Today’s dish is a wonderful introduction to the rich, fatty, super umami, and uniquely Filipino ingredient known as taba ng talangka.
This bright orange, slightly granular paste is made from tiny freshwater crabs that grow along the rivers in the Philippines. It used to be a major product of the Pampanga region but after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo and the resulting dredging of the Pampanga region, it is now more commonly harvested in Bicol. Regardless of where you get it though, the process of harvest is pretty much the same. These tiny crabs, no bigger than two inches across, are harvested, painstakingly peeled open and then the tiny amounts of crab roe inside (even though taba in Tagalog translates to ‘fat’ and talangka are the crabs, this is not crab fat but crab roe) are harvested and then sauteed into a paste with plenty of garlic for flavor.
Alone, the flavor is incredibly deep, rich, and complex. It possesses the kind of rich sea umami of say, Japanese uni but with not as much of the saltiness. Super fatty and best enjoyed in small doses a) because of how rich the taste is and b) because too much of this and you’ll have a cholesterol-laden one way ticket to the emergency room. The texture is slightly grainy, but when cooked into dishes it smooths out and almost disintegrates, leaving a slight aroma but deep orange color and permeating flavor. In the Philippines it is traditionally served as is, spooned over warm white rice and mixed together to melt and combine. I’ve also seen it prepared as a pasta sauce but most recipes call for a whole jar just for one serving!
My goal was to find a way to introduce this wonderful ingredient and taste in a way that would not be too foreign and too off-putting. I wanted it to simultaneously be the signature flavor star but not the main focus. The idea of mixing it with rice made me think of fried rice, which is a common item in the Philippines as well as any Asian country, and so playing on the Filipinos’ love of fried rice, I made my own version of seafood fried rice with the taba ng talangka mixed in!
Ta-da! This is the final result. First, in a very hot wok I saute garlic, onions, ginger, green onion, and labuyo (a tiny but super spicy and tasty Filipino chili pepper) until fragrant. I then add squid, scallops, lump crab meat, and shrimp. Next come the bean sprouts. Finally I add the rice, oyster sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, and a generous heaping portion of the taba and mix and fry. The taba melts and colors each grain of rice that wonderful orange color and flavors the entire dish while still letting the seafood come through. Once it’s all cooked and the rice is loose and every grain is separated, I lovingly sprinkle some green onion on top.
This is at once an homage to Asian-style fried rice, Spanish-style seafood paella, and yet also a distinctly Filipino dish in taste. I used a quart of day-old rice because older, dry rice is much better for fried rice and now I have some great leftovers to look forward to having for lunch.
If you are an adventurous foodie or a big seafood lover, I highly recommend visiting your local Asian grocery store and if you’re lucky, you might find this in the Filipino aisle. If you’re not, you’ll have to hope I open up a restaurant near you. Hahah. Either way, I definitely think that this could be one of the best unknown ingredients for the enterprising chef and is definitely a flavor worth exploring.
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