If you think about it, mustard is the one and only home-grown English spice, and for my money it’s the best.
I admit this is a personal thing: I like the ferocious kick of English mustard that makes its presence felt even when only very little is used. Although it comes in powdered form, it does have a good shelf life and can be made up as and when you require it.
How to make mustard: The oils in mustard are what give it its pungency, but these are not developed in the whole seed or the dry milled powder. What is needed to release their flavour is the chemical reaction brought on by the addition of cold water (not hot, which causes a different reaction), just enough to make a thickish paste.
Always make up your mustard in advance, as it needs a good 10-15 minutes for the flavour to develop fully. Mustard is also a good emulsifier: it can help to stabilise something like mayonnaise, and can provide a slight thickening to vinaigrette or Cumberland sauce.
Made-up mustards: There are three of these I would recommend, but first it should be noted that once they are exposed to the air, they deteriorate rapidly and lose much of their kick. This means the lid must be replaced firmly and quickly each time the mustard is used.
American mustard: You can’t really have a barbecue without some of this famous mustard, which comes in squeezy bottles and is a mixture of mustard, turmeric, paprika and other spices. No decent frankfurter or sausage in a hot dog should ever be without it drizzled back and forth over the surface.
Dijon mustard: From Burgundy, in France, this is not as fiery as English mustard, tempered by the mixture of unripe grape juice (verjuice) or diluted wine vinegar. It is extremely good but it’s very difficult to keep it fragranced once opened.
Wholegrain mustard: This is a mixture of mustard seeds, spices and wine vinegar, milder than straight made-up mustard but very good for the store cupboard as it not only adds flavour to dressings and sauces but also a lovely seedy texture. It keeps better than Dijon, but still replace the lid quickly to prevent the air from affecting it.
Mustard mayhem…Like olive oil and wine vinegar mustard suffers greatly from the designer effect, with every flavour, colour and texture under the sun creeping into the mustard jar. My advice is, don’t bother. Even if you like the flavour of dill mustard or similar, once opened it will deteriorate very quickly. So don’t make the mistakes I’ve made: one spoonful of some exotic mustard today and the whole lot thrown out several weeks later. If you want dill or tarragon or anything else in your mustard, it’s best to add it yourself.
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