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Imitation Crab Is The Affordable Way To Liven Up Baked Mac And Cheese

crab baked macaroni and cheese
crab baked macaroni and cheese - Jatrax/Getty Images

Imitation crab, also known as surimi, has long been a budget-friendly culinary delight that doesn't get its due. Comprising a blend of fish, starch, and flavorings, surimi is a versatile ingredient that mimics the texture and appearance of crab meat. As a component of dishes such as seafood salad and California rolls, imitation crab provides a luxurious flavor profile at a cost that doesn't break the bank. That's not to say that it needs to be relegated to cold, seafood-centric dishes. This crustacean substitute is an excellent addition to warm, comforting dishes as well, and one unexpected but incredibly satisfying pairing is with classic baked macaroni and cheese.

Creamy and rich with a crunchy top, baked mac and cheese is an apt foil for imitation crab. The inherent sweetness and umami of surimi complement and accentuate the unctuous cheese sauce, creating a balanced dish that becomes a supremely-satisfying side or a proper main course. What's more, imitation crab is appealingly convenient. Precooked and ready to use straight from the package, it eliminates the hassle of intricate preparation. However, a slight bit of cooking such as a quick sear or even a few minutes on the grill can enhance its flavor profile, offering a delightful twist to your mac and cheese. The mild taste of surimi seamlessly melds with the cheesy goodness of macaroni, adding a subtle oceanic undertone that surprises the palate.

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Elevate With Added Ingredients

imitation crab sticks
imitation crab sticks - Markgillow/Getty Images

Picture this: tender macaroni enveloped in a velvety cheese sauce, intertwined with shreds of imitation crab. You can stop right there and revel in the depth it adds. But for those seeking additional dimensions, consider incorporating contrasting elements. Corn and peas, either fresh, frozen, or from a can, not only enhance the overall texture with vegetal crunch but also contribute bursts of natural sweetness that further underpin the flavor of the surimi. More savory vegetables like asparagus and broccoli are natural counterpoints to the crab flavor and meld well with the layers of cheese sauce. For those craving a touch of freshness, toss in a handful of freshly chopped raw chives or scallions once the dish is out of the oven. The allium bite introduces a pleasant contrast that cuts through the richness with every mouthful.

And what's baked mac and cheese without a crunchy topping? Already a classic, buttery Ritz or club crackers, crushed and toasted by the heat of the oven, stand resolute against the yielding imitation crab and sumptuous macaroni. More mild, panko bread crumbs offer loads of craggily surface area that works expertly with the treasure underneath. Whether you're a seafood enthusiast or just seeking an adventurous twist on a beloved dish, the addition of imitation crab promises to elevate your mac and cheese experience to new heights of satisfaction.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.