If you want to splurge on real crab for a soup, salad or sushi, there’s nothing stopping you. Apart from, that is, a price tag that can easily top $40 per pound, and the skills and special tools you might need to extract the meat from whole crustaceans.
Imitation crab has never been on the inside of a shell, but it is at least real seafood, with the nutritional benefits this implies, and is cheap enough to eat every day if you feel like it. With a flavor very similar to real crab meat, and a variety of dishes in which it can be used, you just might.
Where Imitation Crab Comes From
Real crabs are difficult to harvest and prepare for eating, while white fish can be industrially caught or farmed. Imitation crab meat is extruded from minced white fish mixed with starch and other additives, including flavorings which may either be artificial or derived from crabs. In terms of presentation, texture and taste, imitation crab meat is of sufficiently good quality that few restaurants, including sushi places, serve anything else unless a whole crab is ordered. Still, be aware that quality does vary significantly between different manufacturers – you will usually get what you pay for.
Imitation crab meat comes in a variety of shapes, including crab legs, other types of seafood, bars or the familiar round sticks. When buying, keep in mind that the latter is actually composed of a thin sheet of meat rolled into a tube. This often comes apart during cooking, which may not allow the presentation you had in mind. On the other hand, you can easily shred them to resemble noodles, or in tiny pieces to distribute around a salad or soup.
Ways to Prepare It
Most imitation crab can be eaten without being cooked; consult the packaging.
Get a pan sizzling hot and add sliced vegetables: carrots, celery, garlic, ginger, bok choy, onions and bell peppers never disappoint. Fry the veggies using high heat and frequent motion, and stop while they are still crisp. If desired, adding stock, white wine and a glug of soy or oyster sauce releases the flavor stuck to the pan while contributing a sauce. Simply stir your crab pieces in to warm through.
Crab Hors d’Ouevres
Heat a good quantity of salted butter in a frying pan and add roughly chopped garlic; lightly fry without burning either until you can thoroughly smell the aroma. Add crab meat shapes and fresh parsley and stir gently until cooked, and spoon the mixture over toasted slices of crusty bread.
Any carbonara recipe will work; just add crab sticks sliced to the thickness of your pasta for a visual and textural treat.
While these are all good way to prepare imitation crab, the only limitation is your imagination. Mixed seafood soup, crab mousse, salads and sandwiches are all places to start.