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This light, refreshing, and colorful Japanese Kani Salad is so easy and quick to whip up. Tossed in a ponzu mayonnaise dressing, it’s guaranteed to be a hit with your entire family!
If you frequently visit Japanese-American sushi restaurants, you would be familiar with Kani Salad. A colorful salad featuring shredded imitation crab and crunchy vegetables in a mayonnaise-based dressing. It’s light, creamy, sweet, crunchy, and savory. I can see why Kani Salad receives such popularity in the US.
Here, I am going to share how the Japanese prepare the Japanese Kani Salad (カニカマサラダ) with a homemade dressing.
What is Kani Salad?
Kani Salad, or what we call Kanikama Salad (カニカマサラダ) in Japan, is a Japanese crab salad that is a popular home-cooked side dish, but it’s not something you’ll see on the menu at restaurants. Outside of Japan, however, it’s a staple in many Japanese-American sushi restaurants or Japanese steakhouses.
Kani (カニ, 蟹) in Japanese means crab, while kanikama refers to imitation crab meat (or imitation crab sticks), a seafood product made of starch and pureed white fish such as pollock or cod. These crab meat sticks are meant to imitate the taste and texture of the fresh crab. It is a popular ingredient in sushi and salads because of its long-frozen shelf life and ease of use.
You could use real crab meat (especially if you’re looking to make it gluten-free) for kani salad, but we normally use imitation crab for convenience. I used imitation crab in my recipe as I developed an allergy to crab when I was in my early 20s.
Key Tip to Achieving Best Kani Salad
In Japan, the original salad is called the kanikama salad and it is done slightly differently from the American versions. To be honest, I was rather surprised to see how different the salad is made here.
A good salad should be in perfect harmony as balance is important in Japanese cuisine. That means not overdoing it with ingredients, dressing, or panko breadcrumbs! Less is more in this recipe.
Ingredients For Kani Salad
- Imitation crab meat (also known as surimi in the US, or kanikama in Japan) or real crab meat
- English, Persian, or Japanese cucumber (the ones with less seeds)
- Sweet corn kernels (fresh, frozen, or canned)
- Dressing (see below)
- Optional add-ins: vegetables such as julienned carrot, edamame, glass noodles or kelp noodles.
For a delicious Kani Salad, it’s important to keep the ingredients simple while creating a contrast of textures and tastes. You should taste the harmonious flavors in every bite.
For Homemade Mayo Ponzu Dressing
The dressing for this Kani Salad is quick and simple to mix up, using only four ingredients.
- Japanese Mayonnaise (Kewpie Mayo) – see more below.
- Ponzu sauce – Made of soy sauce and citrus juice, ponzu lends a tart-tangy savoriness to the creamy mayonnaise. You can find it at Japanese/Asian grocery stores. Or make a quick ponzu sauce by combining 1 Tbsp rice vinegar, 2 tsp soy sauce, 1-2 tsp lemon juice, and 2-3 tsp orange juice or mirin.
- Soy sauce – regular or gluten-free
- Toasted white sesame seeds
This dressing is a balance of creamy, tangy, bright, and zesty. You can make it ahead and store it for 3 days in the refrigerator.
Japanese Mayonnaise (Kewpie Mayo)
You want to use Japanese mayonnaise to make kani salad if possible. The mayonnaise is richer, and creamier than regular mayo, and the slight tang and sweetness would make a difference in the dressing.
It’s worth getting Japanese mayonnaise so you can also make Japanese Potato Salad, Japanese Egg Sandwich, or Spicy Mayo for your sushi. The most popular brand is the Kewpie mayonnaise. You can buy this mayonnaise on Amazon, or from your local Japanese and Asian grocery stores.
I also have a Homemade Japanese Mayonnaise recipe. Look for the easy version if you need to use the regular American mayonnaise.
This salad is also great for improvisation. The only advice I have is to keep your combination simple and not to include more than 6 ingredients.
- Spice it up! You can make spicy kani salad by adding some sriracha sauce and fresh grinds of black pepper to the dressing.
- Add a tropical touch with mango or pineapple.
- Add some crunch.
- Fancy up by topping with fish roe such as tobiko.
What to Serve with Kani Salad
I like to serve my Kani Salad on a bed of lettuce leaves to give the salad some height and bring out the colors. We enjoy this Japanese salad with pretty much everything! Japanese housewives often serve it as part of Ichiju Sansai (Japanese ‘one soup three dishes’ meal), but you can certainly serve this tasty kani salad with popular dishes such as:
- Sushi meals such as California Roll, Dragon Roll, maki sushi, etc.
- Rice bowls
If you wish to make ahead or serve it at a potluck, just make sure to keep the salad and dressing ingredients separately in the refrigerator. Mix everything together right before serving. It will be a hit with everyone!
More Japanese Salad Recipes You’ll love
- Japanese Potato Salad
- Sunomono (Japanese Cucumber Salad)
- Japanese Macaroni Salad
- Simple Salad with Carrot Ginger Dressing
- Seaweed Salad with Miso Dressing
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Editor’s Note: The post was originally published on March 7, 2011. The pictures were updated in June 2014 and the content was updated on August 5, 2022.