At any given time I can dig no fewer than five different mustards out of my refrigerator. A hot dog is not a hot dog unless it has classic Yellow Mustard on it, but all those others have so many uses. Chef Jerry Pellegrino and I asked our friend Liz Nuttle to come on and give us her take on this extraordinarily useful condiment.
From pale tan to dark brown, from smooth as silk to coarse and lumpy, the ancient sauce called mustard comes in dozens of iterations.
It starts with the mustard seeds, which come in different colors. White is the mildest, yellow a bit more pungent, with brown and black being the tangiest.
Classic yellow or "American" mustard gets its color not from the seeds, but from the spice turmeric. Needless to say, this is enormously popular.
Dijon mustard refers to a style perfected in Dijon, Burgundy, which substituted sour verjus for vinegar. It is a smooth, very flavorful and complex mustard, made today with white wine. You can get true, classic Dijon mustard from Dijon, but unfortunately the name is not protected.
Spicy Brown is a somewhat coarse mustard that uses a lot of brown and black seeds along with the white/yellow variety. Its deep flavor and touch of heat offset deli foods particularly well, and is de rigeur for pastrami on rye.
Red Wine mustards are exactly what they sound like. The specific flavor of a specific wine influences the outcome, and seems likely to be intended as a component in a rich sauce for roast meats.
The Coarse mustards only pay the slightest lip service to grinding the mustard seeds. These are all about texture as well as deep flavor, and they tend to show up in salad dressings and sauces.
German mustards are like Dijon, but hotter. And Chinese mustard can take the top right off your head. It's sinus-clearing properties are well noted by those who take a little dab of it with their shrimp rolls.
Finally, Sweet or Honey mustards have their adherents when a touch of sweet and sour is called for.
How about uses for mustard in cooking... beyond hot dogs and sandwiches?
Mustard is totally necessary in making salad dressings for the simple reason it can emulsify oil and vinegar, that is, cause them to blend together, not separate.
Add to that the tang of the mustard and you've got the basis for a flavorful blend.
Mustard is uncommonly useful in balancing sauces. It's combination of sour vinegar flavors, earthy umami, and sometimes sweetness can pull the components of a sauce into perfect alignment.
Mustard is an ideal ingredient for glazing anything. It has the knack of sticking to everything it touches, and imparting its flavor as well. Choose intensity of flavor to match the food you want to glaze, and add in a few side seasonings for fun.
And it's almost impossible to imagine a barbecue sauce without mustard in it. I think that it is illegal in North Carolina to even think about it. Once again, it is mustard's uncanny ability to complement roast meat that make it a natural.