I Didn't Grow Up Eating Chips—I Ate Crab Stick Crackers

The greatest use of imitation crabmeat, in my book.

October 30, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

In the great span of my snack-filled life, there’s no other junk food that I’ve indulged in more than crab stick crackers.

Photo by Amazon

Yes, crab sticks. You know, those finger-sized logs of crab meat with an artificially colored coat of lipstick-red on top, and a glistening underbelly of white.

Despite their name, there’s no real crab in crab sticks; they’re made from surimi—a fish paste pounded out of white fish, bycatch, and other forms of sea life. You’ll find these sticks at hotpot restaurants, in the fried rice at old-school dim sum parlors, tempura-style at Japanese restaurants, in salads that purportedly have "crab" in it, and of course, in the ubiquitous California roll.

Usually, I avoid these overly processed crab sticks at all cost. They add little in flavor and in texture.

All my prejudice goes out the window, however, when you unroll them, pull their layers apart, dust them in a bit of cornstarch, and deep-fry them. The little threads crisp up like fritters and like that, the imitation meat transforms into another thing entirely. In this form, the limp, watery pieces of faux crabmeat turn into one of the crispiest, most addictive snacks out there. They become slivers of crunchy, umami-rich goodness, wicking the moisture out of your mouth and causing you to salivate so much that the only cure is to eat more.

Crab sticks like you've never seen them before. Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

"They are as satisfying in texture as a doughnut," says Food52 Recipe Developer Emma Laperruque.

"Crispy soft," Senior Editor Eric Kim describes the way they disintegrate in the mouth. "I've never had anything like them and can't stop eating them. Get them away from me!"

On their own, these fried crab sticks taste like a cross between prawn crackers—the kind that comes free with American-Chinese takeout—and the batter of those Panda Express chicken egg rolls.

Devilishly addictive on their own. But fry them with some curry or basil leaves, and they take on an earthy, spicy fragrance that elevates them even further. Just like a bowl of nachos on Super Bowl Sunday or a tub of buttered popcorn at the movies, you’ll polish them off before you realize it.

What's your favorite childhood snack? Let us know in the comments below.

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Engineer + cook + food blogger. All about cross-cultural cooking, funky-fresh ferments, and abusing alliteration.

1 Comment

Cary November 1, 2019
I can't wait to try this, but having a hard time picturing how to separate the sticks. How many pieces do you end up with from each stick? Are they about 1/4" thick before cooking?