Handling and Cooking with Mustard

Handling and Cooking with Mustard

When young, the green leaves of the mustard plant can be cooked and eaten like turnip greens. When the plant blooms, its luminous flowers produce flavor-rich mustard seeds, which are used whole as a spice, ground to a powder to make dry mustard, and made into prepared mustard, the base for countless sauces and an essential condiment for hamburgers and hot dogs. Another form of mustard, mustard oil, is also used in Indian cooking. There are three species of mustard, which produce seeds in four different colors - Brassica nigra (black), Brassica juncea (brown), and Brassica alba or hirta (white and yellow).

Brown mustard seeds are highly aromatic. They make a good all-purpose choice. White mustard seeds are actually pale yellow, and they are slightly larger than brown. Though they have little aroma, white mustard seeds are spicy-hot. Black mustard seeds are the most potent of all. Because they are difficult to harvest, black mustard seeds are not grown commercially. Mustard seeds are not always labeled "brown" or "white", but you'll know the difference if you taste them. Brown mustard seeds go straight to your sinuses, while white seeds are tasted more on the tip of the tongue.

When using mustard seeds, crush them with the side of a knife or in a mortar and pestle. The seeds are flavorless until they're broken or toasted to release their essential oils. Add mustard seeds to marinades and use them to flavor curries and chutneys. Keep mustard seeds in a tightly closed container, where they will keep for up to 1 year. Milled from both brown and yellow mustard seeds, dry mustard is sometimes labeled "mustard flour" or "mustard powder". Keep dry mustard in a tightly closed container and store it away from heat and light. Its flavor will begin to fade within a few months of purchase, so buy dry mustard in small quantities.

To prepare mustard from dry mustard, stir the powder into a cold liquid such as water, wine or vinegar. Add herbs and other seasonings if you like. Avoid mixing dry mustard with hot liquids as the volatile oils in mustard are heat-sensitive. The mustard will take on a bitter flavor until over time, the taste fades completely. If you need to improve the flavor of homemade prepared mustard, let it cure in the refrigerator for a week or two before using. Also, vary the flavor by stirring any of the following into 1/4 cup homemade prepared mustard - 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey; 2 teaspoons coarsely chopped capers; or 1/2 teaspoon grated orange, lemon or grapefruit zest.

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