Question: How long can we keep imitation crab in the refrigerator? How much sodium does it have? Is there any sugar in it?
Answer: Like most simulated shell fish or surimi (processed fish with improved shelf life) products, imitation crab is definitely not a low-sodium food item. According to Terri Kishimoto, general manager of JAC Creative Foods Inc., a 3-ounce serving of imitation crab contains 1,050 milligrams of sodium. Its refrigerator shelf life will depend on the type of packaging, Kishimoto said. Vacuum-sealed products that are pasteurized have a refrigerator shelf life of two months but, once opened, should be treated like fresh fish and used within three days.
Imitation crab sold in loose form in trays in fish cases will keep in the refrigerator three to five days. When frozen, they should be used within six months. Signs of spoiled imitation crab are similar to those of fish, Kishimoto said--foul fishy smell, slimy surface and sour taste. Sugar is sometimes added to imitation crab, so check the ingredient listing on labels.
Q: The June 9 issue of Home Magazine had a recipe for the ultimate coconut cake that I would very much like to try. I was unable to find coconut milk in my market but they did have fresh coconut. Can you please provide some instructions for extracting coconut milk from fresh coconut?
A: Canned coconut milk is readily available in Oriental markets. However, one medium-size fresh coconut will produce about a quart of coconut milk. Here is a recipe from "The Doubleday Cookbook" by Jean Anderson.
1 medium coconut
Water, milk or half and half
Pierce coconut "eyes" with screwdriver and drain liquid. Add enough water to liquid to total 1 quart. Place coconut in 400-degree oven 20 minutes. Tap all over to loosen meat, then crack with hammer or mallet. Pry chunks of white meat from shell, peeling off brown skin with knife or vegetable peeler. Cut in small cubes.
Grate meat in blender or food processor moderately fine. Place in large heavy saucepan with liquid mixture. Heat slowly, stirring constantly until mixture boils. Remove from heat. Cover and cool to room temperature. Press through double thickness of cheesecloth or fine sieve, forcing out as much liquid as possible. Discard coconut pulp. Makes about 1 quart coconut milk.
Another alternative is to use the finely grated coconut that's available from some Asian markets and health food stores. But if you go to one of these stores, you may as well purchase canned coconut milk (do not substitute cream of coconut, as it's too sweet and heavy). Substitute 12 ounces grated coconut for the fresh, and use 1 quart milk or half and half.
Q: How long can we keep fresh coconut? Should it be refrigerated?
A: Coconuts are best stored, refrigerated, at 32 to 35 degrees; they will keep well for one to two months.
Address questions on food preparation to You Asked About, Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. Personal replies cannot be given.