Maki Sushi with Pickled “Matjes” Herring

herring_makipI rarely boast, but I must say I consider these maki sushi as one of the best fusion creations in my life (and at the same time maybe even the best maki sushi I have ever made…). I had this idea when, assembling ingredients for maki sushi, I noticed an almost expired package of my beloved “matjes” herrings in the fridge. At first, I experimented with only one roll, but after tasting the first batch with my husband, I ended up making a huge tray of herring maki. As much as this combination might seem crazy, I can assure you that this is an unexpected feast for all the herring and maki sushi lovers. (I hope I’m not the only one fond of both…).

Since some of you might have never tasted pickled herring, I owe you a small explanation, in case you are tempted to try this recipe (or by pickled herrings in general). The pickled herring I used here is usually called “matjes”/”maatjes”/”matjas”, sometimes translated as “soused” herring, and is popular for example in Sweden, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russia… It is a brine-pickled fish, very delicately vinegared and then sold in oil “brine”. It’s definitely salty, but barely sour, so don’t mix it up with vinegar-pickled herring, much stronger and obviously sour. I have posted here two recipes with “matjes” herring:

Pickled Herring and Potato Salad
Pickled Herring and Potato Salad
Layered Herring Salad
Layered Herring Salad

Apart from the herring, these rolls contain white onion, chives (for the colour mainly) and salt brine-pickled cucumber. The cucumber is not necessary, but it pairs wonderfully with the herring and adds a refreshing, light note (though my husband preferred these rolls “pure”, without the cucumber). Again a small explanation: the cucumber was pickled in salted brine (not vinegar!). As far as I know, it is produced in many European countries (here I have seen it imported from Ukraine, Poland and Austria, but I regularly buy it in Germany and I know it’s produced in Hungary too). Sometimes it’s sold in jars and sometimes in plastic bags (the latter in the refrigerated section). Such a cucumber is sour, but much more delicate than vinegared pickles (and it’s much healthier too, since fermented; due to this fact it might also be sold in organic shops in certain countries). An easy way to recognise salt-brined cucumbers is to look at the brine: salt brine is “muddy” while vinegared brine is completely transparent.

For those who cannot find or are not interested in pickled herring, here are some other maki sushi ideas:

Asparagus Maki Sushi
Asparagus Maki Sushi
Maki sushi with Canned Tuna and Cucumber
Maki sushi with Canned Tuna and Cucumber
Ground Spicy Beef Maki
Ground Spicy Beef Maki
Maki with Shrimp, Avocado and Cucumber
Maki with Shrimp, Avocado and Cucumber

TIPS: Even though “matjes” herring might not be a traditional product in your country, you will be surprised at how many places sell it around the world (even though it’s not a Swiss specialty, it’s regularly sold in my local basic supermarket). I have recently seen matjes (and also vinegared) herring sold by an Australian company, so make sure you check your supermarkets and search well on internet. If you have a Polish/Russian/Ukrainian grocery shop nearby, the pickled herring in oil and salt-brined cucumber should be easy to get (German grocery shops will sell at least “matjes” herring). In some countries foreign grocery shops sell also by internet (for example in France).

As much as these maki sushi were excellent with wasabi, they were not suited for soy sauce in my opinion.

Raw onion improves greatly the flavours, but if you cannot digest it, just skip it. Herring is the crucial element here.

As you see on the photo above, contrary to the usually sold maki, mine have less rice than and more of the filling than usually. If you prefer a standard, not lightened maki version, increase the rice amount.

When you buy nori sheets, pay attention to their transparency and colour. I was told in Japan that darker and less transparent nori means better quality (of course there are more sophisticated criteria to judge the quality once the nori is dark and opaque enough to be considered good quality, but I found the above tip a good way to discard low-quality products).

I add cheap sake to the rice mixture (I think it adds a pleasant aroma), but this is not obligatory (most recipes don’t call for it), so skip it if you want.

Special equipment:

rice cooker (unless you know how to cook the rice in a “normal” pan)

maki rolling mat 

a brush

Preparation: 20 minutes (+ 1 hour for rice rinsing, cooking, seasoning and cooling)

Ingredients (serves 3):

5 nori seaweed sheets

300g (about 10,5 oz) uncooked sushi rice 

Rice mixture:

4 tablespoons rice vinegar

(1 tablespoon sake)

1 tablespoon mirin

1 tablespoon white sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 package of “matjes” herring (250 g/almost 9 oz)

5 medium salt-brined (salt-pickled) cucumbers


1 big white/yellow onion, finely chopped

freshly ground pepper

(chopped chives)


a tiny bowl of rice vinegar (for brushing and finger dipping)

Cook the rice in the rice cooker (or in a pan if you know how to do it). Put the hot rice into a bowl and add the rice mixture ingredients. Stir well and leave to cool down.

In the meantime drain the herring and dry with paper towels, removing the oil.

Cut into half horizontally and then into half vertically.

