These Kani Poppers are crunchy on the outside, soft and buttery on the inside. They are light, airy, and delicious. You could really stop there but we are dousing these bites of imitation crab in a sticky sweet honey sauce that is so, so addictive and tastes just like the restaurant!
Kani literally means crab in Japanese, but in the West we have come to know it as Imitation Crab. (In Japan this fake crab is called Kanikama). Kani is made of ground Alaskan Pollock(a white fish), which on its own is called Surimi. Surimi is then used to make the Kani we know and love! In this recipe we will use the fake crab sticks, which we cut into pieces to bread and fry.
Growing up on the island of Kauai, I was surrounded by seafood. But even with fresh lobster available as well as crab, this imitation crab(Kani) was something we loved. It has a light flavour and tastes like a cloud- my mom would fry it in a pan with butter and no matter how much she made it was never enough!!
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I haven’t eaten real crab in 8 years, since taking on the Kosher lifestyle. I also haven’t bought Kani in as long. In Israel, where we live, Kani isn’t as widely used, and I just started seeing it pop up on the market. Around the same time, we visited NYC and I had some Kani Poppers in a restaurant- I was like, push the sushi aside man, i’ll take a full order of the poppers!!! They were so good!
I was getting major memory flashbacks pulling the ingredients out to make this imitation crab recipe, and I’m very excited to share it with you.
These poppers start with a simple, successful marinade made of mirin, vodka, egg white, and salt. It’s a simplified version of a marinade I use for chicken-” if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”! The vodka in the marinade will evaporate when the poppers fry, leaving an extremely crunchy product that is just really friggin’ crunchy. The mirin adds sweetness- you can also use Japanese Shaoxing wine if you have that instead. The egg white acts as a binder when we go on to the next step- coating the kani in batter.
Did I say batter? I mean flour! Thats it! You wouldn’t believe how easy. (You can watch me make these on my Instagram highlights).
When you pour the marinated kani into the flour, make sure to add all the liquid as well. This creates a type of batter with all these little extra bits that cling to each popper. Those bits fry up and give texture and so much extra bite and volume!
While the poppers are marinating whip up the sauce. We’ll add honey, soy sauce, scallions, and sugar to a pot and bring that to a boil. If you have chicken stock on hand, you can sub that for the water and chicken soup mix. Personally, I never have stock and I have found that adding just a pinch of soup mix(I prefer one with no MSG), gives just as much flavour.
You may think with the honey in the sauce, you could skip on the sugar, but that little addition caramelises with the sauce and gives it a really lovely colour and extra flavour.
Last, you’ll fry up the poppers, toss them in sauce, and sprinkle with sesame seeds and some more chopped scallions. Nothing like green onion to give a dish that pop of colour it needs!
I hope you love these Honey Sesame Kani Poppers like we do! When you make them tag us on Instagram– I seriously love seeing all your photos! Happy cooking, Estee
Honey Sesame Kani Poppers
Marinade and Batter
- One package kani(imitation crab sticks) about 10 sticks cut into squares
- 1 Tbs mirin(Japanese cooking wine)
- 1 Tbs vodka
- 1 large egg white
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1- 1 1/2 cup flour, sifted
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/3 cup Water
- 3 TBS Soy sauce
- 2 TBS White sugar
- 1 TBS scallion, chopped plus more for garnish
- 1/2 tsp chicken soup mix
- 1/4 tsp sesame seeds
- 2 TBS cornstarch
- 1 TBS water(for the cornstarch)
- Cut Kani sticks into square pieces and place in a large bowl. Add mirin, vodka, egg white, and salt. Toss to combine and let sit for 10 minutes, or while you prepare the sauce.
- Place the flour in a large bowl. Start with one cup, and if you need more add another 1/2 cup. After ten minutes, Pour the kani squares with ALL the extra marinade into the flour. Toss till all the pieces are coated- you will see little bits of batter sticking to the poppers. Some of the kani might break apart a bit. Thats fine, just fry those little pieces up too!
- Heat a high rimmed pan or shallow pot with an inch to an inch and a half of oil. When hot, add the battered poppers in to fry. Flip when the first side is golden and cook second side. You are just cooking the coating- the kani doesn't need to cook! Remove to a paper towel to drain.
- To prepare the sauce, add honey, soy sauce, water, soup mix, sugar, and scallions to a pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let it cook for a minute or two. Add 2 Tbs cornstarch to a small seperate bowl with one Tbs water. Mix until the cornstarch dissolves and add it to the honey sauce. Cook until the sauce turns glossy and thicks slightly, 1-3 minutes. Watch it because you don't want it to cook too long!
- Immediately before serving, add the Kani poppers to the honey sauce and toss to combine. Transfer to serving plate and sprinkle with chopped scallions and sesame seeds. Enjoy!