I know I’ve been really delinquent with posting. I still have my truffle hunt to write about, plus some other recommendations from my recent trip to Perth. And I’ve just come back from Kyoto, so expect a Kyoto Guide in the coming month. But, to keep you entertained for now, I have begged a friend to step in with a guest post. Amazingly, this awesome hottie who usually charges quite a bit for her words has generously agreed to lend a hand. Originally from New York, Amy Ma is a trained chef and food writer based in Hong Kong (and a fellow college alumn–go baby blue!). She is a regular contributor to the South China Morning Post and Wall Street Journal (Weekend Asia). If you’re looking for a little less food and a little more Amy, check out her weekly HK Magzine column, where she muses on the underbelly of HK’s culinary world: http://hk-magazine.com/columnists/amy-ma?type=feature. Oh, and if you ever meet her, ask her about the “thong story”. Made me laugh until it hurt.

An Ode to Crab Fat
by Amy Ma

A lot of things don’t make it onto the official Chubby Hubby blog. Like the fact that he was kind enough to offer me a bottle of crab fat he picked up on his recent Manila trip. And that I was rude enough to accept, and make him send a care package all the way to Hong Kong.

Called aligue or taba ng talangka (in Tagalog), crab “fat” is really crab roe, or the coral-colored blubbery goodness you scoop out from underneath the shell and in between the body cavity of your crustacean friend. The Shanghainese have a similar product rendered out of the hairy crab, but it’s not to be confused with the Japanese kani miso or crab “brain” – really just crab guts – a grayish, liver-tasting paste from the Hokkaido crab. Not my favorite.

This was all brand new to me – it’s an ingredient that hasn’t achieved the mainstream adoration bacon has – but I think it deserves a serious bent-knee litany. It tastes like the most intense bouillabaisse distilled into a clotted cream. Like a saffron-scented sea urchin balm. Like some sort of spread-able “shellfish butter”. It’s complex – a slight bitter edge, a squirt of acidity, and a blooming sweetness. And yet simple to love, like any good ole comfort food.

Mine came in a pretty little bottle slapped on with a lavender label complete with a frilly graphic-designed border. I’m sure CH chose to send me the nice “girly” one, and there are plenty of wack-looking, non-shellacked, “is this safe to eat?” jars of it out there. If brought from a trusted vendor though, I trust they’d probably be just as good.

There was no ingredients label listing additional seasonings, salt, some sort of vinegar or citrus, and maybe even oil to help preserve and marinate the roe. But that’s just what my taste buds told me. There was also no nutritional chart reporting a bajillion calories and some crazy-percentage of fat per serving, which was a smart move on the producer. I mean, this is heart-stopping, artery clogging, “you only live once” kind of food. I’ve heard of low-cal versions, but honestly – I find that so, so sad.

My advice? Eat it in moderation, and live in the ignorance-is-bliss splendor of not knowing the exact statistics. Schmear it on toast; mix it with white rice; beat it into your omelet. Or do what I did – dangle it as bate to tempt your chef friends into helping you create a recipe. Here’s what my friend, chef Eric Johnson from Union J, dreamed up:

Crab Fat Linguine with Seared Scallops
serves 8 really hungry people

1 jar crab fat / aligue / taba ng talangka (they come in small 8oz jars)
2 large handfuls of shallots – finely sliced
3 garlic cloves – minced
24 large scallops (mine were from Hokkaido), assuming 3 scallops per person
2 packets of linguine pasta (or about 100grams of pasta per person, so 800grams total)
Olive oil
White wine
Heavy cream
Sprinkling of parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Dried chili flakes (if you want to kick up the flavor)

In a medium heat pan, add in the butter, garlic, and shallots. How hot? You should hear the butter sizzle when it hits the surface, but the garlic and shallots shouldn’t brown. You want to cook them gently, until they turn translucent. This’ll take some time.

While that pan’s going, get started on your pasta. Fill up a large stock pot with water and salt (What’s the old adage to cooking pasta again? Something like: Make the water as salty as the Mediterranean). Bring that to a boil.

