Sweet or hot, whole grained or smooth, Americans love mustard. Which is why, when I ran out a few months ago, it was a near tragedy. Not about to fling myself into the roiling seas of Trader Joe’s on a Saturday, I found powdered mustard on my spice shelf and within an hour had discovered how easy it is to make from scratch.
The principals of mustard are simple. You need mustard (powdered or seeds to grind), vinegar, a mild liquid such as water or wine, and something to make it all congeal. Usually the congealing is accomplished by slowly reducing the mixture over low heat, but I prefer a cornstarch slurry. I’m pretty sure this is heresy, but it makes fast, beautiful mustard.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups (Recipe can be halved or doubled as needed.)
1. Measure mustard into a small bowl. (Ground mustard has a tendency to clump so you may have to pass it through a sieve.) Add brown sugar, paprika, turmeric, and salt. Whisk together, making sure there are no lumps, and set aside.
2. Combine the unheated water and vinegar in a mixing bowl. Add combined dry ingredients and whisk until smooth.
3. Pour mustard mixture into a heavy saucepan and heat on medium until it just begins to simmer.
4. While the mixture is coming to a simmer, make a slurry by measuring very hot water into a mixing cup and adding the cornstarch. Whisk until completely smooth.
5. When the mustard mixture begins to simmer, add the slurry and whisk. Scrape to make sure nothing is congealing along the sides or bottom. Increase heat to reach a slow boil, then cook for about a minute, stirring continuously. Remove from heat and let stand just until cool enough to transfer to a lidded jar. Store in the refrigerator.
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This as my “canvas” mustard, a good condiment you can paint with flavors. You can even change it as you make it. If you like dill and have some pickle juice around, substitute it for the vinegar-water mixture. Try beer, stout, apple cider or champagne instead of water, or use a combination of powdered mustard and coarsely ground mustard seeds. Just keep the proportions the same, and use dry spices rather than fresh in a large batch, as it will extend the shelf life.
The real glory of this mustard is that you can go totally Jackson Pollack with it. I start with a small amount of base and splatter in flavors incrementally until I get something I like, then add more base and more flavoring to get the amount I want. By making only what will be quickly eaten, I can add all the fresh ingredients I want.
Here are some flavoring ideas to get you hooked on making your own gourmet blends:
Sweet, hot, or both: Honey, brown sugar, maple, cayenne, chili paste, sriracha, hot oil, Tabasco.
Condiments: Horseradish, salsa, chutney, wasabi paste.
Liquid flavorings: Smoke, mesquite, bitters, balsamic vinegar, brandy, sherry, tequila, Bourbon, orange or lime concentrate.
Herbs and spices: Ginger, dill, tarragon, thyme, curry, cloves, allspice, rosemary, cilantro, basil, smoked paprika, barbecue spices, beau monde, herbes de Provence.
Seeds: Mustard, anise, fennel, cumin, peppercorns. (Tip: heat the seeds in a dry skillet before adding to coax their flavor, or give them a light pounding in a mortar and pestle.)
Food: Caramelized onion, bacon and brown sugar, cornichon, fig, chives, crushed blueberries or raspberries, zest of orange, lemon or lime.
And don’t leave it there. Try combinations like honey and orange zest, or add liquid smoke to a batch made with ale. Combining mustard with mayonnaise gives you a whole new base to play with. Mustard-mayo with lots of tarragon is fantastic on a roast beef sandwich, almost as good as mustard-mayo mixed with cranberry relish is on turkey or chicken. My other favorite? Mixing mustard with sour cream and fresh dill for potato salad dressing or as a base for deviled eggs.
I’m a full-time writer and food enthusiast. I love writing about food’s role in history and culture, and have found that cooking and fooling around in the kitchen is a perfect break from my work.
Give me a blizzardy day when I can make bread and soup and watch the snow pile up and I’m happy.