Originally published April 12, 1984
The French humorist Anatole France observed in La Revolte des Anges (1914) that “a tale without love is like beef without mustard: an insipid dish.”
In the sophisticated cook’s kitchen, where interest in cooking has created a heightened awareness of all ingredients essential to good food, mustards play a major role.
Although there is a super abundance of mustards readily available to any cook - from the piquant Dusseldorf to the unintimidating varieties one often finds on frankfurters - many people consider French mustards the most flavorful. So it seems ironic that during the late 1700’s mustard was mostly in England, where an old woman named Clements made a fortune traveling from village to village selling her own mustard powder. To this day, English mustard is sold in powdered form and reconstituted with water. Nor has English mustard sauce changed much over the years. All over the British Isles it is served as an accompaniment to boiled leg of lamb or poached haddock. We like to add some Dijon mustard to the standard English mustard sauce and serve it with poached or steamed vegetables.
The most interesting mustard by far is from Dijon, France. Made from seeds grown in the region and mixed with white wine, Dijon mustard is not so hot as the English variety, but it has a wonderfully subtle and piquant flavor. A really good Dijon mustard enhances innumerable recipes.
Perhaps we cannot afford a Mercedes in our garage but we can afford to treat ourselves to some good mustards! And mustard sauces...