Kanikama: The Best Imitation Crab Sticks Ever!

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

Crab stick, Kanikama, and Surimi all point to the same thing. They are all words that the Japanese use to describe this famous delicacy that will wow you to bits. And the great thing is that you can find it in most stores. As for me, I like making my Kanikama, as I prefer knowing how to make various meals for my family.

Before I get into tricks on how to make Kanikama as well as why people have grown to love this food, I feel that I should first start by letting you know what it is.

What is Kanikama?

Have you had a California Roll? There is no denying that there is something special about these snacks. Well, it all comes down to the Kanikama in play in these dishes. You see, Kanikama is fake crab meat made using surimi.

Surimi is a paste which you can easily make by grinding different species of fish and combining them. Once you mold this paste into sticks, you then have Kanikama in your hands which you can then use in making delicious rolls. Some people also use this method to mimic other kinds of shellfish, but most of the Kanikama you come across will mimic the look of a crab. It is for this reason that this food also goes by the name imitation crab meat.

You can use lots of fish to create Kanikama, and people often use what is available in a given locality. In most cases, you will find that people use the Alaskan Pollock as the main ingredient. This fish is quite common in the North Pacific, and Surimi-makers have for a long time relied on its availability.

The beauty of Surimi lies in its diversity such that you use other fishes alongside the Pollock. The fish used are often white, and the resultant paste is quite pale. In addition to fish, Surimi also requires that you use binding ingredients and this can range anywhere from egg whites to corn starch. It all depends on what you have in your cabinet as this meal is quite flexible.

Once you have all the Kanikama ingredients together, you will notice that the paste is entirely white and thus cannot sell as crab meat. For this reason, people use red coloring in the flesh. Not too much to make it too vibrant and not too little such that it appears pale. A balance in the mix goes a long way in achieving the red hue that is much like what you would see in a crab.

Also, each fish has an individual taste, and you want to make sure that someone eating the fake crab will indeed believe that they are eating crab meat. Here, you can use flavoring to bring out that sought-after crab taste. You can use artificial ingredients for this, or you can use meat from a real crab.

I generally prefer using actual flavoring to reduce the number of chemicals I ingest. It is also much more believable than the former option. So if you’ve been wondering how to get more crab meat on your plate, I just let you in on a fantastic secret.

Someone who has not had Kanikama in the past would easily believe that what they had in front of them was real meat. Try it with a person who is not familiar with crab meat, and they would not be in a position to tell the difference. But that’s not to say that the variations are not visible to those who know.

The one thing that tells you that the meat is imitation is the color. You see, real crab meat has a very light pinkish tone at the top which looks quite natural. As for Kanikama, the strip of color is a bright red that is unlike what you would see in a real crab.

If you cannot tell the difference by the color, which I highly doubt is possible; you can try your luck with the meat texture. Real crab meat has ridges in it as you would find in meats, but that is not the case with Kanikama. Given that this meat comes from groundfish, it is not possible for it to have furrows and this is another giveaway that the meat does not belong to a crab.

Now, here is an impressive thing that has made this dish famous over the years. The flavor of Kanikama and that of crab meat is quite similar that you might not tell the difference, especially where one uses crab meat in the flavoring. If someone were to blindfold you and feed you the two, you would not be the first person to think that you were eating the same thing.

Kanikama has a mild taste that boasts of sweet flavors and is very close in taste to crab meat. Additionally, it does not have as much fat as crab meat, and this makes it ideal for people who are trying to reduce the amount of cholesterol in their body.

People who have not had sushi in the past find it quite hard to tell the difference between Surimi and crab. For this reason, people find it easy to use imitation crab meat when making Kanikama sushi rolls. I too do this as I find it easy to forego the extra expense of getting real crab and it helps reduce the cholesterol levels in my household.

Kanikama is excellent on so many ends.

From being less expensive than crab meat to having a taste similar to what you would get in a fancy restaurant, it is easy to see why many people have taken to this dish. But it is not all rosy when it comes to eating Surimi.

You see, you can’t tell what someone used as the binding ingredient and when eating the Kanikama, there will be a nagging feeling of what chemicals are in play. It’s not like eating sushi which you know is as pure as it comes. Eating surimi means that you are putting your trust in someone that they used what is right.

I know that there is no way that you can stay completely safe when it comes to food matters. Sometimes, you will eat out as you can’t always make your food. But where you can, it helps to make your Kanikama as I will show you in a few simple steps.

What you need to know about Kanikama

However, before we get into the cooking process, let’s take a look at some fun facts about Kanikama.

To start with, I did mention that it goes by many names. You may know it as Kanikama, but someone out there calls it seafood sticks, or Kani Boko or Surimi or some other word that you’ve not come across. The good thing is that once you know all that I talked about above regarding color and furrows, you can tell that it’s the same thing.

Where did it originate?

Many people wonder why someone would grind up fish then color it to pass it off as crab. This practice did not start that long ago, and it is all thanks to a Japanese company that came up with the concept back in 1973.

Another company, Osaki Suisan, realized how profitable the venture was and they soon jumped into the scene, going ahead to patent the dish in 1974. In two years, they were in full production, and they sold their products across the globe under different names. Now, Ocean Sticks, Krab Sticks, Sea Legs and all other such products come from this company.

