Friday, April 10, 2009

Food of the Day -- Mustard


I like to play Dr. Science. I recently came across a spice experiment: take a teaspoon of powdered mustard and mix it with a few ounces of ice water. In a separate dish mix a teaspoon of mustard with a few ounces of boiling hot water. Give both mixtures a few minutes to come close to room temperature. Taste each. If you don't feel like trying it, I'll tell you what happens later.

I'd been reading about and playing around with mustard lately, and since we'd be in Madison for a few days, I suggested squeezing in a side trip to the Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb. There's a sign on the front door warning about bad puns. Clearly, this was not going to be a Smithsonian-like learning experience. The museum carries a collection of prepared mustards from dozens of countries and all 50 states. Besides mustard, the store sells mustard-related novelties such as the "Poupon U" cap perched on the author's head. I'm the paunchy one standing next to the Mini Chef. I needed a cap, just a cap and if it said, "Mount Horeb Mustard Museum" that would have been fine. It wasn't until the "curator" rang it up that the true colors of my purchase dawned on me [if you haven't caught on say, "Poupon U" out loud to yourself a few times]. I won't wear an "Old Fart" cap as a codger. Mysteriously, the Poupon U cap was left behind on that trip.

As an adult, I like mustard better than ketchup, especially on hot dogs and sausages. But not as a kid. The Mini Chef doesn't care for mustard. The corn syrup sweetness of ketchup is her condiment of choice for hot dogs, fries and burgers. For me, the limited selection of prepared condiment mustards in the seventies may have been a component of my early anti-mustard bias. I knew about French's, but not much else. I hadn't had any sweet honey mustard. I doubt I would have been enthusiastic about a sinus-clearing horseradish or wasabi mustard had I tried them.

The dry, unprepared mustard powder and seeds that have been part of my spice selection for years have been rarely used. That started to change with a few Indian dishes, one with potatoes and cumin (Aaloo sabzi), another with chicken. Those jars were like Lyle the Crocodile's friend Hector who put his hat in the fridge along with "a lonely jar of mustard."

It turns out that mustard is only as powerful as you want it to be. The lighter, yellow seeds are less sharp than the brown or black seeds, but the preparation is the ultimate determination. If you conducted the experiment at the beginning of the article you will have noticed that the cold water preparation retained most of its heat. The hot water preparation lost some. Throwing mustard seeds in hot oil will (eventually) diffuse the spice's effect.

1 comment:

Erik said...

This is the coolest thing I've read for a long time! I'll try this experiment - and get my kids in on it.

Thing is that I like mustard as a "rounder" (as I call it) - a flavor that helps blend other flavors together. It's not all heat to me. But if you keep the heat, do you lose the ability to roll sage and thyme and basil into one taste that I love so much? I dunno.

Time to find out!

(there has to be a more technical term than "rounder", but I don't know it. I just play in the kitchen and taste stuff!)