Kani salad is a delicious, colourful fresh Japanese salad with imitation crab as the meat of choice.
Usually, most people don't make this unique spicy Kani dish at home. However, it is really easy to prepare with some simple instructions. We guarantee it will be better than ordering from your local restaurant.
After hours of researching, we've found the best way to make a delectable, crunchy, spicy mango crab salad. So, we are sure that our tried and tested recipe will make a crowd-pleasing dish every time. Even the salad haters won't be able to say anything about it.
Moreover, we've also included an easy 3 part formula. This will help you make any variations to this dish. So whether it's adding avocado, swapping out leafy greens, or substituting the Kani salad dressing, we've got you.
Learn more about this delicacy from our complete guide. We cover everything from ingredients to history to variations and nutrition information. We'll finish with our signature spicy Kani salad recipe, which is perfect for sharing.
What is Kani?
In Japanese, the word Kani means crab. The term is often used in Western countries and refers to imitation crab meat.
However, in Japan, this same meat is called surimi (すり身, minced meat) or kamaboko (蒲鉾, fish paste). Manufacturers make imitation crab by mixing wheat starch and whitefish. Then, they are grounded and shaped to form sticks or crab legs.
However, Kani salad is not a traditional Japanese dish. Instead, it was made popular by sushi restaurants throughout Europe and North America. Reading more into its origin, many would agree that it originated post-World War II from a mixture of cultures.
Nevertheless, the Kani salad is a delicious way to utilize cheap, widely available seafood, especially imitation crab.
Spicy Crab Salad Types
There are various types of spicy crab salad. However, the broadest and most popular categories are as follows.
Classic Kani Salad
Chefs will usually make the dish using carrots and lettuce. However, it can also depend on what fresh produce is available. Chefs may use tomatoes, sweet corn, etc. But, again, this will depend on the season and location. Seasoning usually consists of soy sauce and sesame.
Crunchy Japanese Crab Salad
This recipe also uses cucumber and fried tempura bits to add texture. It also includes tobiko, fish roe commonly sold in Japan, to intensify the seafood flavour. You can also add Sriracha for extra spice.
Marutomo Tenkasu, Crunchy bits of deep-fried flour-batter
The idea of using imitation crab to add a smooth, buttery flavour to salads has caught on worldwide. Therefore today, many other cuisines have their twist of this dish. Excellent additions include mango, avocado, Szechuan pepper, and even sliced apple.
Is Kani salad healthy?
Imitation crab meat itself has around 100 calories per 100 grams. It is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, phosphorus, and Vitamin B12. However, most of the calories come from carbohydrates. Meanwhile, authentic crab contains more protein per calorie.
The price difference may offset the difference in nutritional content. You can also make these recipes with real crab to make your dish more fancy and nutritious. We'll leave it up to you to make your choice between protein and pricing carefully.
How many calories are in Kani salad?
One average serving of Kani salad can have anywhere from 75 to 140 calories. The calories depend not on the ingredients in the vegetable produce and protein but instead on the dressing.
Kani Salad Ingredients
In Japan, chefs will conventionally make this dish with the following key ingredients. Imitation crab sticks, corn, lettuce, soy sauce, and mayonnaise.
This dish in itself is versatile, and we've seen different varieties of ingredients used. By creatively mixing the seasoning, protein, and vegetables, you can make your own refreshing twist to this spicy Kani salad dish.
Kani Salad Dressing
Most imitation crab salad recipes will contain some form of seasoning within the dressing. This differs with each variation and often decides the dish's flavour profile.
The dressing in Japanese versions of Kani salad often contains Japanese mayonnaise, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. However, you can replace the seeds with sesame oil in some recipes instead.
Some dressings will contain ponzu, a Japanese sauce made from citrus fruit like lemon or orange. In addition, some will also have soy and vinegar. You can make the dish spicy by adding simple dried red pepper flakes or sriracha sauce. Sweetness is layered with sugar in the dressing.
