Ready in just 15 minutes, every bite of this refreshing kani salad is loaded with sweet imitation crab, crispy, garden-fresh vegetables and an addictive spicy mayo dressing.
What is kani salad?
Kani salad is a refreshing Japanese American crab salad which is made with shredded imitation crab sticks (kani), thinly sliced cucumber and a sweet, creamy, umami mayonnaise-based dressing. It is also known as kanikama salad and Japanese crab salad.
Why make kani salad?
Kani salad is a delightful choice for many reasons:
- Refreshing mix of flavors and textures: Kani salad is a delicious mixture of contrasting tastes, textures, and colors. The dressing is sweet and creamy with a hint of lemon and umami. The salad base contains strips of cucumber and carrots which adds a delicious crunch to the creamy kani.
- Quick and Easy: It's a fast and straightforward recipe, perfect for busy nights when you want a tasty and nutritious meal without the hassle.
- Versatile: Customize your kani salad with different ingredients to suit your taste preferences. For example, you can add additional flavors like a thin strips of mango, a drop of sesame oil or a pinch of nigella seeds.
- Popular Japanese-American dish: Kani salad is a popular appetizer in Japanese restaurants in the US. Its is often cooked at home in Japan but it is typically not served in restaurants there.
- Visual Appeal: Kani salad's vibrant and colorful presentation makes it an eye-catching addition to any table.
- Kani or imitation crab sticks. Kani is sold in well-stocked grocery stores, Asian supermarkets, and online retailers like Amazon. Some imitation crab sticks may contain gluten or other allergens so be sure to read the ingredients if you have any dietary concerns.
- Mayonnaise, Sriracha, soy sauce, lemon juice and sugar. Japanese mayonnaise (Kewpie brand) is preferable because it adds a creamier flavor compared to regular American mayonnaise like Hellman's. Kewpie mayonnaise can be purchased from specialty supermarkets which specialize in Japanese products. You can substitute rice vinegar for the lemon juice. While I use regular mayonnaise in this recipe you can also substitute low fat mayonnaise for this recipe.
- Cucumber and carrots. Vegetables give the salad some additional crunchiness and flavor. It is best to remove the cucumber seeds before cutting them as they will dilute the salad dressing, making it watery and less flavorful. The carrots have the added benefit of adding vibrant color to the dish.
- Cilantro, avocado, black and white sesame seeds. These ingredients are optional and are used as a garnish. They not only make the dish look more appealing, but it also adds a layer of flavor. Other popular garnish choices include fish roe, black pepper, panko breadcrumbs and corn kernels.
How to make kani salad
Step One: Add the mayonnaise, soy sauce, lemon juice and sriracha sauce into a small bowl. Mix until fully combined.
Step Two: Add the shredded crab sticks, cucumber, and carrots to a medium sized mixing bowl. Toss the crab, cucumber,and carrots with the dressing. If desired, garnish with black and white sesame seeds, mashed avocado and cilantro. Serve immediately for best texture.
Tips to make the best kani salad
- Serve it chilled - This salad tastes much better when it is really cold as opposed to room temperature.
- Use a julienne peeler to cut the vegetables - A julienne peeler quickly cuts the vegetables into strips which are very similar to the shredded kani.
- Rub the kani together to shred them quickly - Imitation crab sticks shred into strips like string cheese. It is very easy to shred the cheese if you just rub each crab stick between your hands. The thin strips of crabwill quickly come apart like threads. Only the orange-red exterior needs to be separated individually.
- Defrost kani sticks in room temperature water - Kani sticks defrost very quickly.
- Ingredients should not release water into the salad - For maximum flavor, it is important not to dilute the kani salad dressing. If defrosting the kani sticks in water, the kani will absorb water like a sponge. Squeeze out the water before adding the kani to the salad. De-seed the cucumber before slicing as the seeds will release water into the salad. Pat the kani and vegetables with a paper towel if necessary.
How do I cut the vegetables and shred the kani?
