Mustard, that stalwart friend of coney-dog lovers, is enjoying something of a renaissance. Gourmet varieties line supermarket shelves, a lively mustard-making subculture has sprung up online, and the yellow variety’s chief spice is being touted for its life-prolonging properties.
“Mustard’s always been a part of things,” says Brad Hedeman, who handles Zingerman’s mail-order marketing and product selection. “But now there’s an awareness that mustard is more than something you squeeze out of a yellow tube.”
The National Mustard Museum in Wisconsin showcases 5,600 varieties. Yet Americans have depended largely on the yellow version to enhance meats and finish sandwiches.
That, however, is clearly changing. Exotic varieties line the shelves of gourmet markets such as Plum and Papa Joe’s, which carry a wide variety of brands, including Sabel & Rosenfeld’s Tipsy Russian Mustard with Vodka, McMahon’s Irish Ale Pub Mustard, and Brownwood Farms Famous Kream Mustard. Zingerman’s offers a violet mustard from France made with grape must, which Hedeman calls “really special,” and Raye’s Down East Schooner Mustard, a stone-ground variety from the last stone mustard mill in the United States.
“Mustard complements rather than masks,” says Charley Marcuse, the Comerica Park hot-dog vendor who launched his own brand of the condiment and is working on three more. “A lot of people have four, five, six mustards in the refrigerator. They want a little different taste and texture for different foods.”
Mustard seed comes in three varieties — white, brown, and black — and its cultivation is both easy and cheap. The yellow mustard Americans are most familiar with uses white seeds and includes turmeric — a spice packed with anti-inflammatory properties that can help prevent or alleviate conditions as diverse as arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and cancer (although munching mustard-loaded stadium red hots is hardly a route to good health).
The brown and black seeds are popular in Europe and Asia, where mustard has been put to use in local cuisines for centuries. Dijon, for example, uses brown seeds; Indian cuisine often incorporates the spicy-hot black variety.
Mustard “is such a complicated flavor,” says Bloomfield Township-based food writer and former caterer Annabel Cohen. “But if you’re going to make any condiment, mustard is the easiest to make. At its most basic, it’s just mustard seed and water. Everything else is interpretation.”
Trying one’s hand at that interpretation is simpler than ever, with numerous websites devoted to helping mustard lovers find the perfect blend. Some mustard makers aim for exotic new flavors; others want to capture a taste from their past.
Maurice Lefford, a native of England who has lived in the United States for 40 years, makes English mustard using Coleman’s dry mustard powder. Growing up, he says, prepared mustard simply wasn’t; the condiment was always prepared fresh.
English mustard, the retired Wayne State professor says, is not for the faint of heart. “When I make it, I put a warning label on it: This is hot mustard and is not to be slathered on as people do with mustard on hot dogs,” he says. “You put a little on the edge of your plate. If you’re having roast beef, you take a tip of the knife to smear the tiniest bit on to give it a kick.” Homemade mustard loses its power quickly, he adds. “When beef is about to come out of the oven, that’s when you whip up your mustard, so it’s fresh-fresh.”
Cohen suggests brushing chicken with mustard and olive oil near the end of its cooking time, or replacing anchovies with mustard in Caesar salad dressing. “I put mustard in just about anything,” she says. “The food tastes better and you don’t even know why. You have to divorce yourself from the concept that mustard only goes on a hot dog. Anytime you want anything with a little kick, put mustard in it.”
Cohen offers a few mustard-inspired recipes on the next page.
Warm Green Bean Salad with Apples and Apple Vinaigrette
“Although this is a salad, I serve these beans as a side dish with brisket, turkey, chicken, or fish. It’s a great foil for the meats,” Cohen says.
1/4 cup apple cider
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound green beans, stem ends cut, pointed ends untouched
1 cup thinly sliced red or Bermuda onion
2 cups thinly sliced McIntosh apple slices, peeled or unpeeled
Place all vinaigrette ingredients in a small jar and shake well. Set aside.
About 15 minutes before serving, place the green beans, onions, and apples in a large saucepan with 1 inch of water. Cover the pan and bring water to a boil. Turn off the heat and keep the lid on the pot until ready to serve (up to 30 minutes).
Heat the dressing (in the jar) in the microwave (without the lid) on high for 1 minute. Drain the bean mixture and transfer to a serving dish. Drizzle with the dressing and serve immediately.
Mustard-Crust Roast Rack of Lamb
1 rack of lamb, trimmed (about 1-1/2 pounds)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/3 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 450.
Season lamb on all sides with salt and pepper.
Spread the mustard evenly over all sides of the lamb. Press the breadcrumbs over the mustard. Place the rack of lamb on a rimmed baking sheet, bone-side up and cook 12-15 minutes for medium-rare. Let lamb sit 5 minutes before cutting between the bones into chops for serving.
Buttermilk Corn Muffins with Mustard and Scallions
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1-1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions, white and greens parts
1 cup grated cheddar
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Preheat oven to 400. Spray 12-cup muffin tin well with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and whisk well.
In another bowl, combine buttermilk, oil, sour cream, mustard, sugar, and egg. Stir well.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir well. Add the scallions, cheese, and cilantro and stir until incorporated. Divide batter evenly among the muffin tins and bake 15-18 minutes, until the tops are dry and the muffins are firm to the touch.