The Good Life – Put Some Mustard On It

For the longest time, growing up in Southern Alberta, the word “mustard” was synonymous in mind with the gluey substance that was squeezed out of bright yellow plastic containers. Along with relish and ketchup, it was a staple of summer cooking. We swirled it on top of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers. We slathered it between the white bread slices of our grilled cheese and baloney sandwiches. And we dolloped it on top of the boiled ham at Sunday dinner. Since those days, the taste of mass-produced supermarket mustard brings back treasured memories of baseball games and family picnics.

As I discovered much later in life, though, there is a lot more to this humble and ubiquitous product of the seed of the mustard plant. As many foodies will tell you, having good quality mustard in the kitchen is, like herbs and spices, a great way to add a lot of flavour wallop to your food without adding any extra unwanted fat.

Like all good things, such as cheeses, vinegars and butters, there are a large number of different mustards, each with its own subtleties of character and impact of heat, flavour and texture. As with wine, it’s a good idea to pair the type of mustard you use with the food you are serving. The sweat-inducing Chinese mustard, for instance, is perfect with egg rolls. Try classic English mustard by adding water to the powdered form from Coleman’s, and serving it with bangers and mash, or ham. The French Dijon mustard is magic in thick, creamy sauces for ladling over fish and chicken. For a heart-stopping plate of cold cuts and cheese, or to have with grilled sausages, you can’t go wrong with a good quality German variety.

One of my favourite mustard-enhanced items is a remoulade sauce, the recipe for which I managed to wheedle out of a waiter in New Orleans about fifteen years ago, and have continued to use ever since. The restaurant was a recommendation from the concierge at the hotel we were staying at. The restaurant turned out to be a pretty nondescript sort of place, far off the beaten track tourist-wise. But the food, especially the oysters and shrimp, was absolutely dynamite. The sauce for the shrimp called for a combination of chopped up shallots, parsley and celery seasoned with six teaspoons of paprika, a bit of fresh basil, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, six tablespoons of white wine vinegar, a dash of cayenne, a half to three-quarters of a cup of the best olive oil you can find, and — above all — four tablespoons of hot Creole mustard (it is really worth checking around at specialty food stores to track this down).

Another simple and delicious mustard recipe comes from James Barber’s delightful and foolproof The Urban Peasant Quick and Simple cookbook. It is called, appropriately, Alfredo the Quick, and takes almost no time or effort prepare. All you need is a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, a half cup of cream, two tablespoons each of grated cheddar and green onions, some parsley, pepper and nutmeg. All you do is combine the ingredients in a saucepan for a few minutes, stirring all the time. Then you pour it over your favourite noodles. Definitely a notch or two above Kraft dinner, flavour-wise!

Barber, J. (1993). The Urban Peasant Quick and Simple. TV Companion Recipes series. Urban Peasant.

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