"What do you mean you can make mustard at home?"
It was all I could do to say, "Well no shit, Sherlock! How did you think it was made? By mustard elves under a tree?" Thankfully, I am the age I am; a decade ago I might have let that one slip. But I did not. Instead, I said, "Why yes, and it is really, really easy to make."
I had this conversation with another blogger at the annual BlogHer Food conference in San Francisco last week. I will refrain from identifying the person, because s/he probably would not want to be outed as someone ignorant of the mysteries of mustard-making.
But I gotta tell ya folks, it ain't mysterious. If you have mustard seed and water, you can make mustard. It's that easy. And pretty much every nation in the Northern Hemisphere has done so over the years; mustard is a cool-weather crop, to the North what chiles are to the Equator.
Holly A. Heyser
Mustard is a condiment of a thousand faces. Some are smooth, others almost entirely made from barely cracked seeds. Vinegar is common, but wine, beer, grape must, and even fruit juices are sometimes used to moisten the seeds. Sweetness is usually achieved by adding honey; an American "honey mustard" can be a one-to-one ratio of mustard to honey. A Bavarian sweet mustard, however, uses only sugar and water—no acid, no honey. Italians put fruit preserves in their mustard, a practice I wholeheartedly endorse.
Mustard is one of Europe's few native spices, although mustard also has been used in Chinese cooking for around 2,500 years as well.
Ancient Rome was quite the hotbed of mustard-making, and it is Rome that gives us our name for mustard: It is a contraction of mustum ardens, or "hot must," since the Romans often added crushed mustard seeds to unfermented crushed grapes. I've recreated a different Roman recipe for mustard that uses almonds, pine nuts, mustard seed, and red wine vinegar. The ferocious bite of this mustard—it should be made with black mustard seeds, the hottest variety—is mellowed by the richness of the nuts. It's a great accompaniment to roasted meats.
Holly A. Heyser
The basic idea behind making mustard is this: Grind seeds and add cool liquid. At its most basic, this is all mustard is. Both Chinese and English mustard (think Colman's) are nothing more than water and mustard powder. But there are some things you need to know to make great mustard.
First, you need cold liquid. What gives mustard its bite is a chemical inside the seeds reacting with cool or cold liquid. You also need to break the seeds to get at the fiery chemical—it's like cutting an onion. Heat damages this reaction, however, so to make a hot mustard use cold water, and warm water for a more mellow mustard. Mustard sauces lose punch when long-cooked, and should always have a little extra fresh mustard tossed in at the end of cooking.