Making Sushi With Brent Phung

I love sushi, though I must admit, ever since I’ve had kids I don’t have it often. It’s just the thought of going into this nice, quiet, sushi restaurant with a toddler and a five year old that won’t eat most of the stuff brought out that gives me a headache. We usually just pick up some rolls on the way home, though it got me to thinking, “I need to learn to make this at home. It would be so much more enjoyable when my husband and I want to have a sushi night.” Of course, the first person who came to mind was my friend, Brent, the sushi master.


We decided to invite Brent over one weekend to show off some of his skills and to prepare something simple that we might be able to duplicate. Now his plating is beautiful and I might not be able to plate it as well, but in watching his mastery, I started to pick up on the basics. Brent has been making sushi for seventeen years. He learned the art starting at the young age of 15 while working in a sushi restaurant. I asked him why he enjoyed making it so much and he said, “In the beginning it was just a job, but over the years it has taught me one of the biggest life lessons I possess today; humility. I found an appreciation in learning the art with patience and discipline. I don’t see my ability to make sushi as a talent but a privilege in paying respect to a way of life. Also, it brings me a sense of happiness in watching the joy and smiles of each individual I make it for.”


While Brent was here, he made Nigiri and Sashimi. He even went as far as making some California Rolls to appeal to the younger guests present. While prepping his workspace, I asked him about the rice that he was using. He told me that it was called Genmai brown rice. He had made it before coming over because apparently it is a very temperamental rice to make. It either burns easily or gets too soggy quickly. It’s a very high quality of rice to use if you can master it. Most restaurants won’t use it because it’s hard to make in quick, large quantities but if you ask any sushi chef, they would tell you that it has the best flavor for sushi. Brent has experimented with it over the years before he was satisfied with it’s texture. I asked him what an amateur, such as myself, could use in place of this rice and he suggested using Nishiki short grain rice.


While Brent was carefully slicing the fish with his very sharp Japanese knife, he told me that you always want good quality, sushi grade, fish whenever you’re making sushi. Here in the San Diego area he likes to get his fish at Catalina Offshore Products. Their fish is always fresh and he thinks the quality is outstanding. In fact, before he came over, he stopped there and picked up some ultra buttery salmon, and two types of tuna. I now know where I’ll be headed when I need some fish for sushi making (or fish in general). As he was forming the rice for the Nigiri, I asked Brent what he thought was the most important thing to learn in making sushi and he said the rice. “There are various ways to make it but once you master the rice, making sushi is like whipping up a peanut butter sandwich.” Oh, okay Brent. If you say so.


Needless to say, our evening was splendid. Great food, great conversation, and even better friends. If you decide to try making your own sushi at home, always remember, quality, freshness, and apparently great rice is key. Nigiri (sushi consisting of a small ball of rice smeared with wasabi sauce and topped with raw fish or other seafood) and Sashimi (bite-sized pieces of raw fish eaten with soy sauce and wasabi paste) are good starters. I can’t wait to give it a try.



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