How strange it is that often the simplest things escape our notice as delights we could be making and personalizing at home. It honestly never occurred to me until recently that I could make mustard. Yet we constantly bang our heads relentlessly against the wall trying to perfect towering cakes and extremely complex recipes. But the things we actually use on a daily basis, like mustard and mayonnaise…we reflexively buy it prepared. I’m trying to flip that notion on its head.
A word of caution: We are all lulled into thinking that some spices and herbs are boring or tame because they quickly lose pungency in our pantries. I think this came up in reference to paprika recently. After six or so months, our ground spices are mere ghosts of what they were when they were freshly ground in some facility far, far away. Go buy brand new peppercorns at some place with a high turnover, like bulk at Whole Foods or at Penzey’s. Buy a cheap coffee bean grinder and go to town. I recently did this for a brisket rub and the result was easily three times as spicy as it had been with an equal measure of the the ground pepper that had been in my pantry for…well, I’m not even going to tell you how long, except to say it would have been perfect for set decoration on the Walton’s or some other period piece like that.
And, some spices are also rather dormant seeming until they have been acted upon in some way. Mustard is “prepared.” The pungency is enhanced over time with exposure to moisture like water, and then slowed by exposure to vinegar. Some mustard is out this world hot. It can be shockingly pungent when fresh.
In my version, this simple spice is soaked overnight, and then it is mixed with vinegar and sugar to soften the progression of the heat. You should know that mustard is not only hot, but heat sensitive. Mustard prepared with cold water is different than that prepared with hot. And in one of my “play” versions, I thought I could outsmart the clock and simmer my mustard seeds and I basically killed the little fellas. I literally obliterated the substance that makes mustard hot.
Mustard has antibacterial properties and can be kept in the refrigerator indefinitely. So, run to the spice aisle and start playing. Note that I recommend this mostly for people who have access to cheaper bulk spices. I’m not advocating that you buy three $6 bottles of spices to mix this when you could buy a prepared jar for $4. But, it is also a good way to start looking into your spice drawer and start considering what needs to be refreshed. I very much enjoy buying spices in bulk at Whole Foods. It is nice to be able to buy a little baggy of exactly the amount I need. I have found Penzey’s and the Spice House have great products, as well. [see note]
½ cup water
¼ cup brown mustard seeds
¼ cup yellow mustard seeds
1½ tablespoon ground yellow mustard
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ cup white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
1. Combine the water, the mustard seeds, and the ground mustard in a small bowl. Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator overnight. The seeds will absorb the water.
2. The following day, combine the soaked mustard with the brown sugar, vinegar, and salt. Use an immersion blender to process the seeds until they are at the stage that you prefer. I processed mine lightly because I prefer a whole grain type of mustard. Place the mustard in a jar and put it back in the refrigerator to sit for another few days.
3. Taste the mustard and adjust the seasoning. It may be very pungent. I added an additional two teaspoons of brown sugar and additional tablespoon of vinegar at this stage and replaced the jar in the refrigerator for another day.
Serve as you would any other mustard. I found this to be a great mustard for use with sausage and sauerkraut.
[This doesn't taste even a little bit like the yellow hot dog mustard. This is earthy, pungent, and aromatic. It is grainy and interesting. This is just a starting point. Experiment and make it your own.]
If you are one who likes to know where your food is coming from, pay attention to your spices and herbs. Some companies are very good about listing precisely where they get their herbs and spices and many of them are domestic. Try getting American garlic powder commercially. Not easy. Read the jars in the grocery store and most garlic powders are from China. At this point, most are Chinese garlic powder. If it is a blend, it can be marked for the country in which it was blended. Therefore, if you are buying an herb blend which was put together in the U.S., the garlic powder still likely originated in China. I’m happy buying imported spices when the country of origin is known for having superior products, or where they have shown to be specialists over the decades or centuries. For instance, I’m happy to buy my vanilla beans or cinnamon from an international source. And, I’m not saying that the Chinese spices are inferior in quality. I don’t know that. It is actually an interesting question about the kind of shopper you are. Would you rather buy organic foreign or domestic conventional, given products of equal quality? Only you can decide that for your family. But I want to support domestic farmers and ranchers when they have an equal or better product, so I go out of my way to source garlic powder, dried parsley, dried basil, and the like from U.S. growers when I can. This takes a bit of planning, and I’ve been known to grab a jar off the shelf in an emergency. I always wish that I had taken the time to look into the matter. It is like the mustard, we just don’t think about it often.