What is Turban shell (Sazae) sushi?

a photo of turban shell
Sazae is found in waters near Japan and Korea, with ornately beautiful shells distinguished by jagged little horns dotting their perimeter.

What is Turban shell (Sazae)?

Turban shell (Sazae) is found on reefs from the intertidal zone to a depth of about 10 m throughout Japan, with the exception of northern Hokkaido and Okinawa.

The maximum shell height reaches 10 cm. The shell is conical and thick, with spines on the periphery. The number and length of the spines vary greatly depending on the habitat and the individual. Male gonads are yellowish-white and female ones are green.

The summer sazae become skinny due to spawning, so winter and spring are the best seasons for them. The scientific name is Turbo sazae Fukuda, 2017.

In the past, Sazae that grew on rough shores developed magnificent spines, and it was said that they may have developed because the spines caught on rocks like a kind of spike and prevented them from being washed away. Individuals that do not develop spines at all are called Marugoshi or Tsunonashi. Young, small, and thornless specimens are called hime-sazae in the market. However, those without spines and generally rounded may be imported.

Sazae is rarely seen alive, but those that make no sound when lightly shaken or quickly close their lids when touched are fresh. In the summer, even if they are alive, the water inside may be murky, so they judge the freshness by smelling. Sazae weighing 300 g or more are tasty.

The staple food of Sazae is seaweed, and the taste and color of their shells change depending on the quality of the seaweed they eat. It is said that eating arame seaweed turns the shell whitish while eating tengusa seaweed turns it blackish brown.

What does Turban shell (Sazae) nigiri sushi taste like?

a photo of Sazae Gunkan maki
Since turban shells do not fit well with shari, they should be rolled into gunkan-maki.

Sazae flesh is firm and is not easy to make nigiri. It also looks unattractive. In addition, the strong aroma of the sea and the thick umami make the nigiri sushi lose its sense of unity. However, some love the wild flavor and umami of Sazae.

When making nigiri sushi, it is best to put a fine Kakushi boucho on the inside to make it easier to eat. Fresh entrails can be boiled quickly and topped with a pleasantly bitter taste and rich flavor.

a photo of sazae tsuboyaki
For grilling Tsuboyaki, the entire shell can be placed directly onto hot charcoal, eventually coaxing juices to boil from the shell’s interior, at which point soy sauce and sake are poured directly into the shell.

Japanese people may prefer Sazae-no-tsuboyaki, which has the aroma of burnt soy sauce and the scent of the sea from the turban shells.


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: April 1, 2023

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