Japanese kani salad recipe is light, creamy, & refreshing – combining imitation crab with shredded cucumber & carrots tossed in a creamy mayo-based sauce as a simple and delicious side dish!
What Is Kani Salad?
Kani salad, also called kanikama salad or surimi salad, is a Japanese-style salad made primarily from kanikama – aka imitation crab sticks. This simple crab stick salad is popularly combined with fresh veggies like cucumber and carrot, all slices/shredded julienne-style, and served in a Japanese mayo-based dressing (mild or spicy) as a popular sushi restaurant/Japanese steakhouse side dish.
Just like tuna salad, the best kani salad recipe relies only on a handful of simple and fairly inexpensive pantry ingredients. Plus, it comes together in minutes, combining tender and crunchy textures in the creamy dressing.
The result is a super simple yet satisfying, gluten-free, low-carb side dish loaded with protein and perfect for enjoying at picnics, potlucks, sushi night, and more, alongside avocado sushi, rice paper dumplings, the viral TikTok salmon rice bowl, and more.
What You’ll Need
- Imitation crab sticks: Also called “seafood sticks,” this imitation crab meat is actually made with white fish (often pollock) rather than crab and shaped, colored, and even flavored to resemble snow crab/Japanese spider crab leg meat.
It’s also possible to use real crab meat when preparing this crab and cucumber salad, though the texture and flavor differ.
- The vegetables: The traditional Japanese crab salad recipe relies on thinly shredded/julienned carrot and cucumber. Use a thin peel, low-seed cucumber like English, Japanese, or Persian cucumber.
- Mayonnaise: This crab stick salad recipe traditionally uses Japanese mayonnaise (Kewpie mayo), which has a richer flavor and color. However, regular mayo will work, too. Full-fat works best, but use low-fat mayo if preferred.
- Lemon juice: Use fresh lemon juice for the best flavor. Lime juice will work, too, or another acid like sweet rice vinegar.
- Salt & black pepper: To season to taste. Use soy sauce instead of salt to pack in umami flavor.
For Spicy Kani Salad
To add some heat to the salad, add a small amount (to taste) of either sriracha sauce or your hot sauce of choice to make a spicy mayonnaise dressing.
How to Make Kani Salad
First, julienne/shred the carrot and cucumber – I did so by shredding them lengthwise using medium-large shredding holes.
Alternatively, you could use a food processor shredding disk or even a sharp knife (though it will be hard to get the pieces as thin and will take longer).
Then, shred the crab sticks either using a fork (by holding one end then running the fork along it to scrape it into stands) or by hand (it peels easily) into thin strands. Add all three of the above ingredients into a large bowl.
Next, juice the lemon and combine it with the mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and some hot sauce (if used). Whisk well to combine.
Pour the simple kani salad dressing over the shredded ingredients and toss well to combine, then optionally garnish with regular or black sesame seeds, cilantro (or green onion), and lemon slices. Enjoy!
It will taste best when you leave the flavors to meld for 30-60 minutes before serving.
How Long Can You Store Kani Salad?
I’m a big fan of preparing this salad an hour or two in advance as it allows the flavors the chance to meld. However, the fresh veggies will soften over time, so don’t prepare it too far in advance unless you plan to store the salad and dressing separately.
Once prepared, store the crab salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. The flavors will meld and adapt over time, so add an extra splash/dollop of any kani salad dressing ingredients to brighten it up between servings if needed.
I don’t recommend freezing it, as the textures will become watery and mushy.
More Salad Recipes
If you try this easy kani salad recipe, let me know how it goes in the comments below. I’d appreciate a recipe card rating and would love to see your recipe recreations – tag me on Instagram @Alphafoodie!
Kani Salad (Japanese Style)
- 18 oz imitation crab sticks 2 packs
- 5.8 oz cucumber 1/2 large; use a low-seed variety like English, Persian, or Japanese
- 3.4 oz carrots 2 medium
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise Kewpie or regular
- 1.5 tablespoon lemon juice or more to taste; OR rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 tablespoon sriracha sauce or hot sauce, optional for spiciness
- To garnish sesame seeds, lemon slices, cilantro (or green onion)
- Julienne/shred the carrot and cucumber – I did so by shredding them lengthwise using medium-large shredding holes.Alternatively, you could use a food processor shredding disk or even a sharp knife (though it will be hard to get the pieces as thin and will take longer).
- Shred the crab sticks either using a fork (by holding one end then running the fork along it to scrape it into stands) or by hand (it peels easily) into thin strands. Add all three of the above ingredients into a serving bowl.
- Juice the lemon and combine it with the mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and some hot sauce (if used).
- Pour the simple kani salad dressing over the shredded ingredients and toss well to combine, then optionally garnish with sesame seeds, cilantro (or green onion), and lemon slices. Enjoy!It will taste best when you leave the flavors to meld for 30-60 minutes before serving.
- To save time: Use kitchen tools to help speed up the shredding process OR even purchase pre-shredded carrots (though they won’t taste as fresh).
- Finely shred/julienne the ingredients: And ensure they’re all a similar size for the best texture.
- If using a seedy cucumber: First, slice it in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.
- Tweak it to your liking: You can easily adjust any of the flavors in the dressing and the texture of the shredded ingredients.
- Using regular vs. Japanese mayo: The latter is made with only egg yolk, not the whole egg, for a richer and creamier flavor.
- Mango: Slice the mango into thin strips for a delicious sweet and savory mango kani salad. A shredded apple would complement the crab, too.
- Shrimp: Finely chopped for extra seafood flavor and texture.
- Corn kernels: For color and its slightly crunchy, subtly sweet flavor/texture.
- Noodles: Adding thin glass noodles or kelp noodles makes a heartier salad.
- Sesame seeds: Regular or black (raw or toasted) for garnish.
- Nori sheets: Finely shredded to garnish the crab stick salad.
- Fish roe: (Tobiko) Like flying fish roe or capelin fish roe to add color and texture.
- Avocado: Slices, to garnish for extra creamy texture and heart-healthy fats.
- Panko breadcrumbs: To garnish the cucumber crab salad for some crunch.