November 18th, 2003


Pollocks! I saw ya!

I've been obsessing about a particular issue of late. These have been two particularly lonely days; confined to bed with a high temperature and enduring prolonged abstract dream states. One question has been burning through my mind throughout - just what on earth is surimi?

Once upon a time, there was a food product commonly known as crab sticks. Due to the strictness of EU regulations on food description, these had to be renamed seafood sticks, since there was actually no crab contained therein, at least in the UK version, although they maintain a pink colouring on their upper surface for that underwater crustacean association. I enjoy eating these from time to time, especially when they're in the reduced section by the yoghurts, but only recently started examining the ingredients. It's mostly surimi. Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça?

Here are the surimi facts as far as I can establish them:

1. The word surimi is Japanese and comes from the verb 'suru' (擂る) meaning 'grind, bray'. Not the 'suru' (擦る) which means 'rub, chafe'. Japanese is confusing like this. Although the sound of these words is the same in any form they might hear them, they would use different characters to differentiate themselves, that is, if they were expressed in characters. Yet, grinding and rubbing are evidently the same, although not in degree. Once, before the Japanese had a writing system or if the speakers were in ignorance of it, there would have been no difference between them in the spoken language and people would have had to express their rubbing and grinding needs more explicitly. Use your imagination. Now, if the context isn't clear enough, speakers will ask for clarification in two ways:
a. Describing the character itself. Tracing the shape on the palm of your hand.
b. Using a suru root word. That's suru as in surimuku (擦りむく) or suru as in surimi (すり身 or 擂り身 if we're being old school).
In all honesty, I'm sure this nit-picking over specific suru characters is as much the product of pedantic Japanese lexicographers. The mi of surimi is the same one as the one in sashimi. No one writes surimi with two characters anyway post-45, unless they're some hard ass kokugakusha. This is quite enough characters for one page, as I am aware that they don't appear on most screens. We're deliberately avoiding the whole suru-suru issue here, that's the Professor's territory.

2. The process of making surimi (I think we've used that word sufficiently now to abandon the italics) generally involves the use of Alaska Pollock. The fish are viscerated, skinned, boned, rinsed and then ground into a paste. The subsequent heating of this makes it form a gel (Mmm, wonder if you could form a surimi aerogel...). Now, opinions seem to differ on a number of points. Sorbitol, sometimes sugar, are added to stabilise the process. Some may include the use of actual crabmeat. You might add other flavourings (such as that produced from ground crab shell). Sake maybe, mirin even. Colour with paprika. I'm tiring of writing about surimi.

3. I've been eating it for longer than I knew, mostly in its Japanese kamaboko form. I didn't know this was actually surimi. I hadn't heard of surimi at this point. To be honest, whilst I don't mind this stuff in something everyday like ramen, I was disappointed to get it in chanko nabe once. What was wrong with fresh fish, for Mai No Umi's sake? Especially at these prices. I had a great Korean hot pot meal a few weeks ago. Rambling...

4. Surimi is political. Alaska Pollock is declining, as is whiting. What other fish could be used? Attend workshops on surimi, one coming to your town soon.

5. I'm very disappointed that it's not made out of krill. I'm still waiting for the dawn of krill cuisine.

6. The Indian produced surimi isn't as good as the Thai or Malaysian.

7. I promise not to write about surimi again.

Now to get on with something useful...
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