Kamaboko: Of Swimming Fish Cakes!

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

When I went to visit my cousin in Japan, I fell in love with the dishes there, more so the cured fish surimi, otherwise known as Kamaboko.

Have you heard of this food? It is quite popular in Japan, and many people consider it to be a delicacy. It also goes by other names such as fish cakes, and there are many variations of the same. I find that you can eat it as it is or you can use it to complement other meals. Either way, Kamaboko tastes terrific. It is therefore not a surprise that the Japanese use it for celebrations.

On coming back to the US, I was in for quite the change. I came back craving Kamaboko but could not find it in most of the restaurants. And I had messed up by not requesting for the recipe from my cousin. I contacted her, and she sent over the list of ingredients as well as places where I could easily find my new-found delicacy.

I got a few fish cakes from a nearby supermarket and introduced my family to this meal, knowing that I would soon come up with a variation of my own. If you want to get Kamaboko delivered to you, Japan Super is a great place to start, as well as any other online shop dealing with Asian foods.

Kamaboko tastes a lot like crab sticks. For this reason, you are probably way more familiar to the taste than you think. Most sushi restaurants make use of imitation crab meat in their dishes, and the resultant flavor is a lot like Kamaboko.

Whenever people ask me what they should expect from these fish cakes, I tell them that it is almost like stopping by your favorite sushi place and grabbing a bite.

What is Kamaboko?

You should have seen the look on my face when my cousin first suggested that we should try this dish. I mean, I am open to trying new foods now and then but there was something about this name that made me hesitant. But I am glad that I ignored my doubts.

To make Kamaboko, you need surimi. This ingredient is not only useful in making imitation crab, but it also comes in handy when preparing imitation lobster.

Surimi is another word for ground meat. In Japan, this meat goes through many processes before they get the final paste. First, the cook has to mince the flesh before rinsing it and converting it into a paste. Once you have the paste, you can now add other ingredients into the mixture such as salt, vegetable oil, soy protein, egg whites and seasoning to make the surimi.

Through the addition of other components such as sake and fish sauce, you can make flavorful Kamaboko. The result should be a cylindrical white mass, and you can play about with the shapes to get what you like best.

The Preparation

Kamaboko is quite a varied meal as there is a lot you can do with it. For one, you can eat as it is. If you prefer to have it in a more flavorful manner, you could always add a few drops of soy sauce, and this will make it all the difference. However, that is not to say that Kamaboko is a bland meal on its own.

If you wish to add it to a meal, you can slice it up and enjoy it in a variety of dishes such as noodles, soups, and salads. Here’s another preparation trick I have learned over time, one that my family also loves. I take the Kamaboko and fry it alongside some seaweed.

Not only is the result so healthy that doctors must be applauding me from their offices, but it also tastes fantastic. Try this, and you will begin to see why this meal has become so popular over time.

Nutritional Benefits

Now that I have mentioned how you can make this meal healthy, I feel that I should delve into whether you can consider this food good for you and your loved ones. The fascinating thing is that this is not a black and white area as the answer will depend on a few factors. It is no secret that some people like to take shortcuts in business especially when there are lots of profits in waiting.

As a result, the nutritional benefits of the Kamaboko you are consuming will heavily rely on the manufacturer. Some people will use ingredients such as MSG which are not suitable for your health. In such a situation, your doctor would frown upon consuming this meal ever so often.

However, not everyone will risk your health as there are manufacturers out there who will do everything in their power to ensure that you get what’s best for you and your loved ones. The kind of manufacturer that will not only use the best fish they can get but will also ensure that there are no preservatives or additives in play.

That’s my kind of manufacturer and the kind of person that you can entrust with your health. When shopping for Kamaboko, I find that it is best to do your research on the available options to decide on what’s right for you. It is better to pay a hefty price when cashing out instead of taking a chance with what could be in the package.

When you consume high-quality Kamaboko from a trusted source, you will take in loads of protein as well as other nutritional benefits.

The number of proteins you take in will be like what you would get from eggs, and you can thus consider having eaten a huge chunk of your daily protein needs in a go. Also, this food is low in calories and fat, and you do not have to pay much thought to how many hours you need to spend in the gym after a heavy meal.

One health consideration that you need to make when purchasing Kamaboko is how high the sodium levels are as a high intake on the same is risky. Ensure that you carefully read the ingredients before cashing out. When it comes down to whether this meal is healthy or not, it will depend on the brand you choose as well as how you prepare it.

The manufacturer could offer you the best option in the market, and you could head home and do things to it that would take away the nutritional benefits. Hence, some of the responsibility will eventually fall on you.

Fun Facts

Kamaboko is a food that has not only gained popularity in Japan but has also become a favorite meal in other parts of the world. So loved is this food in Japan that there is a museum where you can get more information about it.

Additionally, the Japanese recognize the 16th day of November as the National Kamaboko Day. During this event, people showcase how good they are at making this meal and taking part in the festivities is a sure way of taking your Kamaboko game to the next level.

