Chikuwa is an already-cooked Japanese fish cake in the shape of a tube with a small centre. It is named for how it is made: wrapped around a skewer.
You buy them at stores already made in factories.
Making and cooking chikuwa
To make chikuwa, you start by making a paste (called a “surimi”) from ground white fish, egg white, starch, salt and sugar. The fish used is one or a mixture of inexpensive fish such as pollack, bream, whiting, shark, flying fish, etc. More expensive grades of fish can be used, but the price of the Chikuwa end-product will be correspondingly higher.
The paste mixture is moulded around a stick — bamboo or metal — into a shape about 12 cm x 2 ½ cm wide (5 inches long by 1 inch), then steamed, then cooked, then the stick removed. The cooking can be done by broiling, grilling or baking. (With one variety at least, steaming is the only cooking it receives.)
Commercially, the chikuwa are then cooled, packed and shipped.
Varieties of Chikuwa
There are several types and variations, among them:
These are made in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture. The National Kamaboko Federation says,
Aichi Toyohashi is famous. Wrap the surimi on a bamboo and bake it. It is common to eat as it is.” Chikuwa Flavor Kamaboko. National Kamaboko Federation. Accessed August 2018 at http://www.zenkama.com/zukan/#03
Tooru Ooizumi, in “Surimi and Surimi Seafood”, writes:
“In manufacturing chikuwa, surimi paste from Alaska pollock, yellow croaker, lizardfish, or pink conger is applied onto a stainless-steel skewer and then placed on a rack conveyor going through a gas flame or above electric heat. A dark brown color is formed in the middle section of the product by this heat. After removing the skewer, the product is subjected to cooling. This is the general process of chikuwa produced in Toyohashi.” Park, Jae W., Ed. Surimi and Surimi Seafood. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press. 3rd edition. 2014. Chapter 10. Page 278.
The National Kamaboko Federation says,
“The one with a grilled color in the blaze shape made in Tohoku etc. is called botan chikuwa and it is suitable for stewed dishes because it does not become harder even if it is cooked.” Chikuwa Flavor Kamaboko. National Kamaboko Federation
Tooru Ooizumi agrees about the broth use, and clarifies the type of fish used:
“In the Tohoku area, botan chikuwa is made from mixed surimi paste of Alaska pollock and shark. This product is mainly used for boiled food served in a broth.” Surimi and Surimi Seafood. Ibid.
Nokayi-style (flying fish)
Nokayi-style chikuwa uses flying fish.
“Nokayi is a kind of chikuwa made from flying fish and locally produced in the Shimane Prefecture….” Surimi and Surimi Seafood. Ibid.
Tofu-chikuwa is made from a blend of fish paste and tofu:
“There is a product described as tofu-chikuwa made from a mixture of surimi paste and dehydrated tofu. The mixing ratio of dehydrated tofu to surimi paste is 1:1 to 1:2 by weight. This product is characterized by softer texture and a higher content of protein. Tofu-chikuwa is a special product in the Tottori Prefecture, located in the Shimane Prefecture.” Surimi and Surimi Seafood. Ibid.
The ratio of tofu to fish may vary. A writer in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun Evening Paper gives the ratio of tofu-chikuwa made by the Chimura Company in Tottori as being 7:3:
“First of all, we made tofu early in the morning, using 100% of soybeans from Tottori prefecture here. Square cotton tofu is lined up in a large tank, and the tofu is machine pressed to squeeze out moisture. After that, the tofu is finely crushed and kneaded with surimi of white fish. In addition to Chimura, several other companies such as Hamashita and Maeda (both also in Tottori) manufacture Tofu Chikuwa. There are some differences depending on the manufacturer, but the ratio of tofu and surimi is almost 7 to 3.” Navi, Odekake. Edo era is origin of tofu chikuwa in Tottori. 2015/11/25 Nihon Keizai Shimbun Evening Paper. Accessed August 2018 at https://style.nikkei.com/article/DGXKZO94295010R21C15A1NZ1P01?channel=DF130120166138&style=1
The same writer dates the creation of tofu-chikuwa to the Edo era in the 1600s:
The history of tofu chikuwa is old, and it is said that Mr. Ikeda who entered as Tottori lord in 1648 recommended to eat tofu instead of expensive fish. Tottori of that time was delayed in the maintenance of the fishing port, fish was priceless. Meanwhile, there were many mountain villages, soybeans were cultivated vigorously with the rice fields, and there were many tofu shops around…” Navi, Odekake. Edo era is origin of tofu chikuwa in Tottori.
The Chimura Company brand, at least, is cooked in the factory for 10 minutes by steaming (according to the above writer) , with no further baking or grilling, to preserve the chikuwa’s white appearance.
It is also used as a treat for dogs, owing to its cheapness.
When used in cooking, add chikuwa in the final stages to heat it through, as it is already cooked.
Commercial manufacture of chikuwa started in the 1830s.
“Chiku” in Japanese means “bamboo”; “chikuwa” means “bamboo ring.”
|↑1||Chikuwa Flavor Kamaboko. National Kamaboko Federation. Accessed August 2018 at http://www.zenkama.com/zukan/#03|
|↑2||Park, Jae W., Ed. Surimi and Surimi Seafood. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press. 3rd edition. 2014. Chapter 10. Page 278.|
|↑3||Chikuwa Flavor Kamaboko. National Kamaboko Federation|
|↑4||Surimi and Surimi Seafood. Ibid.|
|↑5||Surimi and Surimi Seafood. Ibid.|
|↑6||Surimi and Surimi Seafood. Ibid.|
|↑7||Navi, Odekake. Edo era is origin of tofu chikuwa in Tottori. 2015/11/25 Nihon Keizai Shimbun Evening Paper. Accessed August 2018 at https://style.nikkei.com/article/DGXKZO94295010R21C15A1NZ1P01?channel=DF130120166138&style=1|
|↑8||Navi, Odekake. Edo era is origin of tofu chikuwa in Tottori.|