15 Ways To Use Imitation Crab Beyond Sushi

Imitation crab or surimi
Imitation crab or surimi - Static Media / Shutterstock

It's whitish, pinkish, and sticking out of your California roll. It looks like crab and tastes a little like crab (or some generic seafood), but it isn't in the slightest way crab -- nor made from any part of our crustaceous friends. So what, exactly, is imitation crab? It's usually an amalgamation of white fish (many times, Alaskan pollock) processed with added sugar, starch, and salt to form a paste that's molded into the pink-tinged sticks we've come to know. The paste -- referred to as surimi -- has been around in the U.S. for about 20 years and serves as a cheaper stand-in for more expensive crab meat, which can be difficult to find away from the coast.

But aside from your California roll or other imperfectly made-at-home sushi, what in the world can be done with imitation crab? As it turns out, quite a lot. We've rounded up ways to use the crab-esque pretender that are sure to please you and a crowd.

Read more: 21 Delicious Ways To Use Up Leftover Rice

Air Fryer Crab Sticks

An air fryer
An air fryer - Smith Collection/gado/Getty Images

Peruse your local Asian restaurant's menu, and you may see "crab sticks" lingering in and around the appetizers list. And they're pretty much just that -- imitation crab sticks that are fried and served with dipping sauce. If you're scratching your head and wondering what to make with your imitation crab, these should be first on your to-try list. Assuming you own an air fryer (if not, you should probably get on it), it's time to prepare this tasty and customizable snack.

Shop for imitation crab sticks for this one as opposed to other types of imitation crab, and then coat each one in butter and the seasoning of your choice. You can even get fancier here, with egg wash, breadcrumbs, and Old Bay seasoning, too, but overall this preparation should yield a light, airy bite with just the right amount of spice. It's the perfect snack.

Crab Dip

Crab dip with crackers
Crab dip with crackers - Erika Goldring/Getty Images

There is, arguably, no better way to disguise cooking on a budget with imitation crab than with a creamy, decadent dip laced with spices, cream cheese, and our old friend, mayonnaise. Is crab dip ever not a hit at parties? We've certainly never been to one where it wasn't on the most-loved list of hors d'oeuvres.

Combine softened cream cheese with mayonnaise and lemon juice, then warm it in the microwave or on the stovetop until everything can be easily mixed. Add spices of choice -- we recommend Cajun seasoning, classic Old Bay, Worcestershire sauce, and or your favorite combination -- then fold in the chopped imitation crab. We suggest looking for the shredded or small-chunked variety. If the dip is already warm, there's no need to heat further your surimi, which is already pre-cooked. Overheating can actually make it dense and tough. Simply add it in along with any other vegetables or non-cook items.


Crab chowder with crab leg
Crab chowder with crab leg - Juanmonino/Getty Images

On a cold, windy day in the middle of winter, is there anything more soul-soothing than a big, steaming bowl of seafood, New England, or crab chowder? For those experiencing the season's chill far from the coast, imitation crab can be an excellent (not-to-mention cheaper) stand-in during the off-season, and it does play well with others regarding big pots of soup and stew. When swapping in imitation crab for the real stuff, be sure to take your time and look in your grocer's freezer aisle for Osaki brand "fish cake." Many Asian grocery stores carry the brand, which is absolutely imitation crab. It's easily shreddable, savory, and closer to crab's taste and texture than many American brands.

In our crab and corn chowder recipe, you could easily swap in your Osaki surimi for the real stuff by adding it toward the end of the cooking process. As previously mentioned, since imitation crab is already cooked and can become rubbery and dense if heated too much, adding and warming it around the same time you'd add the crème fraîche in this recipe should result in a delightful chowder.


two seafood tacos
two seafood tacos - David Papazian/Shutterstock

Obviously, right? In this day and age, we'd be surprised to see something not make it into a taco, and imitation crab is no exception. Whether it's chorizo, chicken, lamb, shrimp, duck, or mushrooms, it seems like just about anything can be at home in a corn or flour tortilla; imitation crab is no exception.

The first step to creating a good imitation crab taco is choosing the right kind of imitation crab in the first place. The shredded variety -- not the chunk or flake variety -- will sit better in a taco since it'll be more reminiscent of a barbacoa or shredded and pulled chicken that you would normally see in the handheld.

Once you've got your imitation crab on hand, prep it by shredding it into about 1 to 2-inch pieces, chop, season with a bit of taco seasoning or whatever you're inspired by, and heat in a bit of butter or oil just until warm. Snuggle it in a flour or corn tortilla and top with whatever makes you happiest.


