Mustards have the potential to change the kitchen

Good old mustard. One of my favorite condiments in the world; I have at least three different pots open at any given time.

Yes, it’s amazing on sandwiches. Burgers. The hot dogs. Pigs in a blanket.

But there’s more to the world of mustard, and once you start exploring it, your culinary world will open up in exciting ways.

Mustard appears in my daily cooking in small and large quantities. I use it in everything from macaroni and cheese to salad dressing to sauces and marinades. It adds shine, acidity and dimension to all kinds of dishes.

The mustard plant is part of the brassica family, which includes broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Its leaves are edible, usually cooked, as are its flowers. But it’s the seeds that are the basis of the condiment we know and love. They are mixed with water, something acidic (like vinegar or lemon juice), sometimes wine or beer or some other liquid, salt, and other flavorings and spices.


Mustard seeds come in a variety of colors, sizes, and prickles. Yellow mustard seeds are the most common; these are the largest and softest seeds. Then there are the most pungent brown mustard seeds. The pungent varieties of mustard are made with the brown seeds, including mustards made in Chinese, German, and English styles. There are also black mustard seeds, which have a distinctive pungent flavor. These are often used in Indian cooking, but can also be mixed into prepared mustards.

Mustard appears in the cuisines of the Americas, Asia (China and India in particular), Africa and Europe.

TYPES OF MUSTARD

The prepared mustard we see on supermarket shelves falls into three basic categories: yellow, brown and Dijon.

Dijon mustard originated in Dijon in France, although it is also made in other parts of the world now. The key ingredient (other than mustard seeds) is white wine, and the flavor is pleasantly peppery. It comes in a variety of grinds and flavors.

Brown mustard is popular in the United States on sandwiches and accompanies cold or hot meat.

Stone ground mustards provide great flavor and an attractive nubby texture, as some or all of the seeds are left intact or just lightly crushed. These may also be labeled coarse ground or whole grain mustards. You may find brown or Dijon mustards made in stone-ground varieties.

Prepared yellow mustard is mild and may contain a higher level of sugar and foreign ingredients. It’s often bright yellow (I seem to end up eating it when I’m wearing white jeans) and is often squirted on burgers and stadium or garden dogs, or spread on a ham and cheese sandwich.

Chinese mustard is usually made from mustard powder with a small amount of other ingredients, resulting in a fine, sharp (sinus-clearing!) mustard. You can find it in specialty stores and the Asian sections of well-stocked grocery stores.

And flavored mustards abound, usually made from brown mustard or Dijon with other added ingredients, from herbs to curries.

HOW TO USE THEM

One of the easiest ways to start playing with mustards in your kitchen is to add them to sauces and dressings.

Mustard adds to a dressing in two ways: it adds heat, flavor and dimension, and it helps emulsify or thicken the dressing. According to Rick Rogers, author of “Tips Cooks Love,” “mustard can absorb about twice its weight in liquid, so by soaking up vinegar and oil, it helps emulsify these two very different ingredients.”

If a recipe calls for one type of mustard but you only have another, you can usually substitute. Just keep in mind that different mustards have different strengths and adjust the amount accordingly, to taste.

And now, a pitch to pick up and buy local mustards! When we travel, it’s always fun to get a new jam, jelly, chutney, etc. in a regional specialty market. Don’t overlook the mustard section.

There are plenty of local mustards made with all sorts of twists and idiosyncrasies. Recently, I purchased a Fat Crow Gourmet mustard bar from a store that only sells products made in New York State, and it was great. It’s made with New York craft beer; they recommend trying it over pastrami.

Or check out a site that specializes in food, like Mouth.com. I plan to try Tin Mustard Smooth Whole Grain Mustard, made with a splash of apple cider vinegar; the creator, Tin Dizdarevic, compares the texture to caviar. They also made a whole grain version and another made with amber beer brewed in Brooklyn. Mustard and Co. Black Truffle Mustard is recommended with soft-boiled eggs or as part of a cheese and charcuterie plate.

Wilder Condiments offers the sweet and tangy mustard created by chef Isabel Freed as the sophisticated version of yellow mustard, designed to add tang to brats and sausages, but also ideal for many other uses, such as a dip for grilled vegetables . Brooklyn Delhi makes a curry mustard with cumin, paprika and tamarind.

So why did the mustard turn red? Because he saw the ranch dress up.

Ba dum hump. OK, take that jar from the fridge door and put it to work!

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Examples of recipes that use mustard:

Basic dressing

Mustard Marinated London Broil

Honey Mustard Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Chicken with Orange Honey Mustard Glaze

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