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Weekly Alibi Mustard

It's Not Just for Hot Dogs Anymore

By Carol Anderson

MARCH 28, 2000:  While pepper is the most widely used spice in the U.S., mustard comes in second. You know you're not a kid anymore when you find out that there are more kinds of mustard than the bland and creamy yellow stuff commonly put on hot dogs. You've really reached adulthood when you buy and enjoy the brain-blowing English varieties.

As a condiment, mustard has been around for thousands of years. In the Middle Ages, Europeans served mustard at every meal, no doubt because it made their low-quality salted meats more palatable. Mustard also plays an important role in Indian cookery, though they mostly fry the seeds to bring out a toasty, nutty flavor. The Chinese and English have a preference for freshly-made hot mustard, a condiment as ideal for Chinese food as it is for rare roast beef.

Mustard comes in three forms: seeds, powder and prepared. There are two primary types of mustard seed; white (used in Dijon and American-style preparations) and brown (used in combination with the white for grainy mustard.) Mustard powder, made from finely ground seeds, only becomes hot when mixed with liquid. The powder acts as a preservative to mayonnaise and is also used to add a sharp flavor to dressings. It is largely a British and Asian favorite since they have traditionally preferred freshlymade mustard.

You can make your own prepared mustard by mixing 1 tablespoon mustard powder and 2 teaspoons water. Give this mixture about 10 minutes for the liquid to trigger the enzymatic reaction that makes the "fire" develop. Other home-made, more mellow mustards use mostly wine vinegar instead of water. With either you can add honey and flavorings such as horseradish or chiles. If you're using water, make only as much as you need because its pungency only lasts for about an hour. If you want your mustard to last, add just enough water to moisten the powder, let it sit, then add vinegar and other flavorings to taste. Vinegar stabilizes the enzymatic reaction and will preserve the mustard's heat.

Vinegar, verjuice (the juice of unripe grapes) or must (the semi-fermented juice of pressed winemaking grapes, stems, seeds and skins) are all acidic to some degreee and are suitable for use in prepared mustards. All three are by-products of the wine industry; while vinegar is available everywhere, verjuice is pretty hard to find in the U.S. and unless you're a winemaker, you're chances of finding must are slim. But I mention must because the word mustard is most likely a combination of must and ardent's Latin root, ardere: to burn.

Commercially prepared mustards are made from ground mustard seeds blended into a liquid such as wine, beer, vinegar or plain water. Added seasoning makes some mustards hot and others mild while also affecting the color range from bright yellow (due to the addition of turmeric) to russet.

Recently I was amazed to discover the many varieties of mustard after shopping at Tip Top Meats in Carlsbad. They have about 50 different kinds on their shelves. Your grocery store probably won't have that many, but some commonly available types include:

Imported from the area around Dijon in France, this mellow vinegar is made with white wine.

The color is similar to American-style mustard, but it is very hot and pungent.

Sometimes labeled moutarde a l'ancienne, grainy mustards are made from a combination of ground and partially-ground seeds. The heat varies according to its other ingredients.

This is a dark, pungent and very fragrant mustard. Bavarian-style mustards are usually very sweet, due to the addition of sugar.

The most pungent ones are made fresh from cold water and ground mustard. Commercially prepared varieties are rarely as pungent.

We usually think of mustard as just a spread for flavorful sandwiches and hotdogs. But there are many more uses:

A GREAT SAUCE FOR ROAST BEEF -- Use beef broth or fat-skimmed drippings from a lean roast of beef. Just add 1 or 2 tablespoons prepared mustard per cup of sauce.

COLD CRAB SAUCE -- Combine 1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt, 1/2 cup light mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste.

TIGER MUSTARD -- Combine 1/4 cup light mayonnaise, 1/4 cup spicy brown mustard, 1/4 cup vinegar and 3 tablespoons prepared white horseradish. Serve with hot or cold lean roasted meat.

ROAST HAM OR PORK GLAZE -- Mix equal amounts of powdered mustard and brown sugar. Sprinkle the mixture over the fat surface for the final 30 minutes of baking.

BASTING SAUCE FOR GRILLED FOODS -- Melt 1/2 cup butter, mix in 2-1/2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard, 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, then stir in 1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary. Baste vegetables, fish and poultry during grilling.

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