AT THE TABLE: Crab Pintxos

All images via Mark Miller

I've been over at The Luxe Life enjoying Stephania Varalli's culinary adventures in Spain, particularly her sampling of pintxos.

Like Stephania, I was amazed by the beautiful displays of these Basque bread-based appetizers in Barcelona and later in San Sebastián. Pintxos chefs spend a lot of time and creativity planning and garnishing these tasty little tapas, piling on colorful strips of smoked salmon or sprinkling on paprika, or setting little bits of quince paste or chopped peppers on top. The colourful platters sparkle like jewels on the bar counters, each topping speared with a toothpick to the crusty round below.

On my first stop in a pintxos bar, I virtuously disposed of the toothpicks, only to find out that the missing pile was my bar tab! That's why even pintxos with spreadable toppings like cream cheese or tuna salad are marked with a toothpick. And chefs are resourceful in managing to secure almost anything to the little slices -- piles of tiny silvery eels, stuffed peppers, almost anything you would put on a plate. The bread base makes the whole thing perfectly portable.

A pintxos platter is a fun, pretty and convenient way to serve appetizers before dinner or even as a creative and colourful lunch. You can make the toppings quite substantial and -- if you have friends who avoid bread -- include some toppings that can be removed from the bread rounds, like little crab cakes or fat chunks of Spain's beloved egg and potato omelette. Pintxos are especially good for a cocktail party. Make sure the slices from the baguette are large enough so your guests can balance them on the top of their wine glasses as they move around.  Choose good bread, but avoid baguettes that are extra crusty. In my experience, they're more likely to shatter when you try to cut them and again when you bite into them.

One of my favorite pintxos toppings is a colourful, chunky crab salad, hearty enough for a late dinner or festive lunch (though no Basque would think so) and also the first to disappear from a platter of assorted pintxos. Because crab is so fragile I refrigerate it until the last minute, and replenish the platter as needed. The paprika adds colour, and a slice of avocado peeks out from the bottom. Feel free to experiment with any other seasonal accents for garnish -- a slender stalk of asparagus would be perfect, as would a strip or two of smoked salmon, a bit of shrimp or a sprinkle of chopped bacon. Serve with a good dry rose, or Spanish cava. If you can find it, try a bottle or two of Basque Txakoli (chock-o-LEE). If you're among good friends, do as the Basque bartenders do and pour the slightly bubbly wine from high above the glass, crashing it a bit to increase the fizz. 

Crab Pintxos

1½ pounds jumbo lump crabmeat
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large baguette
1 ripe avocado,  peeled, pitted and sliced thin
Smoked paprika

Pick over the crabmeat to discard any cartilage. Combine the first eight ingredients, taking care to leave the crab in chunks.. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Slice the baguette slightly on the diagonal. Sprinkle the avocado slices with lemon juice, and put a piece on each baguette slice, followed by a small scoop of the crab mixture. Garnish with lots of paprika and anything else on hand.

Long-time food writer Theresa Curry tells stories about food and the people who prepare it and is grateful to have chosen a career that has her shelling muddy crawfish one day and tasting fine wine the next.
A current project is working on a series of food stories as part of the documentary division of Alpha Vision Films.
Connect with Theresa via email at



  1. Replies
    1. MoMWiop,
      doesn't it look scrumptious! I am a big crab fan and this knocked my socks off!

  2. That's so colorful! Food should appeal to the eye as well as the taste buds, and this certainly does that.

  3. smconner,
    Agreed, a great dish should tempt all of our senses and this one definitely does!

  4. Crab and avocado! Never would have thought to put those together in the same bite! I can't wait to taste that combination! How would you pronounce pintxos?

  5. ccf,
    It is pronounce 'pinchos'. In the Basque language, the 'tx' makes a sound similar to 'ch' as in cheese.
    I know you will love the crab/avocado combination, it has become one of my favs!

  6. I just ran across this one; must have missed it when it first posted. I was looking for a "new" way to use crabmeat in an appetizer and this is perfect! And as usual the photo makes my mouth water!