When I was growing up, mustard came in three varieties: hot dog, corned beef sandwich, and Chinese food.
Hot dog mustard was French's, yellow, All-American ball park, mild.
And Chinese food mustard came with take-out, in little no-name plastic packets. It could take the hair off your head and clear out your sinuses. Sometimes, my parents mixed their own, with Colman's, English, incendiary.
We never had Dijon mustard, though the foods of my Eastern European culinary heritage cried out for the sharpness of mustard to balance the blandness of the boiled meats. These days, my own kitchen is never without Dijon, usually Grey Poupon, and often Maille, too.
According to The Oxford Companion to Food, by Alan Davidson, "mustard has always been important in Europe, because it grows locally and is therefore the cheapest of spices."
Davidson also writes that many royal courts in medieval times employed a mustardarius -- someone whose sole responsibility was to oversee the growing and preparation of mustard. (How's that for a job description?) To make prepared mustard, seeds (brown, black, white, yellow) are soaked in water, which activates the enzyme myrosinase. When the desired heat level is achieved, the activation is stopped with an acidic liquid, usually wine (for stronger mustards) or vinegar (milder). The level of enzyme action combined with the acid used gives a mustard its flavor. Obviously, the mustardarius had quite a bit of control over the taste and strength of the final product.
Dijon contains no turmeric, the ingredient that gives yellow mustard its yellow; in the photo, Dijon is on the left, and hot dog mustard is on the right. Dijon mustard also has no carbs, no fat, no trans fat, and only five calories per teaspoon. It can be stored for several months at room temperature, but I always refrigerate after opening.
Though I didn't grow up with Dijon, it's the secret ingredient (oops, now the secret's out) in my spaghetti sauce, and essential to help emulsify a vinaigrette for a Caesar salad. The acidity helps balance the richness of salmon, chicken, roasted veggies and bacon, too.
And, in a major break with family tradition, I use it on hot dogs and corned beef sandwiches all the time.
Beet and onion salad
Simple, and simply delicious. Serves 6.
6 medium-size fresh beets (approx. 2-3/4 lbs)
1-1/2 tsp olive oil
1 cup onion, sliced vertically
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
Leave root and 1 inch of stem on beets; scrub well with a vegetable brush. Place in a heavy pot or Dutch oven, and add water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer 35 minutes or until just tender. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again. When the beets are cool, trim off stems and roots, and rub off the skins. Slice beets and set aside.
Add 1 tsp oil to a small frying pan and place over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add onion and sauté until tender. Combine beets and onion in a bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, mix remaining 1/2 tsp oil, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Stir well, pour over vegetables and toss.
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