Our Love for Kani Salad
A kani salad is one of those rare recipes that is packed with flavor, but surprisingly so. It has only a few ingredients – imitation crab, a dressing (made from mayonnaise, sriracha, and a bit of mirin or rice vinegar), and cucumber. Yet somehow, that combination of ingredients transforms the crab salad into something magical.
We’ve been enjoying kani salad every time we order sushi, whether in a restaurant or for takeout, without fail, for over 10 years.
- It’s lusciously creamy, both from the texture of the imitation crab, but also from the kani salad dressing!
- It has a little heat from adding sriracha to the dressing. Spicy kani salad is where it’s at!
- You can adjust the ratio of crab to cucumber to make it as crunchy or creamy as you like!
- Also, it’s really affordable. Imitation crab is very inexpensive.
- Super quick prep time! This kani salad recipe can be on the table (and in yo’ belly) in 10 minutes flat!
We’ve convinced you, right?! Let’s make it together!
What Is Kani Salad?
First, what is kani?
Kani simply means ‘crab’ in Japanese. In this context, it refers to imitation crab meat. They look like real crab legs, but instead are made from white fish, such as pollock, that has been processed and mixd with starch to mimic the shape, texture, and flavor of crab legs.
Crab sticks are inexpensive and often available in the seafood section of grocery stores. You can also grab all the ingredients for this kani salad recipe at an Asian market (we prefer this, as we love to support smaller local shops!).
Kani salad combines shredded crab sticks with a homemade, mayo-based dressing made from Japanese mayonnaise (Kewpie). The dressing is spiced with sriracha, and the salad is tossed with tobiko and panko breadcrumbs added for textural contrast and flavor!
Occasionally you’ll see kani salad served over lettuce or garnished with sesame seeds. Feel free to add those if you like, but we rarely use them.
Ingredients For Kani Salad
For The Salad
Other than the kani salad dressing, you’ll need the following:
- Imitation crab – Also referred to as crab sticks or krab sticks is not actually crab! I know — mind blown! Imitation crab is made from pulverized white fish (surimi) that has been shaped to resemble an actual crab leg. Sometimes real or artificial crab flavoring is added, but usually it’s just fish!
- Cucumber – Added for crunch! The flavor is otherwise neutral in this recipe. Instead of slices, use a julienne peeler to cut into strips, similar in size to the imitation crab.
- Tobiko – Tobiko is flying fish roe, adding a bit more of a seafood taste to any dish. The eggs are small, bright orange, and pop a little when you eat them!
- Deep fried tempura bits – Add these at the last possible minute for crunch, otherwise they will soften when mixing with the kani salad dressing and turn soft.
Masago, by contrast, is a less expensive version of fish roe, whose eggs are slightly smaller. If you cannot find tobiko, you can substitute with masago.
Why are crab sticks red? The imitation crab is cured to look more like real crab, and in the process, turns red.
For The Kani Salad Dressing
- Kewpie mayo – Love this stuff! It’s a Japanese mayonnaise and is both creamier and smoother than American mayonnaise. Instead of distilled vinegar, kewpie is made with rice vinegar. We can find this at our local Asian grocers without fail.
- Mirin (or rice vinegar, if you don’t have mirin) – Mirin is sweet Japanese rice wine, similar to sake but with more sugar and a lower alcohol content. It adds a mild sweetness, and also can be used to mask fishy flavors.
- Sriracha – A chili sauce used to add heat! Can substitute with other chili sauce! Don’t like spicy? You can omit this entirely.
- Sugar (optional) – If you use rice wine vinegar instead of mirin, you may want to add a touch of sugar to the dressing.
We recommend using Kewpie mayonnaise here for an authentic spicy sauce, but if you absolutely can’t find it, you can mix mayonnaise with a little rice vinegar (or even some fresh lemon juice).
How To Make Kani Salad
For the Filling
- Shred the crab sticks by hand.
- Shred the cucumber: you can julienne the cucumber with a knife or use a food processor to make thin matchsticks.
- Combine crab and cucumber in a large bowl, then make the kani salad dressing. You sometimes also see the cucumber plated beneath the kani salad (pictured below). This is one of those ‘personal preference’ decisions, but you can’t go wrong either way.
For the Dressing
- Combine Kewpie mayonnaise, mirin, and sriracha in a small bowl, then whisk to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary, adding more sriracha for more heat, or more mayonnaise if you prefer a more mild flavor.
How to Assemble Spicy Kani Salad
- Pour spicy mayonnaise dressing on top of shredded crab and cucumber, then toss to combine. Add tobiko and tempura bits, then gently toss once more.
- Serve with a little additional tobiko and tempura on top, if desired.
The prep time is 10 minutes, start to finish. How great is that?! No need to wait to enjoy kani salad at sushi restaurants when you can make it at home quickly!
Variations on Kani Salad
Could you make this with real crab legs? Yes. That’s not typical, though. We love real crab legs as much as anyone, but a kani salad is all about the crab sticks. Try it as written first! Bonus? If you use imitation crab, this recipe is kosher!
What are some other add ins? We do not add anything else! Of course you could get fancy and add mango or other fish roe, maybe even some shredded carrots, but this salad does not need it.
If you want a smoother, creamier texture, try omitting the cucumber from the crab and dressing mixture, then serving the crab salad on top of shredded cucumber instead (pictured below). Why? We have ordered this dish dozens of times from a zillion different sushi bars; some of our favorite iterations were when the kani salad was served on top of cucumber instead. It’s super luscious and creamy when you only get bites with crab!
We have also ordered this as a hand roll, which is nice because you get a bit of extra crunch from the seaweed.
If you make this Spicy Kani Salad Recipe, please let us know by leaving a rating and review below!
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For more Asian recipes we love, check out the following:
- Ramen eggs recipe (shoyu tamago)
- 10 minute spicy ramen noodles (better than takeout!)
- Thai red curry recipe with scallops and string beans
- Blistered shishito peppers
- Shrimp lettuce wraps recipe
Spicy Kani Salad
For the kani salad dressing
- ⅓ cup Kewpie Japanese mayonnaise
- 2 Tbsp mirin
- ½ tsp Sriracha
For the salad
- ¾ lb kani imitation crab sticks (about 8 sticks)
- ½ small cucumber julienned or thinly sliced (see note below)
- 2 Tbsp tobiko plus more for serving
- 2 Tbsp tempura bits
To make kani salad dressing
- Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, then whisk to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more Sriracha if you want more heat, a few drops at a time. Set aside.
To make salad
- Use fingers or two forks to pull apart and shred crab sticks, then place in a large bowl.
- Spoon all except 2 Tbsp of dressing on top of shredded kani, then toss to combine.
- Add tobiko and tempura bits, then toss and taste salad. If you want more dressing, add remaining 2 Tbsp. If you want it spicier, add a bit more Sriracha to dressing, whisk to combine, then toss with kani salad.
- Place shredded cucumber on a serving plate, then top with spicy kani salad. Add a little extra tobiko and/or tempura bits on top, then serve immediately.
- If you use rice vinegar instead of mirin, you may want to add ½ tsp granulated sugar to the salad dressing.
- We use a julienne peeler to make cutting the cucumber easy. You can either use a knife to slice into long, thin strips, of equal thickness as the kani, or you can use a food processor to grate. We prefer the julienne peeler, as the shape mirrors the shredded kani.
We recommend serving kani salad with the following:
- Soy sauce eggs recipe (shoyu tamago)
- Sticky sushi rice
- Blistered shishito peppers
- Ahi tuna poke bowls
This post was originally published in July 2020. It has since been updated with tips, tricks, and additional information to make it easier for you to recreate at home.