All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.


Saba no oshizushi / pressed sushi with grilled mackerel

A specialty sushi from the eastern part of Toyama Prefecture. This sushi appeared at gatherings of relatives at the house of my grandmother on my mother's side in Urayama (Unazuki). We would all get together for mid-summer obon to welcome ancestors as well as to attend spring and fall ennichi festivals at the local shrine. In my mind's eye, I can see my grandmother and aunties working in the large, earthen floor kitchen, chattering away and laughing against the sounds of running water, chopping vegetables and steaming pots, with indulgent smells filling the air. There, they used several huge wooden molds to make hundreds of sushi to feed dozens of people during their stay at the house and to take home. My mom, the youngest of her siblings, claims that gently breaking up grilled mackerel was her role in the sushi making, but she is not in my picture ...

I have a clear visual recollection of me holding a piece of sushi with vivid green sansho leaves. After my grandmother's health deteriorated and we began buying this type of sushi from shops, sansho was always missing, and needless to say there were differences in taste and texture. It was still home style, but certainly not what my family was familiar with.

Because of the big operation I used to see at grandmother's kitchen, I had long thought making this sushi would be too much work. But when I finally made a satisfactory one, it was surprisingly easy -- why couldn't I make this before?

As with masuzushi pressed salmon sushi, making this -- especially mackerel prep and pressing after assembly -- takes a bit of time. It tastes better the next day, too, so plan ahead.

Whole recipe: 1,212 calories; 32.9 g protein; 28.9 g fat; 187.9 g carbohydrate; 185.4 g net carbs; 443 mg sodium (with shiokoji salted rice malt for sushi rice); 69 mg cholesterol; 2.5 g fiber

1/9 cut: 135 calories; 3.7 g protein; 3.2 g fat; 20.9 g carbohydrate; 20.6 g net carbs; 49 mg sodium (with shiokoji salted rice malt for sushi rice); 69 mg cholesterol; 2.5 g fiber


(For 15 cm x 14 cm x 4.5 cm rectangular mold; 3-4 servings)
Sumeshi sushi rice made with 1.5 cups (270 cc) rice (more vinegar is used; see Notes)
1/3-1/4 of grilled saba mackerel; salted, desalinated, grilled, and broken up (80 g)
Pinch salt (to mix in mackerel, as necessary; not in photo)
7-8 kinome sansho leaves
2 sheets of nori seaweed; cut to fit mold


Prepare saba mackerel.
On the day of purchase, salt mackerel (1% by weight; see Notes) after removing head and guts (or filleting).
Before grilling, desalinate in 250 cc water, 2 tbsp sake and 1-2 tsp mirin for 1-2 hours (see desalination of shiozake salted salmon). 
Grill until lightly brown (20-25 minutes at 450 F/230 C).

Remove bones and skin as necessary, gently break up, and place on paper towel to remove excess oil/fat.
The recipe uses 80 g of broken-up grilled mackerel.
Save the rest for other use.
If the salty taste is too soft, sprinkle pinch of salt, and mix well.

When mackerel preparation is almost done (ready to grill), start preparing sumeshi sushi rice.


Line mold with plastic film (for easier removal; not needed if using wooden mold with removable top and bottom), and place nori with shiny side out and rough side facing up/inside.
Put half of sumeshi, and press with spatula.


Put mackerel, then sansho leaves.


Put remaining half of sumeshi, and press with spatula.

Place nori on top, with shiny side up/outside.


Place plastic film (not needed if using wooden mold), and cover.
Put weight.
Wait 5+ hours to overnight. 
(Next day in photo)
(Remove from mold, and cut. Serve as is -- no soy sauce or condiments accompany this sushi.)

  • Make sure to grill mackerel on wire rack or griddle to get rid of excess oil or fat. If neither is available, pat off all excess oil on surface with paper towel after grilling.
  • Sumeshi sushi rice needs to be warm when assembling.
  • When rice surface is completely covered with mackerel, finished sushi tends to crumble when cut or eaten.
  • I used mackerel weighing 510 g (without head and guts but including bones and skin; 380 g fillets). I sprinkled 3 g salt on the surface, refrigerated it overnight, filleted, sprinkled 0.3 g salt on flesh side, let sit for 30 minutes, desalinated for two and a half hours, then grilled. Mackerel did not have clear saltiness, because of having been desalinated a bit too long, and I sprinkled 0.1 g salt on 80 g of broken-up mackerel and mixed it in before assembly with sumeshi sushi rice.
  • For sushizu sushi rice vinegar, use 2 tsp more rice vinegar than the usual recipe (use 3 tbsp & 2 tsp [instead of 3 tbsp] rice vinegar, 2 tsp sugar, and 1 tsp shiokoji for 1.5 cups/270 cc of rice); otherwise, the sushi rice would taste bland at the end. More vinegar also helps to counter the lingering greasy taste of mackerel.
  • Typically, this sushi is cut into palm-size rectangles. 
  • Leftover pieces can be grilled -- my favorite way of eating them in cold seasons.

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