Fingers and Burgers, Surimi

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Commercial “minced” fish products are made from a variety of white ocean fish that would otherwise be discarded as too small or bony. They run the range from coarse-textured fish sticks and fishburgers to finer patties and paste-like spreads. Imitation fish fillets and shellfish meats are made by extruding highly processed mixtures of fish paste and other structure-reinforcing ingredients, including seaweed-derived alginate gums and textured vegetable proteins.

The most widely consumed form of processed fish is surimi, the Japanese term for “minced fish,” which is nearly 1,000 years old and is now made into many imitation shellfish products. Surimi is made by finely mincing fish scraps (today, usually pollack), washing them, pressing them to remove the wash water, salting and seasoning the mince, shaping it, and boiling it until it solidifies. Washing the mince removes nearly everything from the muscle except the muscle fiber membranes and contracting proteins. Salting then dissolves the protein myosin out of the muscle fibers, so that when it’s heated, the myosin will coagulate into a continuous, solid, elastic gel in which the other fiber materials are embedded. The result is a flavorless, colorless, homogeneous matrix that can be flavored, colored, and formed to imitate nearly any seafood.