West Eats East
Imitation Crab Meat
Imitation crab meat looks like crab meat, tastes like crab meat, and splits like King Crab meat. Not cloned or artificially engineered, it is made from fish flesh with crab flavor and color, often from the Crustacean-like krill caught in the Antarctic Sea. A term of “imitation” may be a little bit distracting, while “crab meat” enlightens an image of King Crab. King Crabs are that ones seen in the “Deadliest Catch” with a bunch of captains and crews in characters on the Discovery Channel. At Costco, the boiled ones are sold at $17-19 per pound. An edible portion may be 50-60% of the weight sold. It is expensive but delicious. Imitation crab meat would bring that kind of image and hopefully taste, but conveniently at a lower price. Nowadays it is accepted as seafood. Again it is not artificially engineered but originated from the Japanese traditional surimi labeled as fish paste in our market seafood. Seafood has been consumed raw like sashimi or sushi, fried like fish and chips, grilled, sauted or steamed. Imitation crab meat may add a new venue to eat fish in a different form and taste, as well as other surimi foods. Primarily they are made for preserving fresh fish which deteriorates promptly after harvest at the time when refrigeration was not available. Let’s see surimi and imitation crab meat for our new application.
Surimi is easy to be understood by thinking about a salmon burger patty. Surimi uses mostly white flesh fish like pollock or cod but not so-called “blue fish” like sardines, mackerel, tuna or bonito. Such fish is cleaned and de-boned, and then mashed with binders of starchy materials or egg white into a paste form. Salt and other flavorings are added here. Then it is formed in respective shapes, which is either direct-heated over hot charcoal, boiled, steamed or fried, which are labeled as fish cake in translation. Each product has its own name depending on fish, formula and localities. Many surimi products are sold in Japanese grocery stores in our market. By the way, surimi is nothing new to us. The term of “surimi” appeared at our market in the late 60s to early 70s, but disappeared probably because it was premature to consume this type of seafood at that time.
“Chikuwa,” “Kamaboko,” and “Hanpen” are among the conventional fish cake products that Japanese people love to eat as is with hot mustard or chopped ginger with a drip of soy sauce, in soup noodle dishes, in cooked vegetable dishes and many more. Those seafood are sold in their own corner or shelf at J-food stores in big cities. Traditionally and locally each has its own usage or recipe in daily eating. They are regulars in J-eating for adding an extra animal protein to ordinary, vegetable dishes. FYI, it goes well with sake, hot and cold. Japanese are even creative enough to make fish sausage out of such fish cake with meaty color-flavor. It smells meaty but not fishy.
Imitation crab meat was developed from surimi. With a special technology, they developed surimi to line up for splitting like crab meat with a texture like Mozzarella cheese or snack string cheese. It is an innovative product to be able to get into western style eating from the traditional surimi market. What is the best contributor to promote imitation crab meat, do you know? Yes, you are right, “California Roll” sushi. Though not specified who invented this great sushi, imitation crab meat is located in the center of the sushi, next to an avocado piece. There was not such a sushi in Japan, believe or not. Some authentic culinary J-professionals still say that is not a sushi and you cannot eat it easily in Japan. It could be served only at too Americanized sushi places or family sushi restaurants in Japan. Do not order a California Roll at a fancy sushi restaurant in Japan and also here. Can you believe that? Imitation crab meat is now well spread by such a creation here in our market.
In addition, imitation crab meat is used in seafood salad, tempura, Chinese stir fry, and many other dishes, most of them not seen in Japan. Seafood ceviche, I have seen in a Mexican supermarket flier. It must be good particularly with a little bit of tiny shrimp and jalapeno chunks, fresh or pickled. Imitation crab meat will have a rosy future in retail markets if its taste gets widely recognized. In culinary it has also a good prospect: how about crab cake with imitation crab meat? It can be made at a kitchen or specialty food processing plant. In addition, a fish patty can be made with fish surimi for burgers or sandwiches just like a salmon patty. Anything is possible here but it may take a while to get used to something new or odd. Try to make something creative with surimi products or imitation crab meat in your kitchen.