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What is Kamaboko?

Allison Boelcke
Allison Boelcke

Kamaboko, also commonly referred to as fish cake, is a small slab or loaf that is made from processed whitefish, such as pollock, whiting, or hake, and sliced into thin rounds. Manufacturers may also add food coloring, most commonly red but sometimes yellow or brown, to give the loaf a decorative coating, such as swirled designs on the inner portion or a colorful outer border, after the loaf is sliced. The product is typically used in authentic Asian cuisine, and is often consumed both as a casual street food and as a traditional holiday dish.

The basis of most fish cake preparations is typically a product known as surimi. Surimi is made from firm-fleshed whitefish that is heated until it transforms into a gel-like substance. It is then mixed with shellfish flavor concentrate to give it a slightly fishier taste. The finished substance will then have a taste that is mild and similar to crabmeat, so it is often used to make imitation crab products. Once the surimi is processed into a moldable texture and mixed with the preferred food coloring, it is shaped into thin cakes or loaves and packaged and sold as kamaboko.

Hake may be used to make kamaboko.
Hake may be used to make kamaboko.

In Asian cuisine, kamaboko is generally not served by itself, but rather as an accompaniment to other dishes. It often served atop hot noodles, soups, and stews, to add a light seafood flavor to the dishes. If it is served alone as an appetizer, hot broth may be added alongside to use as a dipping sauce since they tend to be very mild in flavor on their own. The fish cake slices can be wrapped around a skewer to make eating them alone as an appetizer less difficult and messy.

Although the fish cake is commonly sold as an inexpensive street food in Asian countries, it is also a traditional dish that is served on the Japanese New Year holiday. During the holiday celebration, several small dishes are eaten rather than a main entrée. Some Japanese cooks will purchase or prepare these small dishes ahead of time and refrigerate them to reduce the cooking time on the actual holiday due to the larger quantity of foods being served. Since kamaboko is cooked during the manufacturing process, it can be stored in the refrigerator or kept at room temperature without affecting its taste or texture, which may make it a convenient food choice for the holiday.

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    • Hake may be used to make kamaboko.
      By: Edward Westmacott
      Hake may be used to make kamaboko.