Chicken enchiladas smothered in cheese
Chicken enchiladas smothered in cheese - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Continuing on in the Mexican vein, enchiladas, too, are a wonderful vehicle for imitation crab, since they're covered, smothered, and deliciously messy with layers of flavors that complement one another. Traditionally made in a makeshift assembly line, enchiladas usually start with a filling like chicken, rice, beef, and or beans wrapped in a corn tortilla that's been wetted with red or green sauce. The filling is rolled in the tortilla, and then the whole thing is placed seam side down in a baking dish, where it's further smothered with cheese, sauce, and accouterments before (and after) being baked.

Imitation crab can successfully be added to your enchiladas by leaning into the seafood vibe. When creating your filling, add imitation crab to the mix -- the Osaki would probably be wonderful here, but a cheaper lump or flake could do the trick, too. Then wrap up your tortillas and bake, covered in a sauce of your choice.


Crab ravioli in herb sauce
Crab ravioli in herb sauce - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

What's more impressive than homemade pasta? Perhaps homemade ravioli? Making pasta at home may feel daunting, but it's surprisingly simple. Eggs, flour, water, patience, and a good pair of hands are all you'll need to create a delicious dinner that'd probably earn a small nod of approval from your Italian grandmother -- maybe.

Our crab ravioli recipe is an easily customized (not to mention executable) example of homemade pasta. Even better, it can be made on a budget by swapping in imitation crab for the lump crab called for in the recipe.

The filling utilizes a bundle of fresh herbs, which naturally elevate the taste of lump crab, so will do the same for a good quality imitation crab. Once the filling is snuggled inside each ravioli, the short cooking time -- about three minutes -- will ensure the imitation crab is warmed, but not overcooked. No dense or chewy ravioli here.

Stir Fry

vegetables stir frying in wok
vegetables stir frying in wok - Enviromantic/Getty Images

Everyone's favorite "what am I making for dinner" dish, stir fry, is easily executed with a wide variety of ingredients. Whether you have chicken, beef, vegetables, or, yes, imitation crab, you can create a delightful dish quickly and serve it on its own or over rice.

A typical stir fry usually starts with very high heat and oil in a wok or wide pan. Aromatics like ginger, garlic, and scallions are sautéed until fragrant. Other ingredients, by order of cooking time, are layered in, with proteins joining the party first so they can take on a beautiful sear and soak in the aromatics for a longer time. Carrots are a popular addition, as are peppers, onions, green beans, and eggplant.

Adding imitation crab works well in stir fry since the cooking is fast and hot -- not unlike air frying methods. Imitation crab can be added toward the end of the cooking process, where it will quickly warm while absorbing the flavors of your stir fry.


Margherita pizza on plate
Margherita pizza on plate - Photo Beto/Getty Images

Late night, early morning, lunch, dinner, possibly breakfast if you're a college student -- there really never seems to be a time inappropriate for pizza. And, as time and trial as taught us, nearly anything can top a pizza and still be, well, pretty good.

In an article describing must-eat unique pizzas around the country, we discovered the Crab Pizza at Matthews Pizza in Baltimore, Maryland that is delicious and comes topped with crab meat. The good news is, you can replicate -- or come close to replicating -- this beloved pie on a budget with imitation crab. We'd recommend a white pie base, topped with mozzarella, Parmesan, and caramelized onions just like Matthews'. Then, sauté up a bit of imitation crab in butter with Old Bay and throw it on your fresh-out-of-the-oven (or grill) pizza, and you have a pie your guests will be raving about for ages.

Macaroni And Cheese

Macaroni and cheese
Macaroni and cheese - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

A creamy pot of macaroni and cheese is just at home on the dinner table for a weeknight as it is the star of the show (after the turkey, of course) during Thanksgiving. Simple stovetop mac or the kind baked with all the trimmings, from breadcrumbs to fresh heirloom tomatoes to more cheese, are both delicious. Creating a luscious macaroni and cheese and then adding something like imitation crab can be just as impressive as adding lobster to it. It's all about your execution of this classic.

After your basic mac and cheese recipe steps, once your pasta is coated in your cheese sauce, you can add chopped Osaki imitation crab, which will totally warm in the sauce. And remember, since it's already cooked, you don't need to worry about it cooking through, just warming up. You don't want cold pieces of imitation crab floating around in there. And lobster? We don't know her.

Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed mushrooms on cutting board
Stuffed mushrooms on cutting board - Wsmahar/Getty Images

A heavenly hors d'oeuvres, stuffed mushrooms are an easy yet impressive appetizer for parties, tailgating, or as a starter to a romantic at-home dinner. Traditionally made with a creamy filling piped into a baby Portobello mushroom, adding crab (or in our case, imitation crab) to handheld bites can elevate this snack above the basic.

The crab-stuffed mushroom filling should be a creamy mixture of horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, green onions or scallions, bread crumbs, parsley, and your imitation crab (swapping in for the recipe's lump crabmeat). Since the filling is thick, flavorful, and mixed really thoroughly, if you can't find Osaki here, the lump or flake imitation crab will suffice. Imitation crab works here so long as it's finely diced and good quality.

