THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Natto dinner at Koko Head Café

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALBecause June signals the arrival of the annual Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival — held this year Saturday, June 17 from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Event Center at Saint Mary’s Cathedral at 1111 Gough St. (at Geary Blvd.) near San Francisco’s Japantown — get ready for your fill of all things soy and tofu, whether it’s in the form of plain steamed edamame or elaborate tofu-based dessert creations.

And then there’s soy and tofu’s often disregarded distant cousin, which rarely shares the same limelight as the silky and sexy tofu or the rustic and hearty edamame. In fact, the two most common adjectives used for this neglected relative are stinky and slimy. It’s almost like that distant uncle or cousin that your relatives always told you to avoid … And his name is natto.

Alive and Well in the 50th

For the past six years, the trio of Scott Pang, Greg Sekiya and Mari Taketa have been organizing annual natto-themed dinners on July 10 – Natto Day (na = seven and to = 10, hence July 10). These dinners have become so popular that they are now organizing natto-themed dinners throughout the year. And this past March, they finally convinced transplanted local celebrity chef, Lee Anne Wong to host a natto dinner at her Koko Head Café in the heart of Kaimuki. Her menu for the evening looked like this:

Bagna Cauda, natto miso butter. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Bagna Cauda, natto miso butter

Assorted local veggies were served with a natto-miso dipping sauce and sprinkled with natto salt. This was a great start to the meal.

Natto Ume Yamaimo, toasted nori and shiso

The slice of raw yamaimo provided a refreshing crunch (albeit a slippery crunch) magnified by slippery natto.

Ahi Natto Ramen, mustard ponzu tare

It was like a basic ramen with natto.

Natto Nori Fish Fritters

This tasted like a fresh kamaboko with a crisp exterior, enhanced by earthy natto nuggets.

Natto Moco, quail egg and parm dashi. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Natto Moco, quail egg and parm dashi

This dish was one of the hits of the evening, with rich egg yolk, salty Parmesan cream and a crisp croquette.

Natto Chicken Zhongzi, shiitake mushroom

Another favorite was the earthy natto and shiitake, which balanced the tender morsels of chicken

Kauai Prawns with natto crumble, chili shoyu and turnip

Beef Tataki, goma natto, fingerlings and asparagus

The natto crumble on the prawns were another epiphany — I need to figure out how to make it!

Natto coffee pudding, sugared natto, chocolate crumble

Though the pudding didn’t set, the coffee perfectly balanced the natto, especially since natto has an inherent coffee flavor.

So, once dinner concluded, to express my appreciation to the organizing Natto Trio, I provided them with several mini servings of my own natto dessert, my Chocolate Natto Rice Pudding with Natto Miso Caramel.

Natto Miso Caramel

1 & 1/2 cups heavy cream

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 & 1/2 cups sugar

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup red miso

1 container of natto (about 1/4 cup)

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, combine the cream and butter and bring just to a simmer over moderate heat.

In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar, corn syrup and water and cook over moderately high heat, without stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Using a wet pastry brush, wash down any crystals from the side of the pan. Continue to cook, gently swirling the pan occasionally, until an amber caramel forms, about five minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cream mixture; it will bubble up. When the bubbles subside, very carefully pour the hot caramel into a heatproof blender. With the blender on medium speed, gradually add spoonfuls of the miso and natto until incorporated. Transfer to a bowl and let cool, then whisk in the vanilla.

Chocolate Natto Rice Pudding

4 cups whole milk

1 cup Arborio rice

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

In a heavy, medium saucepan, combine the milk, rice, sugar, and vanilla extract. Bring the milk to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the rice is tender and the mixture thickens, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir the cocoa powder into the mixture. Add the chocolate chips and stir until melted. Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the Natto Miso Caramel is still warm, place about two to three tablespoons on the bottom of a small serving bowl (I use custard cups). Top the Natto Miso Caramel with a scoop of the Chocolate Natto Rice Pudding and serve.

So, while you may be sampling the elegant tofu based desserts at the seventh annual Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival, consider creating and sampling my natto based dessert once you’re back home.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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