Western versions of the dish often contain some mustard in the dressing and black pepper. Moreover, you use lemon in place of ponzu in the Western version. You can add spice by using hot sauce to slice peppers to Schezuan peppercorns. Many people use Western mayonnaise instead of Japanese mayo in this spicy Kani salad recipe.
Japanese vs Western Mayonnaise
Japanese mayo is tangier, thicker, and sweeter than Western mayonnaise. This is because the Japanese version only has egg yolks in the mayonnaise.
If you cannot find Japanese mayo, you can combine yoghurt or cream and a sweetener as a substitute. This alternative would also be a way to make the spicy Kani salad recipe a kosher one.
However, if you would like to use Japanese mayonnaise, a very popular brand that we recommend is Kewpie Mayonnaise.
Kewpie Mayonnaise 15.87oz / 450g (1 Pack)
In the end, the only thing that matters about your sauce is how you like the taste. Feel free to combine or mix it up for these dressings. Since the dressing is the primary source of flavour in a Kani salad, make sure yours is perfect for you. If you're not confident, use our tried and tested dressing recipe!
Imitation Crab Meat
Finally, the main ingredient in this dish is imitation crab meat. You can buy this ingredient at many Asian grocery stores. In fact, some brands have also managed to stock in Western grocery outlets. You can purchase it fresh or frozen. Some packs will be labelled as "ready to eat" with a dipping sauce.
For this Kani salad recipe, fresh crab sticks are most desirable. This is because you can bring the fresh ones to room temperature without cooking them.
Frozen crab sticks have one issue. Should you sacrifice texture for temperature? You can quickly resolve this issue if you own a microwave. Microwaving the meat and patting it dry with paper towels makes it perfectly easy to use in your dish.
However, you should ensure that the meat you are using has not expired. Also that it has been kept at food-grade standards. We recommend microwaving your crab meat anyway to kill any lingering pathogens for food safety.
A Fool Proof 3 Part Formula
Here, we will list some of the essential elements in your Kani salad. This is the winning formula for the tastiest crab salad you will ever eat.
This can be lettuce, cucumber, or carrot. Any crunchy vegetable will work well here.
This is usually corn, but tomato and avocado also work well here. Some non-traditional additions include goat cheese and pickled peppers.
Something sweet (optional)
Adding a sweet ingredient is not common in Japan. However, many fusion versions of this dish feature mango, apple, or orange slices. The sweetness contrasts the spice pleasantly and adds another element to the dish itself.
This helpful formula of three elements is for the produce portion of the dish. It does not include meat and seasonings. Keep in mind that some ingredients can fill both criteria. If you are going for the mix-and-match approach, use your own judgment on which Kani salad ingredients are most suitable.
Our signature recipe lists our favourite additions to this spicy Kani salad. So, feel free to use these as well!
How to Make Kani Salad
The actual process of making a spicy Kani salad is simple.
- First, slice the veggies. If you're using our recipe, add the fruit.
- Next, combine the various condiments and spices to make your dressing.
- Finally, prepare the meat, mix all three components, garnish, and serve.
However, there are many things you could do to take your Kani salad to the next level. We have listed them in the Additional Notes sections below. So now, on to the detailed recipe!
Kani Salad (Spicy Crab and Mango Salad)
- 150 g kani imitation crab meat
- 2 mango
- 2 tablespoon Japanese Kewpie Mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoon lemon juice
- ½ tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ⅓ pcs cucumbers large
- 5 oz lettuce
- 50 g corn
- salt to taste
- ½ tablespoon Sriracha sauce
- Gomashio or sesame seeds, for garnish
- Red pepper flakes for garnish
- Slice the vegetables. Peel the cucumber and cut it into slices, cut the mango into small cubes, and shred the lettuce. Make sure the corn is separated into individual kernels.
- Microwave the imitation crab meat for 40 seconds and pat dry. Then shred into thin strands.
- Mix the mayonnaise, soy sauce, mustard, sugar, lemon, salt, and Sriracha in a separate bowl.
