Natto, is not as scary as most people tend to think. It unfortunately gets a lot of bad press because of its unique (sticky & slimy) texture which coats the beans. In an episode of “A Cook’s Tour”, Anthony Bourdain narrates:
“This (natto) is a really frightening texture, I mean it’s mucelogenous. This is like eating out of a spit cup at the dentist.”
Maybe I am immune to these factors, as I was exposed to natto at a very young age. Regardless, count me as one of those who love it. Seriously, love it!
It is fairly easy to make natto at home (although it takes a couple days), but it is now readily available in the freezer section of most asian supermarkets. Usually sold in 3-packs of either styrofoam (left), or plastic cups (right). I find that these freezer packs represent the major characteristics of natto, but obviously prefer the freshly-fermented version as it tends to keep more of the nutty flavours from the soybean.
Once thawed, a quick stir will let you know that it is good to go. I apologize for the second television quote, but according to the original Iron Chef – Battle Natto:
“Stir it up 15 times. This means if you wisk the fermented beans some 15 times, little threads will form around them, and these enhance the flavour it’s said. But, if you stir more than 15 times the threads turn into little bubbles, and that spoils the delicate taste”.
Some people prefer to leave the beans whole, others like to give it a quick chop. Photographed below are the characteristic natto ‘strings’ – which can stay connected over a freakishly long distance.
The freezer packs contain a sweetened soy sauce, and a small pack of hot mustard. My personal preference is to skip the pre-packaged additives, and add a generous topping of katsuo-boshi (shavings from a dried bonito) and approximately 1-2 teaspoons of soy sauce per package.
I also prefer wasabi over the pre-packed hot mustard (although as this is the reconstituted powder, it is quite similar), along with finely chopped green onions and a raw quail egg. Unfortunately – I did not have the later two on hand. The flavour from the green onions cut through the nutty soybeans, while the yolk accentuates the texture.
Typically served with, or on-top of a bowl of rice. You’ll notice my stack of nori, cut into 3cm x 10cm strips (more on that later).
Now, eating natto can be messy and difficult. A spoon might seem like the most intelligent option, but I find that it tends to collect a lot of the natto slime. This is where the strips of nori come into play.
Lay a strip of nori onto the natto and rice, then using a pair of chopsticks – press down on the outer edges of the nori, while simultaneously closing the chopsticks. This will essentially ‘pinch’ a mix of ingredients, making a perfect bite-sized, natto-maki. When done correctly, it keeps the natto strings under control, while the crisp nori adds a perfect textural element.
The health benefits (and I’m not referring to those which “makes you strong”) have been studied, and if any of it is true, is definitely worth a try!