A Treatise on Mustard

I grew up thinking I didn't like mustard. The reason I thought this... well, I'll come back around to the reason in a moment. Anyway, my dad really liked mustard, but I liked ketchup, not mustard, or so I thought. But I have since discovered that mustard can actually be a quite worthwhile culinary item.

The first seeds of doubt about my dislike of mustard were sewn years ago, when I was working in fast food and became cognizant for the first time of the fact that some of the items on the menu contained mustard, and (although I had not been a big fan of fast food for other reasons) the mustard had never bothered me. At first I thought maybe it was a different, more palatable form of mustard, but no, it was indeed regular ordinary yellow mustard.

If I'd been making the sandwiches (and thus actually dispensing the mustard) right away, I'd have figured out the real issue sooner, but assembling sandwiches requires actual training, so they don't teach you to do it until you've demonstrated the ability to show up for several consecutive shifts. (Back then you could spend your first week doing nothing but toasting buns; this practice was discontinued in the late nineties, but I assume they still find extremely easy things for the first-week employees to do, because something like half of all new hires industry-wide never make it to the second week, and it would be a waste of other employees' time to train them on anything very significant.)

So anyway, what I did really notice first was that the ketchup had to be refilled about every hour (more during a busy lunch), but the mustard dispenser, which was smaller, was refilled much less often (perhaps twice a day, thrice at the outside). I watched for items that received ketchup but not mustard; there weren't any. Light bulbs started going on in my head. I already knew that fast food didn't go very heavy on the ketchup, but yet it disappeared much faster than the mustard.

Indeed, mustard is typically used in smaller quantities. This, believe it or not, was news to me. Growing up, I only had my dad's example to look at. He uses mustard in roughly the same way I use ketchup, applying it liberally to both sides. (He puts his mustard straight on the bread; I tend to put something (lettuce for instance) between the ketchup and the bread, to keep the bread from getting soggy, but other than that the principle is the same.) He uses it in quantities such that in addition to dominating the flavoring it also significantly increases the moisture level of the sandwich, oozes around when you take a bite, and so forth. I don't think I will ever like mustard used in this way.

Having discovered, however, that mustard used in smaller quantities as a seasoning is much more palatable, I began to experiment. I've since discovered any number of uses for it, some few of which I will list here:

  • Downmixed with about ten parts ketchup (and possibly some brown sugar, depending on your mood and the rest of the meal), it jazzes up the flavor, making a good dipping sauce for anything from dill pickles to fried potatoes.

  • It also adds interest to barbeque sauce. I use about the same amount of mustard as worchestershire sauce in this context.

  • A little mustard in some water makes a good cooking medium for chicken.

  • A couple of teaspoons of mustard goes well in some molasses-based sauces, e.g. for over a stir-fry or glazed carrots.

Basically, the trick is to know how to use it.


Mark said...

Mustard is also 0 fat and 0 calories. Eat some with every meal!