Pungent flavors that can definitely cut the mustard

Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mustard is a lot more than a bright yellow condiment to smear on hot dogs. There are hundreds of varieties, all made from the seeds of a plant in the cabbage family that is native to India and China.

White or yellow seeds are the largest, most common and mildest. Brown seeds, used in French mustards, are quite spicy. Black seeds, a bastion of Indian cooking, are fiery.

The seeds can be hulled and ground to make a smooth mustard or left whole to make grainy mustard. Their pungency is released when they are ground and their oil is combined with a liquid - water, wine, vinegar or a mixture of all three. Seasonings including salt, sugar, honey, turmeric and pepper are often added.

These are major types:

• American-prepared is made from black, brown and yellow seeds, resulting in a mild mustard. It is yellow thanks to the addition of turmeric and owes its sharpness to vinegar. This is the mustard of choice for glazing a ham or adding to potato salad or deviled eggs.

• Dijon-style includes mild, American-made Grey Poupon. It's perfect for salad dressings and fish dishes, including mustard sauce for stone crabs. A spoonful added to vinaigrette helps keep the oil and vinegar from separating. French Maille Dijon has a stronger flavor that's good in salmon and chicken recipes.

• Whole-grain or coarse mustard has a deep, rich flavor and a slight crunch that's nice in lamb and chicken dishes, either added to a marinade or used as a coating.

• English mustard is based on brown seeds and usually sold as a powder. When mixed with water, it becomes a smooth, pungent paste. It is used in homemade mayonnaise and vinaigrettes.

• Brown or German are the robust, tangy, deli-type mustards that make such a good accent to sandwiches and bratwurst.

Once opened, a jar of mustard should be refrigerated to retain flavor and retard oxidation, which turns yellow mustard a dark brown.

Ginger mustard glaze

This glaze, adapted from Joan Nathan's "The New American Cooking" (Knopf, $35), would elevate the simplest salmon patty. Nathan brushes it on Union Square Tuna Burgers, made by combining 1½ pounds coarsely ground yellowfin tuna fillet, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard and ½ teaspoon cayenne. Form into 4 patties, season with salt and pepper and saute in olive oil over medium-high heat for 3 or 4 minutes per side, until medium rare. Serve on fresh hamburger buns.

⅓ cup teriyaki sauce

2 tablespoons minced ginger

½ clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon white wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a 1-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the glaze coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. The glaze can be prepared up to 2 days ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. Makes ½ cup.

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