Ingredient Introduction #42 – Imitation Crab

I’ve had a breakthrough.

And it’s all due to persuasion.

When I was a kid, my step-sister and I would scour the grocery store for samples as my mom and step-dad did their shopping. Back then businesses weren’t scared of getting sued for accidentally giving a peanut-butter cookie to a kid with a peanut allergy, so they’d give us just about anything we wanted.

During one trip, we passed the seafood section, noses pinched, and noticed a tray of cups filled with a stick of krab. That’s not a typo.

I loved crab back then as much as I do now, so I grabbed a cup, popped it into my mouth and savored what I thought would be a light, buttery, slightly sweet pillow of meat. At that point, I figured out that they meant to spell krab with a “k.” This was imitation crab. Was it as bad as I’m making it sound? Probably not. But it wasn’t like the real thing.

Ever since that underwhelming under-the-sea experience, I’ve avoided imitation crab, with the exception of sushi. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that sushi chefs likely used colored krab. I mean, the colors of the imitation crab are kind of cartoonish in comparison to the real deal. Sponge Bob would be proud. I think I forgive sushi krab because it’s just one component in the roll.

Well, it’s redemption time.

For our pre-Christmas celebration, my friend Andrea and I were at the grocery store trying to figure out what we should eat for dinner. She knows that I like to make a fuss and re-invent the wheel whether I’m making cheese and crackers or a lasagna. To keep me from socializing with the stove and not her, she suggested an easy appetizer-like spread.

She took me to the seafood counter. While I gazed at the shrimp, mussels, and $20 cans of lump crab meat, she picked up a package of imitation crab. I think I blacked out for a second. This was worse than the time she suggested that I buy one of those tubs of already diced onions.

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I looked at her as though she sprouted a Siamese twin on the spot, but she assured me that the $4 package was the way to go. I took a deep breath and went for it, especially after we decided to use it in a dip. Surely I could mask it with mayo and green onions, RIGHT?

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When it was time to start getting dinner ready, I grabbed the package of faux crab and stared at it in a way that the Gabors would look at cubic-zirconia. It didn’t help that inside the package of “crab flakes” was a gelatinous unit of rubber-looking make-believe food. It looked like something you’d find in the drawer of a Fisher-Price refrigerator.

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Andrea instructed me to pull off a piece and taste it. I did. And you know what? It was good, and very crab-like.

The fact of the matter is this: It’s actual fish. That took me a while to accept. For so long I assumed it was some chemical concoction of crap. But, I read the ingredients and the first one on the list (which means it makes up most of the product) was Alaskan Pollock. That’s the stuff commonly used in fast-food fish. It’s a species of the cod family.

Alaskan Pollock is one of several fish used to make surimi, which means “ground meat” in Japanese. Surimi is basically a paste which is then mixed with several ingredients, including crab flavoring (natural or artificial), to make the imitation crab meat or a crab stick. Its slightly rubbery consistency helps it hold up well in sushi making.

Knowing that it’s actual fish, and that it tastes pretty good, I was hooked. So, it became the star of my crab dip!

Here’s what you need:

1 package of imitation crab flakes
2 green onions, sliced (green part included)
1 lemon
2 avocados, peeled and cut into chunks
¼ cup mayo
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp. capers, drained
Ground cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper

In a big bowl, flake the crab. I know it’s called “crab flakes,” but you have to break apart the unit of crab. At that point, it actually resembles the real stuff.

Add the zest, juice, and green onions.

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Then add the avocados, mayo, capers, and grate in a clove of garlic.

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Add cayenne to taste, then sprinkle in a good amount of salt and a little bit of pepper.

Stir to combine. Serve with crackers.

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The dip is creamy, sweet, and bright. I love the zing from the lemon and the green onion. The capers are like little gems that add a bit of brine to the bite.

You can definitely taste, and see, the imitation crab.

By using avocado, you add texture, and cut back on the need for a lot of mayo. The avocado is creamy all on its own.

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Andrea suggested that we double the crab and use only one avocado next time. I think that’s a good suggestion, but my partner in cuisine crime and I loved the good amount of avocado.

Andrea also suggested topping each crab-crammed cracker with a dollop of my homemade cocktail sauce.

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Brilliant idea! The spiciness and quintessential cocktail sauce flavor really added to the seafood flare you get from the dip!

I’m a believer… now.

I wouldn’t serve imitation crab with cups of hot garlic butter for dipping. I think it’s best as an ingredient. It needs supporting flavors and textures to bring out its star power. I can definitely see it in a lemon-garlic pasta or in a filling for ravioli.

For the price and convenience (no shells to crack), it definitely floats my boat.

Tip: Make your own cocktail sauce. Don’t just combine ketchup and horseradish. I hardly ever have a use for horseradish, so I use Sriracha instead. That’s a Thai chili paste. It’s red, too. But don’t just use ketchup and Sriracha. To really bring the sauce to life, you need to add lemon zest and juice, as well as some grated garlic. Old Bay seasoning is a great addition to the mix, too. You can even add a drop or two of Worcestershire.

Here’s my recipe:
1/2c Cup ketchup
1 Tbsp. Sriracha
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 cloves garlic, grated
Pinch of salt
Fresh cracked pepper
Few dashes of Worcestershire sauce

Whisk till smooth.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mike, Mike, Mike you’ve done it again. After I got through chuckling over some of your comments (Fisher Price) then I was drooling over my keyboard. By the way, so unfair you post this when I’m chained to my desk at work and can’t go get some krab of my own! Keep Cooking! ML

    1. Thank you!!! I’m glad I made you laugh… And drool 😉

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