Cut the cucumbers into 4-6 long strips each.

When the rice has cooled down to the room temperature (it can’t be completely cold, otherwise it won’t be sticky enough), put a nori sheet vertically on the rolling mat, shiny side down.

With fingers dipped in a bowl of rice vinegar spread 1/5th of the rice evenly, leaving a 1 cm gap on the top, far edge.

Arrange the filling ingredients (the cucumber sticks, the herring pieces, the mayonnaise, the chopped onion, the freshly ground pepper and chives, if using) on the rice, in a horizontal line, close to the bottom edge.

Roll the maki starting from the bottom edge, gently pressing after each turn.

Brush with rice vinegar the upper edge before doing the last turn (it will help to seal the roll).

Press gently the roll and put it aside.

In order to obtain more or less similarly sized pieces, cut the roll first in two parts, then put them in a row and cut them in two parts, etc..

(It is easier to cut the rolls with a moist knife blade.)

Arrange the cut maki pieces on a plate and serve with wasabi and marinated ginger.

40 Replies to “Maki Sushi with Pickled “Matjes” Herring”

  1. Not a pickled fish fan in any form, but the nori sheet tip was interesting. I don’t know how you’d tell the difference between the nori though unless you had several brands on hand at the same time to compare. I finally got through my last package of 100 sheets and haven’t replaced it yet, so I’m curious if there are any brands that you can recommend or dissuade one from buying.

    1. When I first saw good quality nori in Tokyo, I was shocked by how light-coloured were the ones I buy here in comparison (rather khaki than deep dark green). There was no need to compare. First I didn’t intend to bring nori because I can buy them here and I don’t make maki every day, but when I compared the quality and prices, I bought several packages. I cannot tell you the brand names because I have no idea how to read them (I don’t even know if they export their products). Sorry 🙁 If I were you I’d choose always the darker brand (I’m sure your shop sells at least two different brands; here they always sell several brands; unfortunately the darker ones are very expensive; this is why I always used to buy the khaki ones here).

  2. I misinterpreted what you meant by darker sheets. I pictured holding up the individual sheets and looking through them for transparency with the darker/denser sheet being the better one as opposed to the colour of the sheet itself. All the ones I’ve bought have been dark but then I tend to buy from oriental/international grocery stores. Still, I’ll pay more attention the next time I go shopping. Thank you. 🙂

    1. The transparency also means lower quality (the more transparent the less actual seaweed was used…) but it’s difficult to see in a shop. From my experience, often transparent nori are also nor very dark…

  3. I have some pickled herring in the freezer, a very good friend’s father made it for me, not sure if it’s the right one for this dish. I adore pickled herring so I’ll keep my eyes open for this style. The recipe suites my taste perfectly, as you might have guessed. How nice that your husband helps you taste, mine does too!

    1. Thank you, Eva. If you have vinegar-pickled herring, it might be too aggressive to pair with nori and sushi rice. (My husband tastes certain things with more enthusiasm; let’s say he prefers tasting new herring dish than something with tofu 😉 ).

  4. My son and I love sushi and I would love to be your neighbor so I could take advantage of your high skills in making it! We could also exchange Greek for Japanese haha!

    1. Thank you so much, Katerina (though I am far from having high skills in sushi… I make simple, home maki only…). I would also love to live next door to you…

  5. Hi! I have never eaten this kind of pickled herring maki sushi. I think these sushi are very delicious. Can you buy toasted laver easly ?
    We make it a rule to order a pair of Kappa maki ( cucumber roll) at the end of eating in a sushi restraunt.
    Thanks for sharing.

      1. As far as I know, laver is “nori” in Japanese… For me “toasted laver”=toasted nori. What does it look like? Not like nori sheets?

          1. Oh! Korean seasoned nori snacks! These are really delicious. You just have them as snacks while having a dinner and you can also treat it as a kind of tiny wrap: you place rice or/and fried meat/vegetables in it and… eat. If you like the taste of nori and soy sauce, you will like them.

            1. Thank you for more details. I love soy sauce and nori so I’m sure I’d like them. I didn’t buy them even though the 3-pack was only $1.99. Maybe next time.

      2. As for your previous question… I don’t know if it helps, but I have finally found the name of one of the shops where I bought some of my nori. It’s called Yamamoto Noriten (it’s also a brand). I don’t know if they export to Canada, but it’s an old shop in Tokyo.
        I bought the rest in a department store and have no idea about the brands.

    1. Thank you so much, Minoru. I do with what I can… If I had access to fresh raw fish, as you do in Japan, I’d never probably think about pickled herring.
      I have two Japanese grocery shops in my city and nori is sold even in standard supermarkets (though the quality is worse…) because maki sushi is quite popular here.
      In the recent months I have been a happy user of the nori brought from Japan. The quality (and the taste!) is just amazing and the price so low compared to what we have here… I have bought a big part of my nori from Yamamoto Noriten in Tokyo but also from department stores. I still have some stock hopefully enough before my next trip to Japan.