Use a julienne peeler to cut the vegetables - A julienne peeler quickly cuts the vegetables into strips which are very similar to the shredded kani. For best results, hold the vegetable about three inches from the bottom and peel down. Do not use the seed part of the cucumber. If you do not have a julienne peeler, use a knife to slice the vegetables into thin pieces.
Rub the kani together to shred them quickly - Imitation crab sticks shred into strips like string cheese. It is very easy to shred the cheese if you just rub each crab stick between your hands. The thin strips of crabwill quickly come apart like threads. Only the orange-red exterior needs to be separated individually.
How can I make this kani salad recipe spicier?
To make the spicy Japanese salad even spicier, add a little more Sriracha to suit your taste preference.
Can I make kani salad ahead of time?
Since the dressing gets absorbed by the kani when it sits in the fridge, the optimal way to serve the dish would be to chill the salad base and dressing separately and toss right before serving.
Storage and Freezer Instructions
Refrigerator: Kani salad will last for about 3 days when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The kani will absorb some of the salad dressing so the salad will still be delicious but become drier over time. The optimal way to serve this dish would be to chill the salad base and dressing separately and toss right before serving.
Freezer: Kani salad is best served fresh. We do not recommend freezing kani salad as the texture will change.
How to serve kani salad
Like most dishes in Japanese cuisine, kani salad is presented in a visually appealing manner to enhance the dining experience. It is critical for the salad to be chilled prior to serving. Since the dressing gets absorbed by the kani when it sits in the fridge, the optimal way to serve the dish would be to chill the salad base and dressing separately and toss right before serving.
As an appetizer, Japanese kani salad is typically served by itself. I like to serve it on a bed of butter lettuce and garnish with black sesame seeds and a dollop of masago roe as both add complimentary texture and flavor. It is a fantastic side dish for barbeques.
Kani salad can also be eaten in sandwiches. They are delicious when stuffed with lettuce inside Homemade Pita Bread. This Japanese-style salad is also served as an appetizer in Japanese steakhouses and Japanese-American sushi restaurants. You could serve it prior to a main course consisting of dishes like Hibachi Steak with Benihana Vegetables and our Japanese Fried Rice.
There are many variations of this easy spicy kani salad recipe. Popular ingredients for the salad base include kelp noodles and thinly sliced vegetables and fruits like carrots, red peppers, and mango. Spicier versions include a proportionately larger amount of chili sauce, typically Sriracha or hot sauce. More flavor layers can be added through garnishes like toasted white and black sesame seeds, masago roe, chopped herbs like green onion or cilantro and crunchy panko breadcrumbs. You can also add a few drops of sesame seed oil to add a nutty flavor.
A single serving of this Kani Salad has about 275 calories, 11.1 g of fat and 33.9 g of carbohydrates.
This recipe yields approximately two servings. The nutrition guidance is intended for informational purposes only. Please use it as a general guideline. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should independently verify it using your preferred tool.
Kani is made of starch and finely pulverized surimi or white fish. The fish is then cured and shaped taste and look like crab sticks.
Kani means crab in Japanese and in this case is short for Kanikama which is imitation crab meat. It is made of starch and pulverized white fish like pollock or cod. It is a seafood product meant to imitate the texture, shape and taste of fresh, real crab meat.
Kani tastes like sweet, tender crab meat.
Yes, Kani is pre-cooked so you can eat it straight out of the package.
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Looking for more recipes?
Other Japanese Dishes
Spicy Kani Salad Recipe | Japanese Crab & Cucumber
- ¼ cup mayonnaise preferably Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon sriracha sauce use more or less, to taste
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- 9 ounces imitation crab sticks shredded into strips
- 1 cup julienned cucumber same length as the crab stick strips - about 3 ½ inches
- 1 cup julienned carrot same length as the crab stick strips - about 3 ½ inches
- ¼ teaspoon black sesame seeds
- ¼ teaspoon white sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon avocado mashed
- Add the mayonnaise, soy sauce, lemon juice and sriracha sauce into a small bowl. Mix until fully combined.
- Add the shredded crab sticks, cucumber and carrots to a medium sized mixing bowl. Toss the crab, cucumber and carrots with the dressing. If desired, garnish with sesame seeds and roe. Serve immediately for best texture.