- Toss the mixture, portion into separate bowls for each serving. Then top with a generous dollop of dressing and the sesame seed and red pepper flakes as garnish. Serve your spicy kani salad cold or at room temperature.
Additional notes on ingredients
- If you want to make the recipe a kosher one, combine some yoghurt or cream and a sweetener.
- The 2 teaspoons of lemon juice can be replaced with 1 teaspoon of vinegar of any variety (red/white wine, black, rice wine, white, etc).
- Sriracha can be replaced with any hot sauce.
- If you want your kani salad to be less sweet or soft and crunchy, add lettuce or use 1 mango and a whole cucumber. Adjust the ratio of vegetables to your liking!
Additional notes on the procedureThere are a number of extra steps that would make this dish even better!
- Place the cucumber slices in cheesecloth and squeeze them to remove some of their excess moisture.
- Only partially peel the cucumbers, and julienne them to improve their texture.
- Add peanuts for added crunch, or use tenkasu.
- The vegetables and dressing should be kept separate until serving to ensure that the Kani salad does not become soggy. To elevate this further, mix the dressing and vegetables together before topping with the garnish. This provides added textural contrast and allows those eating to control how they eat the garnish.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and is only a rough estimate.
And that's our tried and tested recipe for spicy mango imitation crab salad. It has combined techniques and ingredients from all over the globe.
You may also refer to Easy and Healthy Recipe's Youtube video! She makes the Kani salad dish but with a generous serving of fruits. These include apples, oranges, mango, and even grapes.
Popular Kani Salad Variations
We encourage you to try some of the variations of this recipe at home. Here are some of the most straightforward variations.
American spicy Kani salad with avocado
Add panko breadcrumbs, avocado, sliced hard-boiled eggs, and crumbly cheese. Moreover, use Tabasco instead of Sriracha for that authentic American flavour. This version is a loving tribute to the famously unhealthy crab salad. Local sushi restaurants in the United States famously prepared them.
Sichuan crab salad
Not at all authentic, but use Sichuan peppercorns and rice wine vinegar in the dressing instead of lemon and Sriracha. Then, reduce the amount of soy sauce used.
Simple Japanese salad appetiser
This is a convenient alternative. It is usually served at Japanese restaurants as an appetiser. You will find it as a Kani salad with corn, thinly sliced carrots, cucumber, kamaboko, and a drizzle of mayonnaise.
You can easily make a non-spicy version by omitting the red pepper flakes and the Sriracha.
If you don't want as many vegetables, add kelp noodles instead. Their unique jiggly, crunchy texture and umami flavour complement the crab flavour quite well.
You can also include raw mango in addition to the ripe ones for a slightly sour tang.
Storage and advanced Preparation
You can store this spicy Kani salad for up to 3 days in the fridge. You do not need to warm it up since restaurants usually serve it cold. This helps to add to its shelf life. However, we don't recommend keeping it past 3 days.
Although because it is so delicious, we doubt it will make it past the 3-day mark anyway!
If you are preparing this dish in advance, store the dressing separately from the produce and meat. Then, only combine them when serving. This preserves the texture of this dish.
Keep regular vegetables in an airtight container. Do not season them until it is time to serve. Seasoning these vegetables would cause them to weep moisture. This will ruin their texture and taste. It can even cause them to rot. Especially if they were brought up to room temperature before. Therefore, make sure to store vegetables carefully.
Also, make sure that your leftover crab sticks are stored in airtight environments. Then, store them in the fridge and freezer.
And that's a wrap! This article has covered everything you need to know about mastering the spicy Kani salad.
Hopefully, you now know the lesser-known use of imitation crab meat. Make sure to use our formula for vegetables and fruits to use. With any leftovers, you can use them to make spicy kani sushi.
Finally, we shared our recipe, which we are sure to be a crowd-pleasing hit every time! We hope that this article was helpful to you especially if you are a beginner cook.
This unique dish uses unusual ingredients and is also a testament to globalization and immigrants. Only the collision of Asian and Western cuisine could have led to such a delightful dish. So have fun and bon appetit!