A popular side dish served with sushi, a Japanese Kani Side Salad is so delightfully refreshing, it should not be limited to just a sushi side! Prepared with imitation crab, shredded cabbage, julienned carrots and corn in a creamy and zesty sauce, this salad is wonderfully easy and exceptionally delicious!
Imitation crab is not for everyone – don’t I know it!? Oftentimes, I share my recipes on different social media platforms, and there are some people out there who are all too eager to tell me that imitation crab is crap. I like to think that those people live a life of luxury and can afford the real stuff! To be honest, I always have a package or two of imitation crab in our freezer for when the mood strikes, like it did when this Japanese Kani Side Salad was prepared.
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I have shared a few recipes over the past couple of years that have imitation crab as an ingredient. And, I’ve learned that doing so opens me up for comments that can be quite harsh. People love to hide behind their keyboards and talk smack, don’t they!? Whatever happened to not saying anything at all if you don’t have anything nice to say? Was my generation the last to be taught that behaviour? I’ve developed a thick skin over the years and have learned to ignore, delete and move on.
With that, let’s get back to this salad! A kani salad is a Japanese salad that is most often prepared with imitation crab. Imitation crab is made using white fish that is condensed into sticks or chunks. It is way cheaper than real crab meat. The salad is served in most Japanese restaurants with added ingredients like cabbage, corn, and carrots. Sometimes, the salad is topped with panko, which is a Japanese breadcrumb. Served mild or spicy, this dish is best served cold.
There is nothing wrong with imitation crab. There, I’ve said it! I have been buying imitation crab for almost twenty years. Would I prefer real crab meat? Of course, I would! But, I’m far from rich, and I live nowhere near an ocean. Depending on where you live, crab meat can be very expensive. And, to be honest, imitation crab is quite good!
You might need to try a few brands to find the right imitation crab for you. I’ve tried a few that I didn’t care for too much at all. Sometimes, they can be too salty, and sometimes, they can taste like nothing. I mean that! In the past, I have purchased imitation crab that had absolutely zero flavours. So, before you give up on it, try a few brands first.
My favourite brand, SeaQuest, is luckily the most recognizable and easily found imitation crab. Here in Ontario, it’s available in almost every grocery store. From my experience, flaked imitation crab tastes better than stick imitation crab. If you’re new to imitation crab, start with flaked crab first. It always has a better flavour and texture.
Lord Byron’s Notes
Traditionally, a kani salad is prepared with imitation crab sticks. The sticks can be peeled down into thin strips, much like string cheese! I’m using flaked or chunky imitation crab meat here. It doesn’t give you that stringy look, but I prefer the chunks because they look more like real crab and I like the big chunks of crab in the salad. You can use whatever you prefer.
INGREDIENTS NEEDED FOR THIS RECIPE
The following is a list of the ingredients needed to prepare this recipe. For exact amounts and measurements, refer to the printable recipe card located near the bottom of this post.
- Crab – Actually, it’s imitation crab! I love it and I’m not ashamed to say so!
- Carrots – Peel them and julienne them so that they are like think matchsticks.
- Cabbage – This gives the salad bulk with lots of freshness and crunch. Use your vegetable peeler to get thin, long shredded cabbage.
- Corn – You can use fresh corn that is cooked and cooled, frozen corn that has been blanched in salted water, or canned corn that has been well drained. I think canned corn tastes best in this salad.
- Seasonings – You will need garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and ground black pepper.
- Sesame Seeds – Use toasted seeds for more flavour. I’m using black sesame seeds, but you can use regular tan-coloured seeds too.
- Mayonnaise – You can save some calories by using low-fat mayonnaise here.
- Lemon Juice – Please use freshly squeezed lemon juice. It makes all the difference.
- Parsley – Fresh chopped parsley for colour and freshness.
HOW TO MAKE JAPANESE KANI SIDE SALAD
Transfer the prepared crab, carrots, cabbage, corn, and parsley to a large mixing bowl. Set aside. In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, ground black pepper, and sesame seeds.
Pour the mayonnaise mixture into the mixing bowl with the cabbage and other salad ingredients. Using tongs, toss well to evenly coat.