And this meal is not only present on the National Kamaboko Day, but it also features during other events. When you attend a Japanese celebration, you will find that there will be Kamaboko on the table. People opt to color it in white and red as these as the hues which the Japanese consider to be celebratory. The red is a light one that you can easily mistake for pink.

During the New Year celebrations, it is common to find that people are enjoying this meal. It is not only pleasing to the eyes but the palate as well, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to impress their guests.

The Various Types of Kamaboko

Once you head to the market to get some fish cakes, you will realize that there are a ton of variations, each with its unique features. Here are the most common kinds to help you in this regard:

The Red Kamaboko

This variety also goes by the name steamed fish cake, and it is quite standard. Owing to its versatility, you can use it in lots of dishes including in soups and soba, amongst other meals. Though the name refers to it as red, what you will come across will not be red, but instead, it will be a slight shade of pink.

Some people refer to it as aka Kamaboko, so if someone offers you this, it is the same thing. When making this type of Kamaboko, the manufacturer will steam it on a small wooden board, and this makes all the difference.

The White Kamaboko

Though the red variety is the most common of all Kamabokos that you will find on the market, you can also easily come across the white kind which is a close second. As the name suggests, the entire fish cake is white and undergoes steaming to achieve its consistency.

There are some versions of the same which go through steaming topped with some grilling on the sides to give the cake a golden brown hue. The taste does not differ much; however, some people feel that the latter option tastes much better than the former. I guess it’s all a matter of preference.

Naruto Kamaboko

Most people who eat this fish cake do so due to its attractive appearance. The one thing that you will notice about these cakes is the pink and white swirls that make them look delicious. Additionally, they have flattering ridges that add on to their beauty.

Some people opt to use them as a means to garnish a dish, especially where the meal in play tends to have a bland look. You can use them on anything from sushi all the way to soup with amazing results. If not for the zest, you can always rely on this variety for use in the presentation of meals.

Chikuwa Kamaboko

If you have only seen the above three types of Kamaboko, here is one that will interest you. For one, this variety is not steamed, but rather it is grilled. For this reason, it has a toasty taste and aroma which you will love. Secondly, it is not flat, and it comes in a cylindrical shape with a hollow that allows you to play about with different types of filling.

Most people use it in stews and sauces, but you can try out other ways to enjoy it and see how that goes. The shape is what got me at first before I realized how great it tastes.

Satsuma Age

The variation to this fish cake is that you will not steam it, but instead, you will dip it into hot oil and deep fry it. This method works for people whose doctors are not busy advising them to lay off the carbs and embrace the veggies.

When cooking this, you can opt to have it as it is as it will still taste amazing or you can add vegetables like carrots and seaweed to give it more flavor.

It all depends on what you want out of it. Once it is ready, you can enjoy it as is and it will taste so great especially as a snack. You can also add it to stews and sauces and see how great that tastes. This variation also goes by the name Tempura fish cake.

Hanpen

The variation in this kind comes in due to the use of nagaimo Japanese mountain yam in the mix. Owing to this the fish cake is not only lighter than the standard Kamaboko, but it also feels fluffier. The fluffiness also comes about because people don’t steam the fish cakes, but instead, they boil them.

Now I have let you in on a secret as to how you can make your fish cakes stand out when prepping meals for your loved ones. There are many variations of hanpen on the market, and you will come across many shapes, ranging from squares to triangles all the way to rounds.

Also, the flavor will depend on the ingredients in play as some people will add herbs to change the zest to their liking. With fish cakes, it comes down to what you like in your food.

Konbumaki Kamaboko

If you’re looking for something a little fancier, you should try this variation that will have people inching closer for a bite long before you set the table. To make these Japanese fish cakes, the manufacturer adds a thin layer of kelp to the fish cake paste. In this way, for every cut you make, you end up with a slice that bears the chosen design.

You will notice that this variety costs a little more than the others in the market owing to its swirls. For this reason, you will find that it mainly features on special occasions when people go all out in the meals. However, that is not to say that you cannot surprise your loved ones with this on any day.

Sasa Kamaboko

People in Miyagi perfected a fish cake of their own, and this is what we know and refer to as Sasa Kamaboko. The cakes come in the form of bamboo leaves, and when served alongside some bamboo shoots with some lemons to the side, you will genuinely appreciate the presentation.

To get them right, you need to toast them as this will give them a roasted flavor that is not too heavy on the palate, thus making them delightful. Often, people will enjoy the fish cakes as they are, but you are free to use them in other meals if you wish.

Specialty Kamaboko

Now here is another variation that will have you appreciating this food even more. When it comes to the Konbunmaki, you will notice that there are beautiful swirls on the cakes that make them attractive.

As for the specialty designs, you end up with anything from trees to animals all the way to intricate art that is quite delightful. These fish cakes are thus quite pricey, and you will often find them served in feasts.

Kani Kamaboko

People often refer to this variety as imitation crab owing to its reddish hue on the outside. However, this is a fish cake with crab flavoring, and you can use it the same way you would use imitation crabs such as in sushi or sushi rolls.

