Kani salad is a delicious, colourful fresh salad that features imitation crab as its meat of choice. This unique spicy Kani dish is not usually made at home. However, with some simple instructions, it becomes easier to prepare than to order from your local restaurant!
After hours of researching, we've come up with the best way to make a delectable crunchy spicy mango crab salad. Hence, we are sure that our tried and tested recipe will guarantee a crowd-pleasing dish every time!
Moreover, we’ve also included an easy 3 part formula for making any variations to this dish. Whether it’s adding avocado, swapping out leafy greens, or substituting the Kani salad dressing; we’ve got you covered.
Learn more about this divine delicacy from this full guide. We cover everything from ingredients to history to variations, as well as its nutrition information. We finish off with our signature spicy Kani salad recipe that’s perfect to share!
What is Kani?
The word “Kani” in Kani salad means “crab” in Japanese. The word is often used in Western countries to refer to imitation crab meat. However, in Japan, this same meat is called surimi (すり身, minced meat) or kamaboko (蒲鉾, fish paste). Imitation crab is manufactured by mixing wheat starch and white fish. They are grounded and shaped to form sticks or “crab legs”.
However, Kani salad itself is not a traditional Japanese dish but was popularized in 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 remains an extraordinarily delicious way to utilize cheap, widely available seafood, especially imitation crab.
Spicy Crab Salad Types
There are various different types of spicy crab salad. However, the broadest and popular categories are as follows.
This is usually made with carrots and lettuce but also depends on the available fresh produce. Chefs may use tomatoes, sweet corn, etc. depending on the season and location. Seasoning usually consists of soy sauce and sesame.
Crunchy Japanese Crab Salad
This recipe uses cucumber and fried tempura bits (tenkasu, which can be purchased online) to add texture. It also includes tobiko (fish roe commonly sold in Japan) to intensify the seafood flavour. Sriracha is added for extra spice.
Marutomo Tenkasu, Crunchy bits of deep-fried flour-batter
The idea of using imitation crab to add a smooth unctuous flavour to salads has caught on worldwide. Therefore today, many other cuisines have their own twist of this dish. Some excellent additions include mango, avocado, Szechuan pepper, and even sliced apple.
Is Kani Salad Healthy?
Imitation crab meat itself clocks in at 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, as opposed to authentic crab, which contains more protein per calorie.
The price difference may offset the difference in nutritional content. These recipes can also be made with real crab if you want 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 In Kani Salad?
1 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, we find that this dish is conventionally made up of key ingredients including imitation crab sticks, corn, lettuce, soy sauce, and mayonnaise.
Having said that, this dish in itself is versatile and we have seen many different varieties of the ingredients used. By creatively mixing the seasoning, protein, and vegetables, you can make your own refreshing twist to this spicy Kani salad dish.
Most imitation crab salad recipes will contain some form of seasoning within the dressing. This differs with each variation and often decides the flavour profile of the dish.
The dressing in Japanese versions of Kani salad often contains Japanese mayonnaise, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. In some recipes, you can replace the seeds with sesame oil instead.
Some even contain ponzu, which is a Japanese sauce made with citrus fruit (lemon or orange), 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, along with black pepper. Moreover, you use lemon in place of ponzu in the Western version. You can add spice by using anything from hot sauce to sliced peppers to Schezuan peppercorns. Western mayonnaise is used 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 due to its use of only egg yolks as opposed to the entire egg.
If you cannot find Japanese mayo at all, combine some 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, mix, or innovate when it comes to these dressings. Since the dressing is the main source of flavour in a Kani salad, make sure yours is perfect. If you’re not confident, use our tried and tested dressing recipe!
Imitation Crab Meat
Finally, the titular ingredient in this dish is imitation crab meat. You can buy this ingredient at many Asian grocery stores, but some brands have managed to penetrate Western grocery outlets as well. You can purchase it fresh, frozen, or even packaged as “ready to eat” with a dipping sauce.
For the purposes of this Kani salad recipe, fresh crab sticks are most desirable. This is because the fresh ones can be brought up to room temperature without cooking them.
Frozen crab sticks provide a dilemma: should we sacrifice texture for temperature? You can easily 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 a salad.
However, you should make sure that the meat you are using has not expired and has been kept at food-grade standards. For the purposes of food safety, we recommend microwaving your crab meat anyway, just to kill any lingering pathogens.
A Fool Proof 3 Part Formula
Here, we will list some of the most important elements in your Kani salad. This is the winning formula for the tastiest crab salad you will ever eat!
- Something crunchy: This can be lettuce, cucumber, or carrot. Any crunchy vegetable will work well here.
- Something soft: 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 versatile dish feature mango, apple, or orange slices. The sweetness contrasts the spice pleasantly and adds another element to the dish itself.
This useful formula of three elements is for the produce portion of the dish (not including the 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 as to which Kani salad ingredients are most suitable.
In our signature recipe (provided below), we have listed our personal 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 (and if using our recipe, the added fruit). Next, combine the various condiments and spices to make your dressing. Prepare the meat, mix all three components together, garnish, and serve.
However, there are many things you could do in order to take your Kani salad to the next level. We have listed them in the “Additional Notes'' sections below. Now, without any further ado, on to the recipe!
Kani Salad | Spicy Crab and Mango Salad
- 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, 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. Enjoy!
Additional notes on ingredients
- If you would like to make the recipe a kosher one, then 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 more crunchy, either add lettuce or use 1 mango and a whole cucumber. Adjust the ratio of vegetables to your liking!
Additional notes on 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, if at all.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
And that’s it! Our tried and tested recipe for spicy mango imitation crab salad, combining 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 including apples, oranges, mango, and even grapes.
We encourage you to try at home some of the variations of this recipe. Some of the simplest are listed below.
- 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 flavor. This version is a loving tribute to the famously unhealthy crab salad. They were famously prepared by local sushi restaurants in the United States.
- Schezwan 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: A conventional one usually served at Japanese restaurants as an appetiser uses a simple ingredient combination. 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 in your salad, add kelp noodles. Their unique jiggly, crunchy texture and umami flavour compliment 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. When you want to serve, you do not need to warm it up, since it is usually served cold. This adds to its shelf life. However, we don’t recommend keeping it past 3 days. (Though, it is so delicious that it won’t 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. Only combine them when serving. This preserves the texture of the fresh salad.
With regards to storing the produce, regular vegetable storage guidelines apply. Keep the vegetables in an airtight container and do not season them until it is time to serve.
Seasoning these vegetables would cause them to weep moisture and severely ruin their texture and taste. It can even cause them to rot, especially if they were brought up to room temperature before. 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! In this article, we have covered everything you need to know about mastering the spicy Kani salad. We first introduced the little-known bounty of imitation crab meat. Then, we outlined an easy-to-read formula about the vegetables and fruits to be used in your own salad.
Finally, we shared our recipe which we are sure to be a crowd-pleasing hit every time! Hence, we hope that this article was helpful to you, especially if you are a beginner cook.
This special dish is not just an ingenious use of unusual ingredients but also a testament to globalization and immigrants. Only the collision of Asian and Western cuisine could have led to the development of such a delightfully eclectic dish. Bon appetit!