It’s about time to stir around your shallots and garlic again. And your kitchen should begin to smell real good. You’ve got a few moments to wait around and enjoy it.

Water boiled yet? Time to add the pasta. It’ll take however long to cook depending on the instructions on the box. But just taste test it and keep it al dente.

Your shallots and garlic should be about done now, so add in your big swigs of white wine. Count 1-one thousand, 2-one thousand, 3-one thousand. Done. Leave it to reduce. (Turn the heat up a tad bit higher and pop on the lid if you’re impatient.)

Now in a much hotter pan, add a swig of olive oil, and lay down your scallops to get a good sear. Don’t touch it. Let it cook almost 80 per cent on one side to get caramelized with that golden crust. Nice…

Test your pasta now. Probably still needs a few minutes?

Flip the scallops and finish off cooking on the other side for just a few seconds. Take it off immediately and put it onto a dish.

Your shallot-garlic-wine reduction should be just about ready. Stir in the entire jar of the crab fat. Mix it all up and make sure there are no clumps. Then add in a gentle douse or liberal pour of cream – up to you. Taste it. Does it need more salt? Pepper? Even a pinch of sugar could be good. What about some dried chili flakes? When you’re satisfied, take it off the heat.

The pasta should be done now. Drain it (but don’t be too fussy – some pasta water will help congeal the sauce) and toss the noodles into the sauce. Mix gently and watch the rich pink, crab-tastic sauce get soaked up.

To serve, throw that all into a big boil, place your scallops on top (caramelized side up), and ladle the extra sauce around the side.

Cut a few parsley leaves and scatter it on for color. You’re ready to dig in.

Oh, and if there’s some extra sauce at the end? Toast up some sour dough or a rustic chunk of bread and sop it up. Waste not, want not. You’ll be happy you did.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his three kids!



4 September 2009


OMG – this looks outrageous. I actually tried something like this when I still lived in the Eastern Shore of Virginia, USA, with Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab roe. I “created” it in a moment of divine inspiration; but apparently I was not the only one to receive such gift from the deities. I caught the crabs on my dock, scraped the roe from the poor females (something like “eat one she-crab; kill 100,000 future crabs, but HEY!, I’m talking experimental food here — I did it for food science….) I poured the wine (1/2 in my mouth, other 1/2 in the pan), mixed in garlic and saffron with a little cream, mixed it into a pound of linguine and promptly lied to my wife and kids about the main ingredient so they would actually eat it. I fooled them all and strutted about like a hero – maybe it was the wine…. But now, seeing this recipe, I give my apologies for even comparing my culinary trifling to the skills of Chef Eric, whose recipe makes mine look like a glob of playdoh on a plate. Thanks for showing me the error of my ways — now just how do I GET one of these jars here in Singapore??

i’m from the philippines and aligue is something that i take for granted.. thank you ms ma and thank you chubbyhubby, for recognizing that philippine cooking – while underrated – is absolutely delicious! (in our home, we do aligue pasta with prawns, usually)

Amy, you’ve told us lots of stories but I don’t think I’ve heard the one about the thong…

And yes, I’m putting my hand up for the crab fat gelato, too!

and i thought everybody eats aligue! i don’t know what you got but they’re really sold without preservatives or spices. just pure, yes artery-clogging, aligue. i love aligue! i’m happy i’m still young enough to enjoy this. it’s heaven. it’s also commonly mixed with steamed rice. some filipino restaurants here serve that — aligue rice — which reminds me of a long overdue post. i’m getting giddy already. i’m glad you guys discovered it. and yes we also cook it with pasta. a simple oil & garlic recipe added with aligue, almost like what you did but we have no concept of eating aligue in moderation.hehe

ahhh. heaven heaven heaven.

oh gosh… my cholesterol level just went up a few notch just by looking at it… all i have to donow is to get my hands on that ‘gold’… where can i get it???

I am seriously annoyed I missed this meal – stupid deadlines! This crab fat sounds like one of the most delicious foods – I need to get me some!

