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.