Mustard’s strong taste leaves us weak

With its distinctive tart bite and pungent aroma, mustard should be an unlikeable food. But even the pickiest eaters I know, and I know quite a few, rarely wrinkle their noses when mustard is included in anything from potato salad to sauces and salad dressings.

My theory is that we all grew up eating it. We baby boomers slathered either the billious yellow stuff or daring golden variety on hot dogs. Younger generations dipped their chicken nuggets in honey mustard. So, mustard creeped into our lives and the taste for it remains.

That, of course, is as far as our agreement goes. Ask anyone what cuts the mustard for them and you’ll get a different answer. The yellow, brown, golden, Dijon, German, horseradish, honey and stoneground all have their die-hard fans. And in truth, the ingredients that are added to the fairly simple concoction of mustard seeds, an acidic liquid, sugar and garlic can span a fairly huge range.

Maybe that’s why all those casual eateries offer ketchup at the table and not mustard. They would have to keep dozens on hand to satisfy everyone.

But what a shame, because a little dab of the yellow stuff can boost the flavor of almost any dish. We love it around here so much, we simply put a dallop on our plates and dip things into it. But mustard really shines when you cook with it. The spices and acid in it bring out the flavor of meats or vegetables, without masking them like heavy sauces.For the simplest enhancement, mix three tablespoons of softened butter with a tablespoon of Dijon mustard. Then try it on baked potatoes, barely-cooked green beans, grilled cheese or roasted chicken. All of them will be better.

Our favorite way is to simply smear it straight from the jar on pan-cooked pork chops. Simply brown one side, flip the chop, then coat the top with mustard while the other side cooks. It melts into the meat and elevates a quick and easy dinner to weekend heights.

But, if you want to go for a classic combination, and make seafood shine, make a dill and mustard sauce. You need it, I swear, for salmon. And it puts cocktail sauce to shame as a dip or drizzle for boiled or broiled shrimp.If you have leftover sauce, use it on sliced hard-boiled eggs for a snappy lunch.

Dill Mustard Sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. onion, minced

1/4 cup cider or white wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

3 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil

1/2 cup mustard – stoneground or Dijon work well

1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped coarsely

salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

In a glass or ceramic bowl, stir together garlic, onion and vinegar. Let it sit for 15 minutes while the vinegar mellows the flavor of the raw ingredients. Add sugar, oil, mustard and dill and use a whisk to emulsify the ingredients. Taste the sauce and add salt, pepper or more sugar, if needed, to get the sweet/tart balance you like.

 

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