You are likely to come across other types of Kamaboko which are similar to the ones above in one way or the other. You could also try making your version to see how it goes. Who knows? Maybe you could uncover a new way to enjoy this dish. Cooking is all about discovering new flavors.

The Best Way to Prepare Japanese Fish Sausage

Here is what you need to know regarding the preparation of this delicacy:

Making Kamaboko

You can prepare Kamaboko in many ways, depending on what flavors you enjoy best. The most common methods are steaming, grilling, frying, broiling, and poaching. To make fish cakes, you need filleted white fish which you will then pound into a paste before mixing some additives such as egg whites, salt, fish sauce, sugar and sake into the mix.

You will notice that all the ingredients mentioned are natural and that would mean that you would not be consuming any artificial preservatives, seasonings or colorings. The color and the texture would be as a result of the interaction of the ingredients, and this makes the meal quiet pure, at least when you make it yourself from scratch.

I decided to make my fish cakes for many reasons.

For one, I figured that it was the easiest way to take control of what I put into my body. Secondly, I like learning new things and making a fish cake was a challenge which I was ready to take on.

Thirdly, I love saving money, and where I can use fewer bucks on something by doing it myself, I will take on the task. This last part also touches on other areas of my life too as I do quite a lot for myself.

Here’s what you need to do to make some great Kamaboko:

For one, you need to get the filleted fish. If you wish, you can get fish with bones and do the deboning yourself. If you choose the latter option, I will advise you to take caution when getting rid of the bones.

It helps to spend a lot of time in this process as it could end up badly if someone were to come across a bone when enjoying the fish cake. I get a filleted fish from the market, and when I get home, I examine it to ensure that the fishmonger did not miss a thing.

With the filleting out of the way, you need to clean the fish before rinsing it. Now, you can move on to grinding it into a paste with whatever tools you have at your disposal before shaping the paste onto wooden boards. At this point, you can set the boards such that you can steam the fish paste before allowing the cakes to cool once you finish.

Now, that’s a general overview of how to get this right.

Ingredients:

  • One pound of white filleted fish
  • Two egg whites
  • A teaspoon of salt
  • A tablespoon of mirin
  • Four tablespoons of corn starch
  • Four tablespoons of sake

Directions:

If you do not have corn starch, arrowroot flour will do just fine. Start by cleaning the fish before cutting it into small pieces. Throw the parts into a food processor and turn it on. Pulse the pieces until they form a smooth paste. At this point, you can now add the other ingredients and turn on the processor again until you end up with a smooth paste.

Get a wood board and using a table knife mold the paste into the board. If you wish to have different colors, you can separate the molds such that one color rests on other hued paste. If you do not have wooden boards, you can opt to use silicone molds for the fish paste. This technique will be easy for a person who has not tried making fish cakes before.

Once the shapes are ready, allow them to sit in room temperature for about half an hour. This time will ensure that they come out with a unique bite that is characteristic of these fish cakes. From here, you can now move on to steaming the cakes for about twenty minutes.

After removing them from the heat, ensure that you transfer them to icy water for a quarter of an hour so that they chill. You can now remove them from the mold before slicing them into the desired sizes and serving them with some wasabi and soy sauce.

If you do not plan on using the Kamaboko immediately, ensure that you store it in the fridge. The same goes for store-bought Kamaboko.

The minute you open the packaging, you should save the remaining fish cakes in the refrigerator up till the expiration date. When doing so, ensure that you do not freeze the cakes as this will adversely affect the taste and the texture. If for some reason you find that the fish cakes are sticky or sour, throw them out as they have turned bad.

This recipe will result in three logs. As such, if you wish to get more fish cakes, you should adjust the ingredients accordingly.

The Right Way to Eat Kamaboko

When enjoying fish cakes, it is essential that you take note of the temperature as well as the thickness of the slices as this will determine how much satisfaction you derive from the meal. If you plan on eating the fish cakes as they are, you should aim for a thickness of twelve millimeters as this will help you take in lots of flavors as well as appreciate the texture.

If you do not plan on eating the fish cakes on their own and would like to pair them with other ingredients while still enjoying the feel, you should go for a thin slice. Take the example of three millimeters. With a cut this thin, you can easily use Kamaboko in the stead of bacon, and you would love the results.

If you are looking to enjoy the flavor while eating the cakes alongside other ingredients, go for a thick cut such as fifteen millimeters. You can then use it in a salad without losing any of the zest.

As for the temperature, you need to keep in mind that the fish cakes contain a lot of proteins. Owing to this, using too much heat on the Kamaboko will not only denature the proteins but it will also lead to the loss of texture, and the resultant cakes will be hard and thus hard to enjoy. For this reason, it is advisable to enjoy the fish cakes at room temperature.

Some people enjoy their food when hot, and if this is the case with you, there is another alternative. Start by heating the fish cake’s exterior at a fast rate before taking it off the heat. As long as the temperature does not get to the core of the fish cake, all will be well.

The next time you see pink fish in ramen, you will know that you are in for quite a treat. Thank you for reading through this Kamaboko recipe, and I sure hope that you learned a lot.

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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