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)
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.