  6. Very creative! I must tell you that I’m not really good with making maki sushi rolls. I must be very clumsy, the filling never in center. Yours looks perfect!

    1. Thank you for the compliments! I cannot believe what you say! You present such beautiful, neatly shaped dishes, I’m sure your makisushi are just perfect (mine are far from it).

  7. Fabulous and very convenient solution. I really don’t trust the freshness of the fish I can buy so preserved fish (pickled or smoked) is much better when it comes to food safety.

    1. Thank you so much, Kiki. The matjes herring comes directly from Edeka in Freiburg and salt-brined cucumber from Alterra 😉

  8. Making sushi is a great accomplishment. It’s something I have yet to learn. And your rolls look just about perfect, very professional 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Joyti. You are too kind… There is nothing perfect about them… but the taste is there, so it’s the most important!

  9. Your sushi as always looks quite lovely Sissi and makes me even want to give pickled herring a chance. 🙂 Actually I could eat this roll with just those salt-brined cucumbers.

    1. Thank you so much, MJ. Yes, this is also a great idea! A different way to see “kappa maki”, so popular in maki sushi…

  10. Using pickled fish (herring in your case) for sushi should be a wonderful idea for those who have little or no access to sashimi-grade fish (and for those who just can’t eat raw fish for whatever reason)!

    1. Thank you so much, Hiroyuki. I enjoy raw fish while in Japan, but here… it’s soooo bad in comparison… I have good quality pickled herring, so why not profit from what I have? I think I read this advice in Tsuji’s book, who recommends using as much local food as possible… (I think there is also an angry passage about huge shrimp imported to Japan, while small ones are local and delicious…).

  11. Sissi, I’ve never had herring in sushi, but the way you make it sounds very inviting, and tempting. My son-in-law is quite an accomplished sushi maker, and he used to make some for his northern Italian restaurant for appetizers and it was very, very, popular…until it got too demanding and would have to hire more ‘help’ to make them, which was mostly with tuna, salmon, and shrimp…he had to take it off the menu.

    I love the combination of the fillings, everything is matching up so nicely with the brined pickles, onion, and the mayo sounds perfect, instead of sour cream which I usually add to my pickled herring after removing the brined liquid! ( will not be making sushi any time soon…although I do admire your creativity with all your Asian cuisine knowledge)

    1. Thank you so much, Elisabeth. It was also my first herring in sushi 😉 I was surprised at the delicious result. (I think you talk about vinegared brined herring (these are usually eaten with cream); this one is not sour at all; it’s in a sort of very oily brine; if you can get this one, you should try it; it’s more delicate than the sour one).

  12. Oh Sissi! This is so you!

    Love the combination! Pickled anything, I find, work extremely well in maki sushi because the tart sweet/saltiness really comes through the rice and seaweed. Pickled herring is perfect, especially for those squeamish about raw fish in sushi! I love this!!

    1. Thank you so much, ShuHan. I’m glad you like the idea of this weird (but delicious) version.

  13. Sissi, your sushi is always so perfect looking! You seem to roll and tuck them just right. I’ve yet to make my own but I’m always happy to buy them :). In fact, today is Friday which means sushi day in this family!! My tendency is towards California style sushi (otherwise known as the California roll) ~ salmon, shrimp and crab are about as experimental as I get 😉 along with all the gorgeous veggies (creamy avocado, bright carrot and crunchy cucumber…). Your herring is far more sophisticated and no doubt authentic. And I agree, you never boast which means they must be dynamite tasting too! p.s. my mouth is watering and it’s only 8 am!! xx.

    1. Kelly, thank you so much for all the compliments. I really don’t find my maki neat and feel I still have to improve a lot, so I’m glad you like the way they look 🙂 (By the way, they are delicious for summer breakfast; just like most maki sushi! you should try one day).

  14. I’ve had pickled fish in several occasions and I enjoyed it. I love the collections of sushi that you have Sissi — very creative. Have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

  15. Ohhh, nice – I’m so pleased it worked out, though I’m not surprised. Matjessill has an amazing flavour… so delicately spiced and sweet. I found a great deal recently… big packs of matjessill for only 5kr (about… er, €0.60 I think). Normally it’s at least 3x that. I bought 4 but wish I’d bought more. I still have two left so I think I might really try to make this soon. Thanks for the inspiration – I’ll update you if I have a chance to make it… I’m so busy these days 🙁

    1. Thanks a lot, Charles. When I posted them I thought about you… I bet you would like them a lot. Whenever I go to Germany I buy at least four packages because here they are much more expensive and leaner and in general not as good (and you know that the fatter the herring, the better 😉 ).

    1. Thanks a lot, Nami. I’m not sure if it would be to every Japanese’s taste…. I grew up eating pickled herring and salt-pickled cucumbers, so discovering that these pair perfectly with nori and vinegared rice was one of the most joyful moments in my cooking experience.

Comments are closed.