This light and colorful Japanese Kani Salad is so easy 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 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.
In Japan, the original salad is called the kanikama salad and it is done slightly different from the American versions. To be honest, I was rather surprised to see how different the salad is made here. A good salad should in perfect harmony (balance is important in Japanese cuisine). That means not overdoing with ingredients, dressing or panko breadcrumb!
So today, I am going to share how the Japanese prepare the Japanese Kani Salad (カニカマサラダ). We enjoy this salad with pretty much everything! You’ll mostly find it being served as part of Ichiju Sansai (Japanese ‘one soup three dishes’ meal).
What is Kani Salad or Kanikama Salad?
Kani (カニ, 蟹) in Japanese means crab, while Kanikama refers to imitation crab. You can use fresh crab meat for this recipe, but we normally use imitation crab for the convenience. I like using imitation crab because I developed an allergy to crab in my early 20’s. The salad is even better if you could use real crab meat!
To achieve a good textural crunch without overwhelming the salad, I believe it’s important to keep the ingredients at the minimal. My recipe uses only imitation crab, crisp cucumber and sweet corn kernels. You can taste the harmonious flavors in every bite.
This salad definitely showcases how a simple, delicious Japanese meal can be done at home.
Homemade Mayo Ponzu Dressing
For this dressing, I made my own creation using Japanese mayonnaise, ponzu sauce, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. Why mayo and ponzu? Well, just give it a try! It’s so simple yet so bright and tasty! A reason why this salad is an all-time Japanese favorite for home-cooked meals.
What makes your dressing different is the use of Japanese mayonnaise. It’s worth getting Japanese mayonnaise if you wish to 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 your local Japanese and Asian grocery stores.
Similar to a vinaigrette, ponzu (made of soy sauce and citrus juice), lends a tart-tangy savoriness to the creamy mayonnaise.
Ponzu (Homemade Ponzu)
A Salad that Goes with Everything
This is one of the Japanese salads that can be enjoyed with everything and on any occasion. 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!
I hope you enjoy this Kani Salad. If you enjoy the imitation crab, you can also try my Japanese Cucumber Salad!
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
Japanese Kani Salad
- 5 oz imitation crab meat (kanikama) (I used 1 package of the Japanese brand of kanikama)
- ½ English cucumber (6 oz, 170 g)
- ½ cup frozen or canned corn (2.8 oz; canned or frozen, frozen corn can just be run under cold water to defrost, drain, and then it's ready to use.)
- Cut the imitation crab in half (if necessary) and shred it. Peel the English cucumber with a stripe pattern. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and diagonally cut into thin slices.
- In a medium bowl, combine shredded imitation crab, cucumber slices, and corn. Add the dressing ingredients to the bowl and combine well. Serve the salad in individual bowls or a large serving bowl. Enjoy!
If you make the salad ahead of time:
- Keep the ingredients and dressing ingredients separately in the refrigerator. Mix together right before you serve.
- You can store the leftovers in an airtight container and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published on March 7, 2011. The pictures were updated in June 2014 and the content was updated in April 2020.