What is surimi? Surimi is derived from a dozen or so fish species that have had their flesh filleted,
ground into a fine paste, and then processed with sugar, starch and other proteins to form a
rubbery tasteless dough of protein substitute. Sounds appetizing don’t it? In its simplest form, it
produces kamaboko, that half-moon slice with the pink outer edge that sits in our steaming
bowl of ramen or garnishes our bento. In fancier forms, it’s meant to substitute for crab and
lobster in your prized recipes at one-half to one-third the price while fooling your diners. Right.
Whereas even the most diehard Coke or Pepsi drinkers may not be able to determine which is
which in a blind tasting, I think most people can determine which one is crab, lobster and
surimi in a blind tasting.

Sounds Fishy to Me

Nutritionally speaking, surimi is almost like the real McCoy. It’s mainly protein with a tiny bit
of carbohydrate (from the added starch for texture) and very little fat. Since the fish species
used to produce surimi tend to be lower in fat, surimi likewise is lower in total and saturated fat
and cholesterol than say, fattier fish like salmon and tuna. The main drawback to surimi is its
salt content. Because surimi is supposed to mimic crab, lobster or scallops, additional flavor
additives are used that can raise sodium as much as 800mg per serving. In comparison, fresh fish
usually doesn’t exceed 100mg per serving. Therefore, if you do suffer from high blood pressure
or congestive heart failure, you probably don’t want to substitute surimi based products for the
real McCoy.

Use it for “Face” Value

Okay, I know it doesn’t really have face (it did look like a fish at some point) but my point is to
use surimi as you would use any other mild flavored seafood. If you decide to substitute lobster
flavored surimi in your Lobster Newburg, your guests will know that’s not real lobster
swimming in the sherry cream sauce or if you use crab flavored surimi  in your cioppino, your
diners will know that you didn’t shell their crab for them. However, if you add shredded or
chunks of surimi to your etoufee, gumbo, chowder or curry along with other assorted seafood,
it will give your final dish that lagniappe or little extra umph. Surimi has that nice silky texture
like perfectly cooked scallops yet doesn’t have a pronounced fishy taste that may clash with
other ingredients. I think of it as the fish based tofu – nice silky texture without much flavor on
its own yet blends perfectly with whatever sauces it’s sitting in.

“Stretch” Your Real Crab

I realize that I just said that diners do know the difference between real crab and crab flavored
surimi. However by combining flaked and chopped crab flavored surimi with real crab can help
to “stretch’ your real crab. The trick is to add surimi to the appropriate dish. DON’T simply
insert whole surimi into crab shells for your prized roasted Dungeness crab. That little red dye
strip on the surimi won’t fool anyone (and Dungeness crab doesn’t even have any red in its
flesh). I’m talking about adding flaked and minced surimi to your crab dip that also has some
real crab in it. Between the mayonnaise and melted cheese, your guests will be none the wiser.
Just make sure you don’t substitute surimi more than 50% of the real McCoy. The same
approach can be used for chowders and bisques or any dish that can conceal the identity of the
surimi. You can even employ this approach with crab cakes – just make the cakes bite sized so
diners won’t need to cut into a cake… and see the surimi.

Let Surimi be itself

Instead of simply throwing kamaboko slices into your steaming bowl of ramen, how about
peeling apart those imitation crab leg variety of surimi. It does take a little longer than simply
slicing those half-moons of kamaboko but the complementary texture of long, silky strands of
imitation crab mingled with al dente ramen noodles is more than worth the extra effort. The
same can be done with your favorite somen salad. Again, instead of simply slicing kamaboko
strips, toss the peeled “crab leg” surimi with the somen, then add the rest of your favorite
accoutrements and dressing for a kicked up somen salad. Finally, add those same peeled strips to
any soup for surimi “noodles” whether it’s your favorite ozoni, miso soup or osumashi.

The Gochiso’s Surimi & Broccoli Pasta Salad

4 broccoli crowns
3 large ripe but firm tomatoes
1 lb imitation crab flavored surimi
1 & ½ cups bite sized pasta

1 to 1 & ½ cups canola oil mayonnaise
2 tbsp brown mustard
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. Use elbow macaroni, raddiatore, bow ties or some
other pasta shape that’s bite sized. Drain and cool pasta. Trim broccoli to bite sized pieces and
steam for 3 to 4 minutes. Cool broccoli then mix with pasta. Chop tomatoes to large bite sized
pieces and mix with broccoli mixture. Cut surimi to bite sized pieces – don’t flake the surimi,
cut it or leave it in chunks and mix with broccoli mixture.
In a separate bowl, mix mayonnaise, mustard, honey, sesame oil and salt/pepper. Pour over
broccoli mixture and toss until it’s evenly coated. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.
The Many Faces of Surimi