Surimi un-Rolls

Surimi is to fish as konnyaku is to vegetables — it’s an otherwise bland product that’s been processed to within an inch of its life. A mixture of various spare whitefish that’s been boiled, powdered, sintered, flavored, rolled, and steamed. Or maybe steamed and rolled. In Japan, it stands on its own, being sold in rolls the size of a medium tube of liverwurst, usually dead white with a garish pink swirl of dye incorporated to give it a festive look. You see it in pictures of various Japanese soups. The consistency at all temperatures is that of chilled butter. The flavor is mildly fishlike.

In the US, it’s treated with flavorants that very nearly taste like crab, painted red on one side, and chunked up and sold as fake crab meat. Or, and hereby hangs a tale, it’s rolled out, rolled up, painted red, cut into sticks, and sold as fake crabs legs.

Fake crab leg

Somewhere a crab is walking around with all eight legs

Well, what’s been rolled can be unrolled. And what’s been unrolled can be stuffed and rolled up again. If you are the imaginative sort, you can stop reading and go have fun. For the rest of you plodders, read on.

You unroll the surimi by picking along one edge of the red until you find the seam. If you pick the correct edge, it unrolls. If you pick the wrong one, you tear off a thin strip, which you get to eat, and the correct edge is directly behind you. You can use a knife to get started, but the surimi is so delicate (it’s just sintered fish paste, after all) it’s east to tear. I used the back side of a butter knife. It’s a little hard to get started, because they’ve gone to great lengths to make sure it doesn’t unroll on its own. But once it’s started, it unrolls with no more effort than one of those breakfast roll premixes. You end up with a sheet of fish about four inches on a side. After that, the world is your oyster…um….

Unrolled surimi roll

Now the issue is, what flavorsome things can we do with a thin sheet of rollable whitefish? One thought is to smear it with some sort of sauce — tartar sauce, perhaps — and roll it back up. Or maybe put in equally thin sheets of cheese and deli ham. Or pickled ginger (no, that would be wrong). Or put it on thin slices of toast. Or lay it onto a layer of tomagoyaki before you roll it up in the pan. For sushi fans, make it part of a California roll — nori, surimi, sushi, avocado, roll. It’s been fully cooked, and then some, so it’s fine to use right out of the package.

The constraints are that the flavors of the filling shouldn’t overwhelm the mild fish-with-overtones-of-crab flavor, and that they shouldn’t be so thick that you can’t roll your roll, nor so lumpy that they tear the delicate fibers.

See what you can learn when you play with your food?

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