Mustard For Doctor Melissa
Updated: Jul 5
(Gorgeous Pottery by Gail Sherman)
A few moments ago I bit into a mustard roasted potato spackled with lime juice, and I am twenty-two years old again and in Santo Domingo. On a layover, my entire crew has gathered for dinner at Reina de Espana, a white tablecloth restaurant near our hotel. Here we could (and often did) have a gourmet meal for ten dollars.
The bite I just took reminded me of their croquetas. The were the best croquetas (croquettes) I have ever had. Every entrée at the restaurant was accompanied by them. The size of a quarter, they were filled with the tastiest, creamiest potato mixture. They were then rolled in seasoned breadcrumbs and fried to a crisp golden brown. The piece de resistance was the tiny lime wedges served on the side.
The lime wedges were meant to be squeezed onto the croquetas. These were no ordinary Persian limes, mind you. They were small, thin-skinned limes that were a little bigger than a Key lime and super tart.
I researched exactly what kind of limes those were, but could never get a straight answer. I found references to a Dominican limon as well as a Mexico Key lime. They were so good, I recall crew members salvaging the leftover wedges from the bar cart and sneaking them through customs to get them home.
The potatoes I just cooked were not fried at all, but brushed in a four types of mustard dill sauce before roasting. It is an Ina Garten recipe, intended as an accompaniment to gravlax.
Gravlax is salmon cured with salt, sugar and dill. It is a Nordic dish that is traditionally served with a mustard sauce.
How the sauce ended up on my potatoes was an experiment for my friend, Doctor Melissa.
Melissa and I have known each other since her college days, when she first worked with me as a graphic artist, and then became my karate student. She went on to study medicine and complete her internship. With a new job as a family practitioner for veterans, she is making her first forays into the kitchen.
Neither becoming an advanced black belt nor a doctor fazed her. The kitchen, however, has always freaked her out. Back when Melissa was in school, she would come over for dinner. I remember serving a simple lamb chop, seared with just salt, pepper and maybe a little garlic powder. It was accompanied by spinach sautéed in a little oil and garlic.
“You guys have no idea how lucky you are,” she said to my kids. “You get to eat like this all of the time.”
Of course, I was flattered. And I knew that we all were lucky. Lamb chops and fresh spinach were luxuries that I never had as a child. Having only had spinach from a can, I thought it was disgusting growing up. Lamb chops were a treat I was introduced to by my mother in-law, Dorothy, after I was married.
Back when I was cooking for Melissa and my kids, rack of lamb cost about six dollars a pound. Nowadays it pushes twenty-four dollars a pound. It is an item I don’t often splurge on, cost definitely being one of the reasons. Trying to incorporate a more plant based lifestyle is another.
This is why Melissa’s question about the four mustard sauce interested me. So many ingredients in my kitchen are underutilized. Surely I have been missing ways to maximize my pantry.
“I really would like to make this sauce for smoked salmon,” she said, “but I don’t want to splurge on four kinds of mustard. I think I would really like the sauce, but then what would I do with four containers of mustard afterward?”
She also thought that there could be a section of my blog devoted to recipes and lists for ingredients purchased for a main recipe. What a great idea, I thought. A lot of work, but what a great pay-off.
Cross-referencing ingredients and recipes would result in less money and time spent on groceries, as well as less waste. It was a win/win. While I would have to research the best way to organize and accomplish this within the blog, I could begin with investigating the four mustard question.
On most days I have yellow mustard, Dijon mustard, Creole mustard, spicy deli mustard and dried mustard in the house. Still, I didn’t have all of the mustards called for in Ina’s recipe. Honey mustard and whole grain mustard were also called for.
Furthermore, I didn’t have that many uses for the mustards I did have on hand. I used dried mustard for the sole purpose of my crabcake recipe. Deli and yellow mustard were for sandwiches, and Dijon was for the occasional recipe ingredient. I loved to put Creole mustard in a cabbage slaw or remoulade sauce, but that was about it.
To really answer Melissa’s question, I would have to pull out the big guns.
