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Kamaboko: The Japanese Fish Cake

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  September 1, 2022

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What’s a fish cake in Japanese?

A fish cake is an Asian patty made up of fish and other seafood, and the Japanese call it “kamaboko.” It’s pounded white fish, minced (surimi), and mixed with fish sauce, salt, sugar, and sake to create a smooth log of kamaboko.

While codfish is traditionally used, it’s scarce, so haddock and whitefish are now used, as well as sleek fish and salmon for more extraordinary tastes!

What is kamaboko

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Categories of fish cake

Fish cakes are made without breadcrumbs and consist of a blend of cooked fish, potatoes, and often eggs. They’re formed into patties and are sometimes fried.

As fish has primarily been a significant part of the diet of people living close to oceans, streams, and lakes, numerous local categories of fish cake have emerged.

Varieties can depend upon what sort of fish is used, how finely cleaved the fish is, the utilization of milk or water, the use of flour or potatoes, as well as the use of eggs or egg whites, and the cooking strategy.

Depending upon regional preferences and choices, fish cake ingredients have been classified into 2 categories: Asian and European style.

Categories of fish cakes

Asian style fish cake

In Asia, fish cakes generally contain fish with salt, water, flour, and eggs.

They can be the mix of a paste made of ground-up fish and surimi. The resulting mixture is then molded into shape and left to cool.

They’re then battered and breaded by utilizing a machine for that process.

At that point, they’re normally seared with oil. After the cooking procedure, they’re solidified and bundled, and are kept that way until consumption.

Also read: these are the 10 best fish cakes for ramen

European style fish cake

In Europe, fish cakes are like croquettes and are made out of filleted fish or other seafood with a potato patty.

In some cases, it’s covered in breadcrumbs. These fish cakes are made of slashed or minced fish, potato, egg, and flour, with seasonings of onions, pepper, and herbs.

What’s Japanese fish cake?

Japanese fish cake is a type of Asian fish cake that the Japanese call “kamaboko”. There are several types, but the most common ones are red kamaboko and narutomaki.

Most Japanese fish cake is produced using the meat of a few sorts of fresh fish or processed white fish called surimi.

History of Japanese fish cake

Although there’s no concrete evidence of how kamaboko came to be, it’s said that it started being made in the 8th century during the Heian period.

An outstanding story says that kamaboko was first served at a festive dinner for a Japanese priest.

Since it was just the start of making kamaboko, it was at first simply fish meat that was ground and shaped into a bamboo stick before cooking. As the shape was compared to that of the highest point of a cattail plant known as “gama-no-ho” in Japanese, the dish was named “kamaboko”.

It was in 1865 that the retailing fish organization Suzuhiro began delivering kamaboko.

While the market at first just served Odawara city, the 6th proprietor of the organization chose to grow the market in the capital of the nation: Tokyo.

Difference between kamaboko and surimi crab sticks

Surimi is simulated crab meat made from white fish paste and is a form of kamaboko. In Japan, this crab meat is also called kani-kamaboko or kanikama in short to indicate the fact that it’s considered a form of kamaboko.

Best kamaboko to buy

If you’re looking for a great kamaboko to try, I like this Yamasa log because it has the perfect chewiness and amazing pink coloring:

Yamasa kamaboko

(view more images)

What are the benefits of Japanese fish cake?

In addition to its wonderful taste, Japanese fish cake is loaded with several medical advantages:

  • It contains almost no fat and has lots of protein.
  • It incorporates a balanced cluster of all 9 amino acids.
  • It’s also found to have antioxidant effects.
  • It has various other vitamins and minerals necessary for a balanced diet and good health.
  • It’s low in calories and doesn’t pile up unnecessary fat and calories in your body.
  • Since it’s a protein-rich meal, it helps maintain the health of your nails, hair, and skin.

Texture of fish cake

Although there are different kinds of kamaboko, most of them have a pinkish and white color.

Kamaboko is typically chewy. However, the advanced kind is substantially more delicate, which is enjoyed with delicate noodles.

Red Japanese fish cake (just like the white one) is regularly offered at memorials and for special seasons, as in the Japanese culture, the two basic colors are considered to bring good luck.

How do you eat kamaboko?

According to Japanese people, you should be conscious of the temperature, as well as the thickness of the cuts, as they’ll decide how much you’ll enjoy the snacks.

If you plan on eating the fish cake as it ought to be, you should aim for a thickness of 12 mm, as this will help take in a lot of the flavors.

If you don’t think you’re going to eat them as a standalone dish or snack, you might want to match them with different ingredients from the meal and maybe go for a thinner piece. You could even take a piece that’s 3 mm thick. With a cut this thin, you can substitute kamaboko instead of bacon and get some great results!

And if you’re hoping to appreciate the flavor while eating the cakes by themselves, go for a thick cut, such as 15 mm. You could then add them to a plate of mixed greens without losing any of the flavors!

As for the temperature, you have to remember that these cakes contain plenty of proteins. So using an excessive amount of heat to cook kamaboko won’t just denature the proteins, but it’ll also ruin its crusty surface. The cakes you’d get will be hard and also tough to chew.

So it’s necessary to keep them at room temperature.

Conclusion

Kamaboko can be all types of fish cakes, from the pink colored logs we all know and love, to strange and exotic flavors, and even the lowly imitation crab stick.

Also read: this is how you make narutomaki ramen fish cakes

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.