How I learned not to hate seafood extender and became fascinated with surimi

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Follow-up post on a visit to Austrimi in North Geelong can be found here.

A ho-hum noodle joint and a lunch unlikely to be blessed by much merit or distinction.

I order the seafood mee goreng.

When it arrives, with dismay I realise I have once more neglected to ask if my ordered dish includes the dreaded seafood extender among its ingredients.

There’s a lot of it.

I fastidiously push it to one side and try to enjoy what’s left.

I depart determined to find out more about this stuff and whether any of the stories are true.

In particular, I’d like to know whether there is truth to the widely-held belief that seafood extender – and its close cousin, the crab stick – is made from tripe. This, I confess, is a significant part of my aversion to the stuff. I suspect many other folk feel the same.

Not surprisingly, I find countless references not just to seafood extender but to tripe being part of it.

Yahoo questions, a forum at Vogue, an IT forum, all sorts of people wondering the same thing as me.

I find a Kath & Kim site debating the topic before the thread descends into rampant spamming.

Even the venerable Snopes site gets in on the act.

But for all the questioning, there’s not too many answers.

Among the more enlightening is a poster at the Australian Kayak Fishing forum who seems to know what he’s talking about.

The answer, it seems, is … no, tripe is not used in the manufacture of seafood extender.

It’s an urban myth.

So now I know, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to like this, um, product all of a sudden.

But what exactly is seafood extender?

It’s surimi – a term I have not come across until my current trawling.

Turns out seafood extender, crab sticks and the like are part of a venerable – and even revered – Asian tradition, and not necessarily a nasty exercise in bulking up, as suspected by this Western mind despite the amount of Asian food I eat.

Most references I find suggest surimi is best made from pollock, although I also find plenty suggesting cheap and nasty Vietnamese catfish is imported to Australia for the same purpose.

I’m still not warming in any way to seafood extender in my noodles.

It’s flabby and tasteless, just taking up space and bringing nothing to the table at all. And I hate the food colouring that is used in a pathetic attempt to suggest this is real lobster or crab meat.

By contrast, I really like the fish cake slices that are commonly served in many Asian noodles, soups and laksas.

That product has texture and flavour, and is honest about what it is.

Ahhhh! It turns out that, too, is surimi – as are the fish balls and beef balls we’re all familiar with!

I know some people get a bit sniffy about Wikipedia – no doubt with good reason – but its surimi article seems reliable about the many different kinds of surimi and their geographical and cultural baggage.

To my surprise, I find that a major Australian producer of these sorts of products, Austrimi Seafoods, lives right in my town of employment, Geelong.

(And, yes, I’ve contacted them with a view to an interview and tour!)

The company’s product page has a brief summary of the surimi process, while the individual product pages have ingredient breakdowns.

Incredibly, the company produces three different calamari products – Kal-Rings Golden Crumbed (“A formed crumbed ring made from a combination of squid and surimi”), Squid Ring Golden Crumbed (“squid 46%”) and Squid Ring Natural (“Natural squid rings”).

All three of these look like products found in your typical fish and chips shops.

Still, despite my enjoyable and entertaining research, strong doubts linger.

For surely it is not a good thing for food to be so highly processed, mucked around with to such an extent that it resembles no more the original ingredients?

But hold on – isn’t tofu, in all its many, varied and enjoyable forms – just another form of surimi?

To be continued …