Saturday, March 12, 2011

La moutarde, ma cherie

Mustard has got to be one of my favorite condiments and I doubt I could live happily without it.  Whether it's a smooth, mellow Dijon with the classic red, white and blue striped lid, or an intense and pungent grainy German in a charming little glass pot, a luxury mustard laced with Cognac in a black crock, or even a lurid yellow lunch counter standard in a squeeze bottle, I love mustard.  I'll admit that I'm a food snob but I'm also not afraid to admit that I dally with French's mustard from time to time.  Who can pass by that sunny tumeric-laden yellow and not want to experience that sharp acidity on a soft pretzel or a ball park hotdog?  And for me, no other mustard seasons deviled eggs quite like French's.  You don't need a lot, but that little bit makes all the difference.

I'm sure you have your own favorite mustard.  Or, maybe you're just not a fan.  If that's true, then I'm hoping that today's recipes will convince you in some way to give mustard a chance.  And if you are already a fan of mustard, then maybe you'll be adding some new ways to use mustard to your reperatoire.

Last Thanksgiving eve, a cousin I adore and don't see nearly enough and I were sitting around the dinner table and having a bit of a late-night nosh.  Along with the bowl of nuts to crack, some excellent cheeses, liver pate, crackers and of course, lots of red wine, I had put a jar of homemade mustard on the table.  Making your own mustard is actually very easy--I'm sure you know the trick of putting some dry mustard powder in a bowl and then adding water or dry vermouth and waiting for it to bloom.  If not, try it some time and put it on corned beef, sausages or a roast beef sandwich.  But be warned, it's very intense and pungent at first, so use it sparingly.  It will mellow with age and still be quite nice stored in the fridge almost indefinitely.  It also has antibacterial properties, so mustard really never spoils.  It just dries out and eventually loses its flavor.

The mustard I had put on the table that Thanksgiving eve was one I had made by grinding brown mustard seeds in a mortar and pestle rather coarsely so that the some seeds had split and some were still intact.  Then I had added water, a little salt, and had cured the mustard for about 3 weeks in the fridge after initially letting it stand at room temperature for several hours.  It still had some bite, but was considerably more mellow than it was the first week of its life.  My cousin commented that he had never thought of making mustard but that he had recently received as a gift a very pricey French mustard made with cognac.  I gave him a wicked grin and went to get my bottle of cognac.  We dribbled the cognac into the jar of grainy mustard and stirred.  He tasted.  "Close," he commented.  And then, "I think we need to add more cognac."  Which we did.  And what alchemy!  There is something quite special about cognac and mustard seed mingling together.  And one of the benefits of making this kind of mustard is that it only gets better with age.  The only detractor?  You will run out of it quickly because you will want to put it on everything.

Here is the technique for making cognac mustard: put 1 cup of mustard seeds (either yellow, brown, or a combination) in a mortar and grind with a pestle until partially split.  Alternatively, use a clean coffee grinder or a small food processor, but take care to leave some texture by pulsing your machine, unless of course you want your mustard to be perfectly smooth.  Transfer the ground mustard seeds to a clean jar.  Pour in just enough cognac to moisten the seeds (about 1/2 cup), stir a little bit and then cover the jar.  Leave at room temperature for about 8 hours or overnight.  If the mustard seeds have absorbed too much cognac, the dibble in a little more until you like the consistency and texture.  Then store the mustard, covered, in the fridge for about a week before you use it.  Of course you can use it before then, but it really matures and tastes better as it ages.

I also want to share some recipes that I think use mustard in outstanding ways.  I hope you'll try some of them and agree.  I would welcome your comments.

An Excellent Mustard Vinaigrette   
          (an adaptation of a recipe I found in a women's magazine years ago)

¾ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon grainy Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and emulsify.  This is wonderful on bitter greens with toasted walnuts, bleu cheese and pickled onions.  Yummm!  Enjoy…

Note: I like to experiment with different vinegars (like tarragon and champagne vinegar) and also like to use white Worcestershire instead of the regular kind.  You can also subsitute walnut oil for the olive oil with great results.  To really elevate this dressing, add 1 Tbs. of drained capers, minced shallots or chopped fresh tarragon after you've blended the primary ingredients.

Walter Jetton's Potato Salad
       Walter Jetton was President Johnson's personal chef at the LBJ Ranch.  Together, Mr. Jetton and President Johnson invented "barbeque diplomacy," a casual but intimate style of entertaining important diplomats, politicians and heads of state that proved remarkably effective.  This is "Texas-style" potato salad and it is a lively change from most standard recipes.

5 pounds potatoes
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped green peppers
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup prepared mustard
1/3 cup chopped pimentos
1/3 cup sour pickle relish

1.  Peel and boil potatoes; cool and cut into bite-size pieces.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.
3. Chill well and serve cold.  Makes 10 servings.

Curry-Honey-Mustard Broiled Chicken

      From a small paperback cookbook published in 1958 called Good Housekeeping's Poultry and Game Book.

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup yellow mustard
2 tsp. curry powder
2 lbs. chicken leg quarters (wings are also great)

1.  Combine honey, mustard and curry powder; set aside.
2.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
3.  Line a broiler pan or large cookie sheet with foil and arrange chicken pieces on pan.
4.  Generously brush chicken pieces with honey-mustard mixture. 
5.  Bake until chicken is done (about 35 to 40 minutes for quarters and less for wings).  Serves 4.

The Barefoot Contessa's Mustard-Roasted Fish

      I love this recipe because it's easy and it's great for dinner guests.  Serve with roasted asparagus, broccoli, or brussels sprouts, boiled new potatoes with butter and parsley, and a simple salad.  If you make your own creme fraiche, start it the day before.

4 fish fillets, approx. 8 oz. each (red snapper, perch, talapia, cod, etc.)
8 oz. creme fraiche (recipe follows)
3 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 Tbs. whole-grain Dijon mustard (try substituting your homemade cognac mustard here)
2 Tbs. minced shallots
2 tsp. drained capers

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2.  Line a sheet pan wih parchment paper or use an oven proof baking dish.
3.  Place fish skin side down in the pan; sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
4.  Combine creme fraiche, two mustards, shallots, capers, 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a small bowl.
5.  Spoon sauce evenly over the fish, making sure it's completely covered.
6.  Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on thickness of fish, until barely done.  Fish flakes easily at the thickest part when it's ready.
7.  Serve hot or at room temperature with plenty of sauce.  Serves 4.

Creme Fraiche:  Mix 1 cup heavy cream with 2 Tbs. buttermilk in a glass jar.  Cover and let stand at room temperature (about 70 degrees F) for 8 to 24 hours, or until thickened.  Stir well and refrigerate until ready to use.  Will keep for up to 10 days.

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