"When I was asked to do natto," says Brian Enyart, "I thought it was a typo. I had no idea what natto actually was. So I did some research, and then I got even more scared."
Natto, or fermented soybeans, is traditional in Japan—often served as a breakfast food despite its sliminess and strong odor. "It's got this really weird mucilaginous texture," Enyart notes. "I don't know if you've ever tried to wash your hands with cold water when they've got oil on them, but it's a texture that won't quite go away. This kind of does the same thing to your mouth.
"Having to swat the slime away from your face, that's always awesome. It's a great date food."
Enyart compares the flavor of natto to a light, bitter coffee or tea, with toasty notes. In the course of his research he found that in Japan it's often eaten over rice with soy, mustard, green onion, and egg yolk, a tradition he wanted to respect in his dish even as he added Mexican elements.
"I'm going to basically make a risotto-style rice with horchata milk instead of a stock," he said. "On top of that, we're going to put a little bit of pickled pasilla chile to give the rice some umami notes." The raisiny quality of the chiles, he said, is about as close to soy as they get at Topolobampo.
Crispy knob onions functioned as both Enyart's ode to the more traditional green onions and "a crunchy, familiar element because there's so much slime going on." He added, "This is the safety net. If all else fails, put bacon or crunchy on it."
He also threw in some cauliflower, reasoning that it has "sort of a sweeter, funkier note, so that will be a good bridge between the sweeter horchata and the natto itself." Egg yolk, toasted almonds, and smoked cauliflower fluid gel finished off the recipe.
Asked what he called the dish, Enyart responded, "An interesting journey."
Tasting it, he noted, "That texture is commanding . . . it's just everywhere." He was glad that there were "breakers" to it: "the cauliflower, the almonds, I think those are good palate cleansers." And the horchata "is helping balance that sort of overtness of natto. I'm really glad I put the crispy onions on there, because it needs some crunch."
"I'm really happy with it," Enyart concluded. "I think that it delivers with all the stuff I was hoping would come across."
Will he ever make it again? "No," he replied without hesitation.
"I like the idea with the horchata and the cauliflower, but I'll leave the natto out of it."
Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon
Mike Sheerin, consulting chef at the Three Floyds Brewpub in Munster, Indiana, and chef-owner of yet-to-open restaurant the Trencherman. He'll cook with dried guaje seeds, from the pods of the leucaena tree. Enyart toasts and purees the seeds and uses them to make a type of mole called guaxmole, with tomatillos, serranos, onions, garlic, and cilantro.
"The flavor is—guaje. People love it or they hate it," Enyart says. "I would say if you were to put black garlic, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and okra together, it would be a guaje."
100 g toasted rice
170 g toasted almonds
1000 g water
2 g Ceylon cinnamon
salt and sugar to taste
Combine all ingredients, soak overnight, blend in a blender.
Smoked Cauliflower Fluid Gel
175 g cauliflower scraps (leftover stems after florets have been removed)
500 g whole milk
2.5 g agar
salt to taste
Cook the scraps in the milk until tender and smoke, then puree and strain through a chinois and season with salt. Mix in agar and bring to a simmer. Pour into a container and let set into a gel, then blend in a blender until smooth.
Pickled Pasilla Chiles
3 dried pasilla chiles
50 g olive oil
100 g sherry vinegar
salt to taste
Seed and slice the chiles, then place in a frying pan and heat over a high flame, stirring often, until toasted. Deglaze with the sherry vinegar and let cool.
Crispy Knob Onions
2 small knob onions
salt to taste
oil for frying
Heat oil to 365 degrees in a deep saucepan. Slice the onions thinly, season the flour with salt, and dredge the onions in it. Fry until golden.
60 g medium-grain rice
horchata (recipe above)
Toast the rice in a saucepan over high heat, then lower the heat and add horchata in small amounts, stirring often, until horchata is absorbed and rice is tender. If the horchata starts to make the rice too thick, switch to water.
Cauliflower florets, blanched and roasted (a slight char is ideal)
Slivered almonds, toasted
Place a few tablespoons of horchata rice on a plate, and top with pickled pasilla chile, crispy knob onions, natto, and a few large dots of smoked cauliflower fluid gel. Add the egg yolk, and top with a few slivers of toasted almond and cilantro stems. Place roasted cauliflower florets around the edge.