Mustard has been around for a long time in France. In fact, mustard seed was probably introduced by the Romans under Julius Caesar into what was then called Gaul. Soon thereafter monasteries started growing fields of the plant, making quite an income from its sales. One of the thirteenth-century French popes in Avignon loved the condiment so much he created a cushy job for his do-nothing nephew as Grand Moutardier du Pape (“Great Mustard-Maker of the Pope”)! The nephew, as it turns out, lived in the region of Burgundy in the city of Dijon. In the following years Dijon would become the mustard capital of the world, with brands as familiar in our part of the world as Grey-Poupon and Maille. According to a report on TV we saw within the last week, France had pretty much given up on growing its own mustard seed and had been importing it from the world’s number one producer: Canada. (Fellow blogger David Lebovitz must have seen the same program.) Lately, the production of mustard seeds has come back to Burgundy and is on the rise once again.
The creation of mustard is apparently quite a simple process: just add water, vinegar, and salt to the crushed seeds. Where in the world American French’s Mustard came from I haven’t a clue; it surely has nothing to do with the Dijon variety. Apparently it is the addition of turmeric to the American recipe that changes both the color and taste. As for Dijon mustard, I’m a huge fan. While it is available in just about any supermarket in the U.S., my favorite, Amora, is not. Unless I’m mistaken, upstate New Yorkers have to go to Montreal to find this brand. As soon as we arrived in Paris, I made it a point to get a jar of the special moutarde forte de Dijon at our local grocery store!
A dab of mustard is so good with smoked meats, but it is also a great addition to sauces and other recipes. Take vinaigrette: French salad dressing. It depends on how zesty you like your dressing, but I usually start out with ½ to 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard in a small bowl. I put in a bit of salt and pepper and then add either some chopped garlic or shallot. Next comes the vinegar, which can be any kind you like from red-wine to white-wine to balsamic, etc. Don’t add more than about a teaspoon of vinegar, though, if you prefer a less acid dressing. The slightly tricky part comes when you pour in the oil. This has to be done slowly while constantly stirring the ingredients together to form an emulsion. Use about three times the amount of oil as you did vinegar. It’s also a good idea to combine olive oil with another type of oil such as safflower or canola. And there you have it—a creamy French vinaigrette, so good even if your salad is just made of lettuce.
A new dish that we tried last week is lapin à la moutarde. First you spread some mustard on the pieces of rabbit and brown them without burning in a little oil; add in some chopped shallot. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring about a cup or so of white wine to a boil, adding in a clove of chopped garlic, a bay leaf, a little thyme, and a sliced carrot. Sprinkle some salt and pepper onto the pieces of rabbit and pour in the hot wine mixture. Cook until tender, about a half-hour. In a small bowl, combine a few tablespoons of crème fraîche with a teaspoon or so of mustard. Remove the rabbit from the pan and add in the cream sauce; warm through. Pour the sauce on top of the meat, sprinkle with fresh, chopped parsley, if desired, and serve with noodles or rice.
Tonight I tried something new: turkey cutlets with mustard. I spread mustard on the cutlets, added salt and pepper, and dipped them in bread crumbs. I then browned them in a little oil, adding some red pepper, mushrooms, and shallot when the cutlets were nearly done. I put in about a half cup of white wine and a little cream to make a sauce. Not bad at all for just making it up as I went along!
Mustard is a very versatile condiment which adds a bit of zest to ordinary recipes.