Recipe: Whole-Grain Mustard

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WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS: At last count, there were seven opened jars of mustard in my fridge (and that doesn’t include the bright yellow stuff my kids slather on hot dogs). And it’s not just because I forget I already have an opened jar—mustard has many faces. Sharp or sweet, subtle or super-spicy, there’s a mustard out there to complement any type of food.

There was a time when I would scour specialty food markets for interesting mustards, and there was no limit on what I would spend on those that sounded appealing. That was until I discovered that I could buy a pound of mustard seeds at my local wholesale store for about five bucks. I soon found that making mustard is not as mysterious as I once thought.

A basic mustard involves soaking mustard seeds in vinegar (or other liquid) for a couple of days, and then grinding this mixture to the desired consistency. Since a food processor or blender can be used for the grinding step, making mustard at home is really quite easy. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can start adding sweeteners, herbs, spices, dried fruit—the possibilities are almost endless.

Homemade mustard will keep for several months, but if you are like me it will be gone in a couple of weeks. And don’t worry about filling up your refrigerator—there’s always room for one more of those little jars.

—Keith Dresser, Senior Editor, Cook’s Illustrated

The perfect bite: My favorite basic mustard starts with four ingredients: yellow and brown mustard seeds, vinegar, and beer. Yellow (also called white) seeds have the mildest flavor. Brown mustard seeds are a little harder to find than yellow mustard seeds, but their hotter, more pungent flavor is (I think) crucial to a good mustard. For a mustard with a subtle bite, I like to use a 50/50 combination of yellow and brown seeds, but you can alter the ratio to suit your taste.

Vinegar and a touch of beer: Cider vinegar, with about 5 percent acidity, stands up to the pungency of the mustard seeds. Generally, combining equal parts mustard seed and vinegar provides a nice balance. If you choose a slightly more acidic vinegar, you might want to use a little less, and vice versa if using a milder vinegar. The next addition is my favorite part of making mustard: beer. A quarter cup adds a malty sweetness to the mustard–and also leaves some in the bottle to drink! Don't like beer? Wine, brandy, apple cider, and water are all good alternatives.

Bringing out the softer side: Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the seeds soften at room temperature for at least eight hours. Word of warning: Heat activates an enzyme that kills the flavor of mustard, so don't be tempted to hurry the soaking process by adding hot liquids.

Hitting the sweet spot: Once the seeds have soaked, transfer them to a food processor. Alternatively, you can use a blender if you are looking for a smoother, Dijon-like mustard. A little bit of brown sugar will help temper the mustard's bite. And if you like honey mustard on your turkey sandwich, add 1/2 cup of honey instead of the brown sugar at this point. This is also the time to add some salt.

Mustard in a minute: Process the mustard to the desired consistency. A minute will get you mustard that is spreadable, but still has plenty of whole seeds that pop with flavor as you eat it. If you are interested in trying out some add-ins, add them to the workbowl and blend with everything else (though sometimes I add spices, like pepper, to the mustard seeds when they soak).

Aging for the better: Transfer the mustard to a glass container. Why glass? I've had mustards that have picked up off-flavors from metal and plastic containers. That's it. You're done–well, not quite. You'll have to wait for the mustard to ™ripen∫ for a few days. Sampled right after mixing, the mustard might taste a little bitter; however, this will dissipate with age. Leave the mixture at room temperature (provided it has no perishable add-ins) to age. Refrigeration will halt the formation of the spicy compounds, so once the mustard is at your optimum heat level, transfer it to the fridge.

Whole-Grain Mustard

Makes 1 cup

Make today, enjoy in 1 to 4 days

            1/2      cup cider vinegar

            1/4      cup yellow mustard seeds

            1/4      cup brown mustard seeds

            1/4      cup beer

            2          teaspoons packed light brown sugar

            3/4      teaspoon salt

1. Combine vinegar, mustard seeds, and beer in medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.

2. Process soaked mustard seeds with sugar and salt in food processor until coarsely ground and thickened, about 1 minute, scraping down bowl as needed.

3. Transfer mustard to jar with tight-fitting lid and let stand at room temperature until it achieves desired spiciness, 1 to 2 days. Transfer to refrigerator. Mustard can be refrigerated for up to 3 months.

From The America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook, published by Boston Common Press.