Why You Should Stop Being Afraid To Pair Shellfish With Cheese

Though some Italians and a few "Top Chef" judges are adamant about keeping cheese away from any seafood dish, there are plenty of others who think otherwise. James Beard award-winning chef Nina Compton is one of them, and she recently advised our Tasting Table team that the contentious pairing of cheese and shellfish is a combination that should be reconsidered when putting delicious meals together. At an event for Shake Shack and Tabasco, Compton gave the example of a crawfish grilled cheese to prove her point.

"I treat cheese as cream," she explained. "So when you have a creamy Alfredo sauce that goes with white wine, that makes perfect sense, it should make sense for cheese as well." And when asked about those who are reluctant to match cheese and shellfish dishes, Compton was encouraging. "I think people overthink that. I think that is a very old way of thinking," she said.

Balancing flavors of the land and sea

Shellfish is one of the easiest kinds of seafood to pair with dairy products, and lobster and crab offer naturally buttery-tasting flavors that complement luxurious creams and richer cheeses. If you're still not convinced about mixing any kind of fish with cheese, let the taste of anchovies-topped pizza or a classic lox-and-cream cheese-smeared bagel be your guide as you set out to balance flavors. Start out by toasting a lobster grilled cheese sandwich to enjoy for lunch, or top salmon fillets with cream cheese to make salmon Wellington for tomorrow's dinner. Tuna melts, crab dip, and fish tacos can also remind your tastebuds that cheese and seafood are a culinary match well worth exploring.  

"One of my most popular specials was a seafood alfredo that included shrimp, scallops, and lump crabmeat," Chef Dennis Littley told Smithsonian Magazine. By pairing dairy with seafood, you can create some pretty inventive meals at home, but be careful as to not overwhelm the softer, more delicate flavors of fish with sharp and overbearing cheeses.