Thanks Sher & CSY for the pics, and CH for the extra junk in the trunk.

I’m game for the gelato – but couldn’t we also just make it into some sort of bisque and drink it by the gallon load? That would be the quickest and most pleasant death-wish eating technique.

I got a tip that Fillipino specialty stores like Quezon Pinoy (Wanchai) and Victory in World Wide House (Central) may carry it in HK. And I’ve yet to see if Shanghainese food store Lau San Yang (in CWB) has it, especially now that hairy crab season is upon us.

Whoever finds a good online distributor that will deliver aligue to my door, please ping me. You would be my hero!

Amy! I want you to be my new best friend! The description of the “girly bottle” made me laugh out loud . . .

and what a sexy topic! I love the way “Crab Fat Linguine” sounds in my mouth.

I can’t wait to try this. I’ll have to see about searching for a good online distributor to deliver aligue to your door (and to mine, of course!)

Thanks for a great piece of foodie bliss!

unfortunately not all bottled aligue are created equal. some actually contain extenders as bread crumbs and food coloring (up to even a 50/50 mix). so be wary if you’re being sold a bright orange bottle of crab “fat” or roe. its somewhat of an indication. Pure aligue usually has a more toned down, less homogenous hue and of course, tastes better. also, that acid note you picked up could have been some kalamansi squeezed in the mix to cut down the fishiness.

As a Filipino and an aligue afficionado, I must say Amy couldn’t have described this little known (globally) ingredient any better. I felt like someone let my secret out when I read last week’s issue of HK mag. I’ve had this secret mission to save the image of Filipino cuisine (as well as the Philippine economy) by aligue-tion. To me, it has the potential to be in the same level as foie gras, uni, truffles – and yes, bacon – and other umami-laden foods and sublime things in life. It makes kani miso look and taste like what chopped chicken liver is to foie gras. Try it on your temaki, oysters, eggs, crostini and everything else next time.

Just one more thing – aligue does not come from any regular crabs. Talangka are tiny shore crabs with bodies no bigger than a french macaron. Each crab produces a pea-sized portion of roe. Hence, the delicate texture and flavor. I’ve practically tried all brands of aligue available in the market. Sadly there’s some crappy stuff out there (some overly seasoned, some containing fillers and preservatives). Of course the best aligue is the one that’s painstakingly harvested at one’s home, one baby crab at a time.

Wonderful. I’m from the Philippines and this is similar to a recipe I posted: http://www.ifoodtrip.com/2009/09/linguini-with-saffron-prawn-aligue-crab.html

To translate directly, taba ng talangka means fat of the small crab. “taba” means fat and “talangka” is a tiny small crab which we eat in its entirety. When this small crab (usually sauteed or fried) is opened, it is full of this wonderful fat which we call “aligue”.

Many Filipino cooks use it as the base of a sauce for prawns. There are many restaurants here that serve it with pasta. Some chefs even use it as a sauce for ravioli which is stuffed with crab meat and/or shrimps/prawns.

Try mixing aligue with some good bottled mayonnaise. it is perfect for fish and chips.

Hi Amy, I don’t think the ones from Wanchai or Worldwide are any good, they’re probably bright orange and full of extenders as Anonymous Paul says. I’m a Filipina based in HK who loves her aligue (I use the same bottle you did, it’s from a gourmet foodshop back home). The best aligue I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting and cooking with was made by my mom’s friend, a bottle of pure bliss harvested in her backyard. She used to be our supplier when I ran a restaurant in Manila 9 years ago. I use aligue with rice, pasta, as a seafood sauce, and imagine a soft shell crab roll with a dab of aligue on top– decadent! My dream is to introduce the world to fantastic Filipino ingredients (there are many). Maybe I should start with HK?:)

I’m a crab fat guy from Fairfax Virginia and I like your article on this. I’m a big fan of yours and you look great in Bizarre Foods feature of Hongkong. Keep on writing and cooking!!!

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