After you've wiped down your 'shrooms and removed the stems, carefully dollop or pipe in your mixed filling. Bake your mushrooms for about 25 minutes until the mushrooms are soft but not too soft and the top breadcrumbs are golden brown.


Skewers with beef
Skewers with beef - Zoya Miller SVG/Shutterstock

Slide some meat, peppers, onions, and mushrooms on a stick, place it over a fire, and you've got kebabs. Literally translating to "roasted meat," kebabs can be as simple or as complicated as the cook or grill master decides. Normally, trying to get crab meat on a kebab is nearly impossible. The tiny bits of crab compounded by the flakiness of the protein make this roasted shellfish seem like a fairly difficult ask.

Of course, the task becomes more doable if you're subbing in imitation crab. Since imitation crab comes in sticks, you can chop a 1 to 2-inch piece off and easily place it onto a skewer. One idea is to layer 2-inch imitation crab pieces with lemon, red bell pepper, and onion on a soaked wooden skewer or metal skewer. Baste with melted butter and sprinkle on a good deal of Old Bay. Grill over an open flame until the vegetables are charred and done. For a makeshift crab bake, serve with roasted red-skinned potatoes and corn on the cob.

Mashed Potatoes

mashed potatoes topped with butter
mashed potatoes topped with butter - Dina Saeed/Shutterstock

One of the ultimate comfort foods, mashed potatoes are just as delicious and luscious with a pat of butter, salt, and pepper as they are baked with additions like cream cheese, chives, jalapeños, and, yes, crab. The Daily Meal even discusses going so far as to add crab salad on top of your mashed potatoes. It makes for a hot and cold amalgamation of flavor -- the juxtaposing crunchy and fresh crab salad with the decadently smooth and creamy potatoes. If you're going the crab salad route, you can easily make a quick and easy mixture of imitation crab, mayonnaise, bright herbs like scallions, parsley, and tarragon, and lemon, and a dash of mustard and snuggle it on top of your hot mashed potatoes.

If you're more of the hot dish type, try mixing in cream cheese, imitation crab, butter, cheese, and seasonings to your mashed potatoes. You can then re-bake the whole thing for a crispy top.

Crab Fried Rice

Fried rice with chicken
Fried rice with chicken - Ravsky/Getty Images

If you've got eggs and leftover white rice from your late-night Asian food ordering session, you're halfway to fried rice. A staple for the budget-conscious (and everyone who loves an easily put-together meal), fried rice is an endlessly riffable dish that can go from side to main depending on additions.

Adding crab to fried rice is a Thai street food standby, and swapping out the fresh crab for the best quality imitation crab you can find will make it even more budget-friendly than regular crab would. Go for something that mimics the texture of real crab -- pulling into strings, sweet but not too sweet, and without the odd rubbery texture plaguing some brands. It'll take your basic fried rice to a whole other level, which you can pair with everything from dumplings to shrimp (or even coconut shrimp) for a whole seafood affair on your plate.

Lobster Rolls

a lobster roll
a lobster roll - Marie Sonmez Photography/Shutterstock

A split hot dog bun laden with meaty bites of lobster, lemon, maybe mayonnaise (we know the addition of aioli is controversial in some areas, and punishable by heavy fines), and not a whole lot else encompasses New England's pride: the lobster roll. But if lobster is hard to come by in your area due to either budget or being too far from the coast, swapping in imitation crab is not completely unheard of. Just don't you dare call it a lobster roll.

In this recipe for a Connecticut-style lobster roll, the cooked lobster meat is quickly warmed in clarified butter with tarragon and chives. Swap in the absolute best quality imitation crab you can find, and execute the rest of the recipe as is. You won't fool anyone that the surimi is actually lobster, but this swap may be good enough to temporarily relieve a lobster roll craving.


A bowl of ceviche
A bowl of ceviche - Shorrocks/Getty Images

If you're unfamiliar, ceviche is a dish consisting of fresh seafood -- shrimp, tuna, white fish, scallops, or even crab -- marinated in herbs, spices, and citrus. The citrus denatures the protein present in the fish and shellfish, turning it opaque and giving it the appearance (and texture) of being cooked.

A ceviche made with lump crabmeat, while delicious, could still pose danger if not correctly prepared. Since the citrus used simply denatures the protein, it isn't actually cooking and killing present bacteria, parasites, and other nasties possibly present in your shellfish.

The good news: Swapping in imitation crab, which is already cooked, can give you all of the ceviche joy with none of the ceviche danger. Our fresh crab ceviche recipe provides an easy blueprint to swap in your imitation crab. Make sure you're using the closest-to-the-original imitation crab; again, we'd recommend Osaki. Dice it and add at the same step you'd add the crab, marinating it in olive oil before adding in the vegetables and cilantro. You can lessen the fridge time here to under an hour, too since there's nothing to really "cook."

Read the original article on Tasting Table.