First I went to two food writer friends, Kit Wohl and Ellen Kanner.
Kit Wohl, author of The James Beard Foundation’s Best of the Best: A 25th Anniversary Celebration of America’s Outstanding Chefs, and a dozen others including The New Orleans Classic series of cookbooks, said, “We use Arnaud’s mustard, genuinely the best out there. I’ve been known to slather it on almost any meat I’m roasting, sometimes cut with honey and or Cane syrup.
I’d worry about adulterating a nice smoked salmon with mustard, especially an exotic four sauce. Honey, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and forget about it. At least serve it on the side. Salmon with miso is divine. Check online recipes. Leftover mustard, deviled eggs!”
Ellen, author of Feeding the Hungry Ghost and the blog, soulfulvegan.com, said that if Melissa had the storage space for the four mustards she should, “…go for it, she'll never be sorry. Prepared mustard keeps indefinitely, it's great mixed with other things.
-- I always add a blob of Dijon to my vinaigrettes -- makes 'em creamy without cream and adds some beautiful flavor.
-- Mustard and miso, mixed with a squeeze of lemon and a little olive oil makes a wonderful marinade for basting roasted vegetables, tofu, fish, chicken.
-- Mixed with mayo and/or sour cream, it's a great sauce or dip.”
These were all great suggestions. Thank you, Kit and Ellen.
Both mentioned miso. I’ve had a giant block of miso in my pantry for some time, and wasn’t sure what to do with it. It is definitely on my list to experiment with
Next, I asked the members of a Cajun/Creole recipe group that I’m a part of. Over sixty people responded, the majority of who suggested mustard as a dredge for fish before frying, in place of eggs. Others suggested marinating everything from beef to pork ribs with it before cooking.
A member also turned me on to the fact that there is a National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin. Barry Levenson, the curator, houses a collection of over 5,800 mustards. And to think, Melissa was worried about four.
It wasn’t just Melissa. There were so many possibilities. I was a little bit overwhelmed, too, and not sure where to start. I put the thought aside and worked on other things.
The universe, however, kept bringing me back to mustard. The universe and The Food Network.
Duff Goldman posted on Instagram about receiving a shipment of Caplansky’s mustard, calling it “BEST MUSTARD IN THE BUSINESS.” His caps, not mine.
A few weeks later I was reading the intro to Molly Yeh’s cookbook, Molly on the Range, and she talked about starting, “…a mustard collection that took over the refrigerator.”
Still, it wasn’t enough to get me excited to the point that I would actually go mustard shopping.
It was Ina Garten herself that made me get off of my ass. On weekend mornings I love to lounge in bed with my coffee and a cooking show. Ina is perfect for these times as her calm, serene directives along with her incredible knowledge and culinary mastery inspire both confidence and the desire to cook.
As I watched her last Saturday, she said she would be making gravlax. Accompanying the gravlax was the four mustard dill sauce that Melissa had talked about.
Seriously, I thought? Televised? Now I have no excuse not to write about this.
It made me think of my nighttime guilty pleasure. Before I go to sleep, I love to watch Guy’s Grocery Games. Among the many things this quarantine has fostered, my growing addiction to The Food Network is one of them.
What happens in Guy’s Grocery Games is similar to what occurs in many cooking competitions. The contestants are given a set of parameters and sometimes extreme limitations on what they will be cooking.
Although competitive, the beauty of Guy’s show is the sense of humor and fun that accompany the silly games and cooking challenges. It is also a great tool to up your culinary knowledge and cooking chops.
The other night one of the judges remarked something to this effect, “A great chef gets just as excited about making a hot dog as he does filet mignon.”
And there, my friends, is the crux of the matter. Almost anyone can make a filet mignon, a lobster, or a lamb chop taste good. It takes little more than some salt and pepper. Elevating inexpensive and readily available everyday ingredients, however, takes some skill. It isn’t hard, but it does require attention to detail, patience and the willingness to take a risk.
