Imitation crab — also known as “krab”, “kay-rab”, “fake crab” and “krab sticks” — is a mixture of fish (usually Alaska pollock) and starch that has been shaped and coloured to resemble the leg of a crab. It’s basically the lunchmeat of the sea, and it can be surprisingly tasty. (I used to eat it straight from the package, as I did with all lunchmeat, and I regret nothing.)
Does it taste exactly like real crab? No, it does not. But it comes close and, in some cases, the lack of true, nuanced crab flavour is almost an advantage. Though I love a good crab dip, it always feels a little shameful to cover up the delicate flavour of my favourite (expensive) sea bug with cream cheese, mayonnaise, or whatever kind of creamy substrate the recipe calls for.
Even the cheapest, canned “real” crab is going to cost you more than a larger amount of krab.
For a cold krab dip, combine 115g of cream cheese and 1/4 cup sour cream in a food processor and blend until smooth.
Add the juice of half a lemon, a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste, and any other seasonings you like. Old Bay, wasabi powder, hot sauce, horseradish and garlic powder are all pretty tasty, but I particularly enjoy garlic salt.
Process once more to combine, then gently fold in 230g of chopped imitation crab. Top with chives and serve with crackers, crudités or sliced bread.
For a hot dip, I like this simple recipe from Allrecipes, which combines cream cheese, mayo and cheddar for a bubbling, dippable delicacy. This recipe calls for real crab, but I usually use the fake stuff, as smothering actual crab with half a kilo of cream cheese seems low-key criminal. Fake crab provides that salty, umami-packed seafood note just fine.
If you are over 30 and grew up in the West, it’s quite possible your introduction to sushi was a California roll made with imitation crab. Fish wrapped in rice is good, even if it’s fish pretending to be crab. California rolls make a quick, cheap, protein-packed lunch and dinner.
Just make some sushi rice (Alton Brown can show you how here), and let it cool to room temperature.
Cover a sushi rolling mat with plastic wrap, and spread 3/4 cup of rice out to form a large square.
Line the rice with nori, then arrange small pieces of krab, cucumber and avocado about 4cm from the bottom of the nori.
Roll the whole thing up tight, cut it into eight pieces, and serve with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.
Krab Fried Rice
Fried rice is perhaps the highest calling for leftover rice (or leftover anything, really), and sweet surimi is the perfect foil for the salty, crispy grains. Any fried rice recipe will work, but the above Bokkeumbap (Korean fried rice) from Maangchi is particularly flavorful and wonderful, as is her more streamlined kimchi fried rice.
I also enjoy fake crab in a what I like to call “Subway style” seafood sandwich. Just mix it with a little mayo and a little garlic salt, and enjoy it on a soft sandwich roll. It is, after all, the lunchmeat of the sea.