The salad can be eaten immediately but is best covered and refrigerated for at least two hours. Before serving, toss once more to redistribute the sauce mixture.
A SEAFOOD PARABLE
Crab is one of those things that you might think I had a lot of while growing up. Newfoundlanders have the ocean right at their fingertips, and seafood is readily available. But, my family didn’t eat fish as often as some other Newfoundland families. And, when it came to shellfish of any kind, that wasn’t happening at all! I’m trying to make up for lost time with this Japanese Kani Side Salad.
I remember eating lobster only once as a kid. Friends of my parents had cooked lobsters and invited us to dinner. I think I enjoyed cracking open the shell more than I did eating the meat! Crab was a little different. I remember eating that a few times. Once, my mother even let us cook it in the house! You see, if she didn’t like something, then we didn’t get to have it.
Like lobster and crab, shrimp, mussels, clams, etc., were all foreign. My mother would not cook them, because she didn’t like those types of seafood, so we grew up not having them. Maybe that’s why I don’t care for shellfish in my adult years. I can eat lobster and crab, but I’d have to be near death to eat mussels.
Imitation crab is different though because it’s not shellfish at all. Most imitation crab is made with Alaskan Pollock, and I can eat squid, pollock, cod, tilapia, and halibut until I burst. Salmon is good too, but that’s pretty much my limit when it comes to seafood. I am getting more and more used to shrimp though – although, so far I’ve only shared two shrimp recipes because I’ve only found two ways that I like to eat them! We’ll see how that goes!
HOW TO TOAST SESAME SEEDS
To be perfectly honest, this applies to any nuts or seeds, not just sesame seeds. If you are not familiar with toasted sesame seeds, then please try it just once. You will probably never revert to using untoasted sesame seeds in your cooking or baking again!
I have tried using non-stick frying pans for toasting, but nothing works as well as a stainless steel pan. You could use a cast iron pan, but since they get very hot and retain heat so well, it’s easier to burn the seeds.
See the frying pan in this picture? That’s the exact one that I use all the time. I’m not suggesting you run out and buy this same cookware set, but I wanted you to see the pan – remember, do not use non-stick if possible. You’ll get better results will plain stainless steel.
So, unlike most cooking where you’re required to preheat first, you don’t want to apply that same rule to toasting seeds. Add the seeds to a cold pan. Place the pan on the burner and turn the heat on – no higher than medium and probably even less if using a gas burner.
Keep the seeds moving about. I use a rubber spatula. Once you start to smell that warm and toasty aromatic smell, pay close attention. The seeds will take on a slightly golden colour. Don’t let them get too dark. Once you’re satisfied, immediately remove them from the hot pan and transfer them to a dinner plate where they can be spread out to cool. If you use black sesame seeds as I did, you will have to rely on smell rather than colour change.
STORING AND REFRIGERATION
Although this salad can be served immediately, for optimum flavour, chill the salad first. It’s important to let the salad chill in the fridge for at least two hours. This will allow the ingredients time to hang out and get to know each other! The vegetables and imitation crab meat will marry and all of the flavours will be exchanged and absorbed.
After two hours, the salad is ready to serve. Toss it again before plating just to freshen everything up. The salad does tend to settle a little bit. You can safely store this salad in your fridge for up to three days. Be sure to keep the salad covered at all times.
Do You Like This Recipe?
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Japanese Kani Side Salad
- 454 grams imitation crab meat (if using sticks, pull the sticks into thin strings and if using flake style, loosely break the chunks apart with your hands)
- 2 large carrots, peeled and julienned
- 1/2 large cabbage, shredded
- 1 cup canned corn, drained well
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- Transfer the prepared crab, carrots, cabbage, corn, and parsley to a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
- In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, ground black pepper, and sesame seeds.
- Pour the mayonnaise mixture into the mixing bowl with the cabbage and other salad ingredients. Using tongs, toss well to evenly coat.
- The salad can be eaten immediately but is best covered and refrigerated for at least two hours. Before serving, toss once more to redistribute the sauce mixture.
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