Kani Salad (カニカマ サラダ)
Kani Salad is a delicious Japanese seafood salad loaded with contrasting textures, tastes, and colors. Although it's known as Kani Salad in the West, the imitation crab meat used to make the dish is called kanikama in Japanese, so in Japan, the dish is known as Kanikama Sarada (カニカマ サラダ).
Kani means "crab" in Japanese, and kama is short for kamaboko, a traditional Japanese fishcake. Despite having "crab" in the name, kanikama is made from white fish such as pollock or cod. There's some debate over who invented it, but it was created in the mid-1970s as a new style of kamaboko that has a similar taste and texture to crab meat. Combining these crab sticks with mayonnaise to make a salad has been around since the early days of kanikama, and both imitation crab and Kani Salad have since become popular around the world.
In my Kani Salad recipe, I use a combination of crunchy vegetables and slippery glass noodles to create a contrast of tastes and textures, while the creamy mayonnaise in the dressing is balanced out with a refreshing hit of tangy lemon juice and zest.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Salting the vegetables to coax out their water is a technique called shiomomi (literally "rubbed with salt") in Japanese. It removes excess water from the vegetables, which keeps the salad from getting soggy. It also gives the vegetables a nice crunch that makes them similar to pickles.
- Glass noodles add another layer of texture to the salad while bulking it up.
- A combination of Japanese mayonnaise and lemon zest/juice creates a creamy yet refreshing Kani Salad Dressing.
Ingredients for Kani Salad
- Crab sticks - Crab sticks or kanikama are a type of imitation crab made with surimi (fish paste) seasoned and shaped into textured sticks that resemble crab meat.
- Cucumber - Sliced cucumbers contribute a nice crunchy texture to the Kani Salad once salted and squeezed. I recommend using a thin-skinned, seedless variety of cucumbers such as Japanese, Lebanese, or Persian. English or hothouse cucumbers will also work, but you will want to scoop out the seed portion with a spoon before slicing them.
- Carrot - Julienned carrots add a nice crunchy texture and natural sweetness to the salad.
- Glass noodles - Glass noodles, also known as cellophane noodles, bean thread noodles, and harusame, are transparent noodles made from starch. They have a nice slick texture and provide volume for this salad. Boiled shirataki noodles are a low-calorie alternative that can be substituted.
- Black sesame seeds - Toasted black sesame seeds add visual contrast to the salad and a nutty flavor and poppy texture. You can also use toasted white sesame seeds, but they won't have the same color contrast.
- Scallions - Chopped scallions give the Kani Salad a mild onion flavor that's a nice complement to the savory crab sticks. I also like keeping a little of it on the side to sprinkle on top as a garnish.
- Mayonnaise - Although any kind of mayonnaise will work in a pinch, I highly recommend using Japanese mayonnaise such as Kewpie. It has a taste that's more tart and umami-rich than American mayo, making it well suited for this salad.
- Lemon - Adding some lemon zest and lemon juice balances out the creaminess of the mayonnaise, which keeps the salad from becoming too heavy. The lemon zest also gives the Kani Salad a fresh taste that smoothes over any fishiness from the crab sticks. You could also use rice vinegar if you don't have a lemon around.
How to Make Kani Salad
The first thing you want to do is toss the sliced cucumber and julienned carrots with the salt to help draw out their excess water. This keeps the salad from getting soggy when you combine it with the dressing while giving the veggies a nice crunchy texture. Let these sweat while you prepare the other ingredients. Once the vegetables have started to become limp, you can speed things up by massaging them with your hand until the cucumbers have turned translucent. Gather up the veggies with both hands and squeeze as much water out of them as you can.
Then you want to rehydrate and cook the glass noodles by soaking them in a bowl of boiling water. How long it takes depends on how thick your noodles are, but mine took about 7 minutes until they were tender. Once they're cooked, you can drain and rinse them with cold water. Be sure to squeeze out any excess water with your hands before adding them to the Kani Salad.
For the crab sticks, you want to shred them into thin strips by hand. This takes a bit of time, but the fastest way I've found to do this is to roll the sticks between your hands, applying a moderate amount of pressure. This causes the sticks to fall apart, and you can shred them the rest of the way with your fingers.
Add the shredded crab sticks, squeeze vegetables, cooked glass noodles, black sesame seeds, scallions, and mayonnaise to a bowl. Zest half a lemon over the salad using a Microplane, and then cut the lemon in half and squeeze some of the juice over the salad. How much lemon juice you add is a matter of personal preference, but I usually add about two teaspoons.
Toss everything together to distribute the ingredients evenly. I like to serve my Kani Salad on a bed of lettuce leaves garnished with some extra chopped scallions.
Variations on Kani Salad
There's a lot of room to improvise in this recipe, and you can substitute in other veggies such as julienned daikon radish or corn kernels. I also like to make a Spicy Kani Salad by adding some sriracha or black pepper to the dressing. You can also add pineapple or mango for a little extra sweetness or some fish roe such as tobiko for a nice poppy texture.
Other Side Salad Recipes
Kani salad is a Japanese crab salad made of imitation crab and vegetables such as carrots and cucumbers. It's a popular side dish at sushi restaurants outside of Japan and a popular home-cooked dish within Japan, but it's not something you'll find on the menu at restaurants there.
Kani salad usually appears on menus at modern sushi restaurants in the US. However, it's an easy dish to make at home, so give this Kani Salad recipe a try the next time you're craving it.
Yes, real crab meat will work fine. If it's been frozen once, you'll want to lightly squeeze it to get rid of any excess water, so it doesn't make the salad soggy.
Various salads, made using crab sticks and mayonnaise, have existed in Japan since kanikama was invented there. However, these are modern home-cooked dishes and are rarely found in restaurants in Japan. One notable exception is at low-cost kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurants, which sometimes serve a mixture of shredded crab sticks and mayonnaise in gunkan maki.
The Japanese name for Kani Salad is kanikama sarada, and it's pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts).
ka like copy
ni like knee
ka like copy
ma like mall
sa like socks
ra like the “ra” sound does not exist in the English language, and the best way to make it is to say the word "romp" with the tip of your tongue at the front of your mouth.
da like dot
- 100 grams cucumbers (1 small cucumber, thinly sliced)
- 80 grams carrots (julienned)
- ¼ teaspoons salt
- 20 grams glass noodles
- 140 grams crab sticks
- 2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
- 10 grams scallions (1 scallion, chopped)
- ¼ cup Japanese mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- lemon zest
- Put the sliced cucumbers and carrots in a bowl and toss them with the salt. Set these aside to sweat.
- Break the glass noodles into 3-inch long pieces and add them to a heat-safe bowl. Pour boiling water over them until the noodles are completely covered. Let these cook and rehydrate for 7 minutes.
- Shred the crab sticks by rolling them between your hands and then pulling the strands of crab stick apart.
- When the glass noodles are rehydrated, drain and rinse them with cold water. Squeeze out any excess water with your hands, and add them to the shredded crab sticks.
- Once the cucumbers and carrots are starting to get limp, massage them with your hand to coax out more water, and then gather the vegetables up with your hands and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Add these to the bowl with the other ingredients.
- To dress the Kani Salad, add the black sesame seeds, scallions, and mayonnaise to the bowl, and then use a Microplane to zest half a lemon into the salad. Next, cut the lemon in half and squeeze some juice into the salad (I used about 2 teaspoons).
- Toss the ingredients together and serve your Kani Salad on a bed of lettuce.