By Allie Moxley
The bounty of the planet's oceans is a coveted prize on the table of just about every home in the world: people are dying to eat good seafood, especially if they live far from the coast. Though some people have the privilege of having shrimp, prawns, lobsters, crabs, and other delicious treats almost all year round, many communities do not have such luxuries; or do they? While the real thing is unmistakable, surimi is an ingenious alternative that can be cooked in such a variety of ways that it is almost more versatile than the real thing! So, what exactly is this unique product?
Surimi is a fish-based product that has been used in traditional cooking in many parts of Asia for a very long time. It is obtained by pulverizing fish meat to such a fine paste that, with heat, can be turned into a cohesive, firm substance, compacted and molded into many different shapes-often, imitating the shapes of shrimp or crab legs. In fact, in the US it is often referred to in restaurants as sea leg, which, as a name, doesn't provide the same elegance as the borrowed word from Japanese. Not just any kind of fish is used to prepare it, however: certain white meat fish are chosen, like Alaska pollock, tilapia, and swordfish. When the flesh of these types of fish is pulverized and over time exposed to heat, there is a particular protein called myosin that cures the paste and yields the final product that you may have served on your table. Of course, the flesh is rinsed several times before the final step, to get rid of the sort of "fishy" odors that it may have, giving the final product a uniquely smooth taste, which is enhanced by adding shrimp or crab flavoring in many cases.
As mentioned, it is particularly present in Asian cuisine (in fact, surimi is also made out of beef and pork in many countries of the region), and is commonly added to stir-fries and wok preparations. It is also served cold in salads frequently. Some times it is battered and deep fried. Really, surimi is a very versatile ingredient that can be eaten as is or also cooked (though it's not a good idea to do so for very long), and can be matched with a wide variety of sweet and savory preparations.