fruit.

  7. I may have to agree with Sally that this is one of your most brilliant posts! I don’t even know how to comment on it… the idea and the language are utterly stupendous and here I sit smiling as I reread your words for the third time. And the crab is luscious and beautiful! I would love to sit one day – all day – with you and talk, just talk and hear how your brain works. Lovely!! xo

    1. Is it possible to have an all-time favourite comment, Jamie? This might just be it. And I love the idea of a whole day of talking!

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