Thursday 21 September 2017

French Toast a la Japan; Natto Miso Toast

   French toast. I've never had it, to be honest, but I know the recipe, from the simplest version of milk and egg, to the more decadent with syrup and cinnamon. Well, this recipe isn't like that. It's extremely savoury, very healthy, and has a Japanese twist that you can achieve with ease.
   Miso - a seasoning paste made by fermenting soybeans with koji and salt for anywhere between 6 months and 3 years - has been consumed in Japan for at least 1,000 years and is as much a staple part of the Japanese diet now as it was in feudal times. It's praised for its flavour, which varies from region to region, its versatility, high protein content, probiotics and myriad of vitamins and minerals. It can be used in soups, stir fries, casseroles, pickling - anything, really, that involves fluid in the cooking process.
   And natto has also been consumed for hundreds of years, which are fermented soy beans packed with vitamin K, E and B2, as well as protein on similar levels to the same weight of beef. Then there's its namesake, an enzyme called nattokinase, which is proven to help prevent blood clotting and aid heart health, possibly reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. But natto is kind of like Japan's marmite - you either love it or you hate it. But while it's marmite's flavour that can divide a nation, it's natto's texture. The only word to describe it is 'slimy'. I kid you not, it looks vile. Search any picture and you'll understand right away. It doesn't look appetising. But the thing is, it doesn't taste bad, the beans are firm, savoury and mild, and are usually served with a little seasoning and karashi mustard. Honestly, if you can get past the initial sliminess, they're really quite nice.

   The thing is, while miso has become quite easy to find in the west, natto is still reserved for Japanese food stores or home kitchens. Yes, you can make it yourself, but it's an endeavour I'm not keen to consider starting, at least for the moment. Fortunately, Japan Centre sell them, and they're my go-to for Japanese foods and ingredients. They don't have everything, but they have an awful lot, and is simply the best outlet for UK customers. However, due to natto's chilled storage, it can only be shipped with next day delivery, which costs about £10. While that's a bit painful, you can always throw in a dorayaki (filled pancakes), melon pan (cookie-wrapped dough), or even shokupan (bread) to make this very recipe a little more authentic. I bought all three, as well as narutomaki for some noodle dishes.
   Otherwise, boxes of miso paste sachets are easy to find both in supermarkets and online, perfect if you've never tried miso before (I recommend Clearspring, they come in boxes of 4x 10g sachets), and some supermarkets also stock much larger tubs of miso paste which will last a really long time, perfect if you use it frequently.
   I also added some Japanese mayo (light) and some crunchy pickled cucumber to mine. Japan Centre sell them both, but they're also very easy to make yourself - try JOC's easy recipe for pickled cucumber and her Japanese mayo hack.

   If I'm honest, though, as much as I love the crunchy cucumber, vaguely spicy mayo and mild natto beans, it was actually the miso eggy bread that was the best part of this simple dish, and that is a wonderful fact because, as I've said, miso is much easier to come by in the West than it used to be, which means it can grace your table as often as you want it to. I even ended up scraping the beans off of the toast about half way through and eating them alone, just so that I could enjoy the miso toast in full flavour.
   I probably soaked the bread far too long, but I really loved the soft texture, so I maintained this method all three times I've made it so far, and will continue to do so. Because so much egg had soaked into the bread, it was the egg that cooked rather than the bread, so it didn't get toasted and crunchy at all. It stayed soft, but not soggy, and it was absolutely gorgeous. But that also meant that I only got 2 slices out of it, which was perfect for a single serving for a light lunch or breakfast. If you prefer crispy bread, however, just don't soak it for anywhere near as long - 20-30 seconds on each side will do, and will yield more slices.

Natto & Eggy Miso Toast
serves 1:
2 slices of bread or shokupan
1 medium egg (EU; US large)
1 teaspoon/1 sachet miso paste
40ml water
optional natto beans
optional Japanese mayo
optional picked cucumber


1. Mix the miso paste with the water until combined, then add an egg and combine again.

2. Pour the miso-egg mixture into a wide, shallow dish, and set one slice of bread in it. Leave it for 1-2 minutes (or 20-30 seconds for more slices and crispy toast) before flipping and soaking the other side.

3. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan with a small drizzle of oil.

4. When the first slice is sufficiently soaked, transfer to the frying pan for 3 minutes. Then flip and cook the other side for 3 minutes, while you soak the second slice.

5. When the first slice is cooked (if soaked for 2 minutes it will still be very soft and floppy, but not wet or soggy), transfer to a plate and cook the second piece. If making more pieces, keep following this method. Otherwise, when you're done, pour whatever mixture remains over the final slice while cooking.

6. Transfer all slices to a plate.

Optional - if you're using natto, empty the beans into a dish and add the accompanying karashi mustard and seasoning and mix until frothy. Then spread them over the top slice.

Serve with a drizzle of Japanese mayo - I used Kewpie light - and some pickled cucumber slices.


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