Imitation crab, also known as crab sticks, surimi, or seafood sticks, is a type of processed seafood made from a combination of fish paste – commonly derived from white fish like pollock or hake – and other ingredients, such as starch, sugar, and egg whites. Created with the intention of mimicking the flavor and texture of genuine crab meat, it is widely used as a cheaper alternative to the real thing in various dishes, especially sushi, salads, and seafood-based products.
Though its imitation status may deter some, it is an easily accessible, affordable, and versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into numerous dishes. Due to its mildly sweet, delicate flavor, imitation crab works well in a wide range of recipes, including California rolls, seafood salads, and crab cakes. It comes pre-cooked and usually requires minimal preparation, making it a convenient option for quick meals and appetizers at home.
Imitation crab, despite its name, is a versatile and valuable product that actually has no crab in it. Its main component is fish paste (usually from white fish) that is tweaked with other ingredients to make it act and somewhat taste like real crab meat. Its texture sets it apart from other seafood, adding great variety to your meals. However, when cooking with this ingredient, consider its mild flavor and choose accompanying ingredients that won't overpower it.
Also be careful not to overcook it. High heat for an extended period can make it tough and leathery. And while imitation crab might not offer the same health benefits as real crab, it still has its nutritional advantages.
One unknown trick with imitation crab is to add it at the end of your cooking process. Since it's pre-cooked, you just need to warm it up within your dish. This product is specifically made to be prepared with minimum fuss, so take advantage of its convenience.
Another good tip is to shred it and mix it with other ingredients for a seafood salad or a filling for sandwiches and wraps.
Can I freeze imitation crab?
Can I grill imitation crab?
What can I make with imitation crab?
Can I cook imitation crab?
Why does my imitation crab get mushy when I cook it?
Is imitation crab healthy?
Can I eat imitation crab raw?
Can I use imitation crab in sushi?
Does imitation crab taste like real crab?
Can I use imitation crab in place of real crab?
Expiration & Storage Tips
When does imitation crab expire?
Unopened, imitation crab usually remains fresh for about two months if stored in the refrigerator. Once opened, it should be used within three days to ensure maximum freshness and to avoid the growth of harmful bacteria. If you freeze imitation crab, it can last up to six months. Remember to always check the expiration date on the package as well.
How do you tell if imitation crab is bad?
Imitation crab has gone bad if it has a strong fishy or sour smell, a slimy or discolored appearance, or if it's past the printed expiration date. These are all signs the product is no longer safe to consume. Always remember that when in doubt, it’s better to be safe and throw it out.
Tips for storing imitation crab to extend shelf life
• Always store imitation crab in the refrigerator, ideally at temperatures below 40°F (4°C).
• If you need to extend its shelf life, try freezing it. Just make sure to wrap it properly in cling wrap or put it in a sealed container to avoid freezer burn.
• Once opened, transfer unused portions to an airtight container before returning it to the fridge. This helps minimize exposure to air, preserving its freshness for longer.
• Always wash your hands and ensure your utensils are clean before handling to prevent introducing bacteria to the food.