Alternative Holiday Foods: Delectable Seafood Substitutes

Is that real caviar or a version made from soy? We'll never tell.
Is that real caviar or a version made from soy? We'll never tell.

You're a purist. You grind your own coffee beans, dish steel-cut oats into your breakfast bowl and indulge in the occasional grass-fed steak on your dinner plate. And, when it comes to shellfish, you're no less discerning. Especially when it comes to cracking crab legs or dipping wild-caught lobster tail in clarified butter.

Keep that ideal in mind the next time you bite into a seafood sandwich from your favorite restaurant. Rather than dining on lump crabmeat, you may be consuming an imposter: surimi. Surimi, also known as imitation crabmeat, is the seafaring equivalent of breakfast sausage. Several types of mild white fish, such as Alaskan Pollock or Pacific whiting, are minced and then cooked with crab flavoring [source: Herring]. In the end, it's an amalgamation that's good, but entirely different, than its raw ingredients.

Although the idea of faux food may offend a foodie's sensibilities, surimi and other seafood substitutes aren't necessarily the equivalent of a school cafeteria's mystery meat. Instead, these handy alternatives allow people with shellfish allergies to avoid symptoms like hives, extreme itching and swelling, while still enjoying the (sea)foods they crave.

But what if you or your dinner guests can't tolerate seafood at all? Even the best shellfish substitutes still contain fish and may not be right for a thoughtfully prepared menu -- especially during holiday celebrations when you may not know whether one of your guests has a food allergy.

It's also possible that your guests prefer vegan options or simply want to steer clear of red meat. So how do you please everyone, while still serving delectable foods that are the center of holiday celebrations? The answer is simple: seafood substitutes. While the ingredients in fake seafood have likely never seen the sea, they often taste like the real thing. So, as the visions dancing in your head turn from sugarplums to tofu fish patties, put on your apron. All that stands between your holiday menu and a steady stream of rave reviews is a bit of ingenuity in the kitchen.