What’s in Kanikama?

I earlier stated that the main ingredient in this meal is the Alaska Pollock. From here, you can add other types of fish as long as they are white. In addition to these components, you will need sugar, eggs, salt, and flavoring.

Once you pulverize the white fish, the result is not all that appealing regarding appearance, and that is why you need the red coloring. Apply some of it to the exterior and people will be reaching out for more crab sticks in no time. You can use crab extract to get the most out of the meal.

How can you use Kanikama?

You can eat the Surimi as it is or you can enjoy it alongside other meals. Given that it has a very satisfying flavor, there are lots of options for you, both for dinner and snacks. You can try stewed crab sticks, crabsticks cabbage wraps and dumplings with the crab stick sauce.

You will enjoy how the flavor plays out with the different meals.

With all the ingredients in play in this dish, it has a lot of nutrients which will do your body a whole lot of good. It comprises minerals, vitamins, and proteins which go a long way in safeguarding your health. On top of all of these, Kanikama also has low levels of fat which makes it ideal for anyone trying to shed off some extra pounds.

You get to have all these benefits without sinking deep into your pocket as you would have done if you were to get crab meat. For those times when you are in need of a cheap and healthy alternative to crab meat, this is the way to go.

How do people make this dish?

It is pretty easy to make this meal. Once you choose the fish you find best for the sticks, you will start by getting rid of the skin. You then get rid of any bones in the fish and where possible, it is best to get fish that has already gone through these processes. Where you cannot, or you prefer doing so yourself, ensure that you get rid of any bones present in the meat as they could end up pricking or chocking the people who eat the sticks.

Next, we all know that fish has that smell that some people cannot stand. It is essential to reduce the intensity of this scent by running cold water over the fish severally until the odor diminishes. This step will also aid in getting rid of any remaining skin on the fish.

From here, you will proceed to grind the fish until you get a smooth paste with which you can work. At this point, add some flavor concentrate, depending on what you like best before cooking the paste to the required doneness. You can then proceed to cut the fish into different shapes, depending on what you wish to achieve. At this point, the fish will still be white, and you need to color the outside so that it can resemble a crab.

Once you make the Kanikama roll, you have many options available to you. If you do not plan on using it soon, you can store it in an airtight container which you can keep in the fridge for at least two months without going bad. If you keep it in the freezer, it should be good for up to six months. However, once you open the jar, you need to consume it within three days, lest you run the risk of getting food poisoning.

If you are not up to making the dish at home, you could always get some from the store. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions as to how to store the sticks. While at it, ensure that you get the meat from a reputable source to limit the number of chemicals that you consume.

Have fun eating the sticks in soups, Kanikama salads as well as many other dishes you can serve at home. If you’re ever in Japan, you can drop by many restaurants that serve really good Kanikama that will have you licking your fingers with every bite. But instead of waiting that long to enjoy some good fish, read on to see how you can cook delicious crab sticks from the comfort of your home.

The best recipe to prepare Kanikama

Now that you have your crab sticks, home-made or store-bought, we can explore the different ways in which you can prepare them. If you’re not in the mood for a lot of preparations, you could always eat them as they are and no harm would come to you. However, if you wish to explore other flavors, your best bet lies in cooking the sticks.

Sautéing

The best thing about sautéing is that you can play about with the ingredients to see what results in what you like the most. And the sticks also taste amazing once they are ready.

For this method to work, you will need the following ingredients:

  • An egg
  • Breadcrumbs
  • A pan
  • Garlic
  • Mayonnaise
  • Diced celery
  • Lemon mustard
  • Quarter a kilo of imitation crab

Kindly note that you can adjust the ingredients based on how many crab sticks you wish to cook. That’s why I did not emphasize on the amounts too much. Plus, you can use as much or as little of the listed ingredients as you wish as it is all about working with your preferences.

Directions

I rarely start my instructions by saying this because I assume that many people do it anyway, but I ask that you start by cleaning your hands. Meat is very sensitive, and you could quickly end up giving people food poisoning if you were to mishandle it. For most dishes where you do not end up using your hands, you could comfortably get away with using your hands as they were. Please note that I am not advocating for you not to clean your hands in other meals.

Once you dry your hands, you can now start working on the ingredients. In a medium bowl, combine the components and ensure that you evenly mix them. Next, squeeze some lemon juice over the mixture. From here, start working on the combination and divide it into sections with which you can efficiently work. Shape the different parts into rectangles and place them in the fridge for a while where they can take shape.

Place the pan on the stove and turn the heat to a medium. Ensure that there is some oil on the pan to make sure that sticking does not take place. Take out the shapes from the fridge and place them on the pan. Do not increase the heat and allow them to cook until they are brown on both sides evenly.

At this point, you can add other ingredients such as pepper, onions and whatever else you feel will make the meal delicious. You can now remove the meat from the stove and serve it while still hot.

Other than sautéing the crab sticks, you can also steam, bake or fry them; based on what you think would work best for you. I have tried all four methods and have stuck to the one above. However, that is not to say that you would not like what the sticks would taste like if you used other options available. I hope you enjoyed this Kanikama recipe. Thank you!

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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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