Here at Tasting Table, we're all about doctoring up budget-friendly ingredients into dishes that come out greater than the sum of their parts. To that end, few foods fit the bill quite like imitation crab -- which isn't actually made from crab at all. It's surimi, a deboned amalgamation of different fish meats that has been ground into a paste, flavored with added ingredients, and reshaped to resemble real crab meat. The main ingredient is typically Alaskan pollock, but other white fish like tilapia or cod are commonly used as well. Any actual crab in the mix is minimal and thrown in for flavor. Perhaps unsurprisingly, imitation crab has earned the unflattering (yet awesome) nickname "the hot dog of the sea."
Per the lore, it was first invented by Japanese chefs 900 years ago as a way to use up leftover fish parts. Today, modern home cooks can turn that highly-processed fish gel into a culinary gem with one simple ingredient: Seasoned butter.
To do it, simply melt a few tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat and shake in your seasoning of choice. You can make this butter as strong or mild as you like, and you can always adjust to taste later on. Take care not to scorch the butter here. Then, add the imitation crab meat directly into the pot with the butter. It'll soak up the flavorful moisture and come out looking like the real deal (or, at least a whole lot better).
Read more: 15 Different Ways To Cook Fish
Fake It Till You Make It (Better)
Think of seasoned butter like a deconstructed compound butter. As such, feel free to flex a little creative liberty and try out your favorite different seasonings to make different flavored butter. Old Bay would add a versatile tangy zest that'd pair well with pretty much any dish in which you might use imitation crab. But, in general, any seasonings that normally pair well with seafood will work well here, such as dill, lemon balm, parsley, marjoram, tarragon, cilantro, garlic powder, and chili powder.
To elevate that sea dog, foodies have tried grilling it or even immortalizing it in the viral crab rangoon memes that cemented themselves in the acrid jungle that is the internet. But, for discerning home cooks on a dime, all it takes to crab-walk the walk (sorry) is a little seasoned butter. Assuming you have butter and a spice cabinet stocked already, this hack is a fast ticket to a thrifty meal. A pound of wild king crab legs costs $49.99 at NYC's Fulton Fish Market, while a pound of imitation crab meat costs $3.88 at a New York Walmart.
Serve your flavorful imitation crab as a homemade "lobster roll" on a halved Cheddar Bay Biscuit from Red Lobster. Or, you could use it to make seafood salad, crab cakes, California sushi rolls, crab dips, quiches, fish tacos, crab and corn chowder, or just enjoy it straight out of the saucepan.
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