With this in mind, I gave in. I went to the grocery store and spent a lot of money on condiments. I needed whole grain and honey mustard to round up Melissa’s four. Then there were the many other accoutrements that I’ve come across in cookbooks and cooking shows, but never bothered to have in the house.
I purchased Yum-Yum sauce, sofrito criollo, recaito culantro, harissa paste, sesame oil, white wine vinegar (Because Ina’s recipe for ricotta called for it. Never mind that I have four other types of vinegar in the house.), rocoto and aji Amarillo pastes, Angostura bitters for my bar, blue masa (Because Remy and Rory would love blue corn muffins.), turbinado sugar and sriracha.
The insane part of this is that the cost of all of these items is probably less than what it would take to feed my family one meal of lamb chops. And these ingredients will last for many meals.
I have always been talented at justifying my shopping sprees.
Last Sunday’s purchase of smoked salmon was justified because it was the beginning of Max and Sam’s birthday week. That I spent half of that Sunday making bagels from scratch was justified because the grocery store sent me gluten free bread as a replacement for the bagels I requested.
With fresh bagels, beautiful smoked salmon and a multitude of mustards in the house, it was now time to try Ina’s recipe.
Only one thing was bothering me. It wasn’t until I was watching Ina’s show that I realized that the mustard sauce was intended for gravlax. Ina cured the salmon herself, then put together the sauce to accompany it.
Though gravlax looks like smoked salmon, there is a big difference. The woodsy, smoky taste inherent in smoked salmon is missing from gravlax. Hence the traditional mustard sauce to amp up the taste.
Kit Wohl was right when she said that she worried about adulterating a nice smoked salmon with mustard. Only I hadn’t realized the recipe was intended for gravlax when I reached out to her and Ellen.
As for me, a squirt of lemon is all I need to accompany smoked salmon. And though I reached the point where I was willing to make a four mustard sauce, I’m not quite ready to attempt gravlax.
I’m pretty sure that Melissa didn’t note that the recipe was for gravlax rather than smoked salmon. So with this in mind, I made the sauce.
It was good. It did, however, completely mask the delicate smokiness of the salmon. Though the salmon texture was there, the bite tasted just like mustard and dill. It was not something I would ever pair with smoked salmon again.
Should I come across some gravlax, I may give it another shot. But probably not.
In the meantime, I had a bunch of sauce left as well as an abundance of condiments.
Because Max is also trying to eat more plant based, I decided to play a little this morning. Brussels sprouts and root vegetables like carrots and potatoes seemed like they would hold up well to a mustard sauce.
Since mustard has a vinegary taste, I knew I would need a creamy element. I decided to make the vegetables to serve in a bowl, with coconut cauliflower rice on the side. If you’ve never had riced cauliflower, it is a low calorie, low carb alternative to rice that soaks up juices like a pro. It is excellent as a rice substitute when serving things such as stew.
Stir in some coconut milk at the end of cooking, and you’ve taken the cauli rice to a new level. It’s sweet, creamy and satisfying. A few sprinkles of toasted almonds for crunch and protein, along with some lime wedges for acid and the dish would be complete.
My bowl filled, I went to the table to give it all a try. It was then that I realized it was missing an element of heat. While I entertained the thought of making a quick jalapeno pickle, I dismissed it. That would have been done at the beginning of cooking. It would take too much time now, and I wanted to taste the food while it was hot.
It was then that I remembered all of my new condiments. How perfect. I got out the rocoto and aji Amarillo pastes, which are made from Peruvian peppers and are quite spicy. They were way too hot for my taste, but not bad when mixed with the Yum Yum sauce.
The Yum Yum sauce by itself was too fatty for these vegetables, but the harissa turned out to be just right. Ina’s mustard dill sauce had soaked into the veggies during cooking and rendered them tasty.
With a little heat from the harissa and the squirt of lime, they were little flavor bombs. Who would have thought this combination would create such fantastic flavor?
Though it came together nicely as a dish, I loved the potatoes the best. These were unpeeled, quartered red potatoes. Roasted, prepared with mustard, topped with harissa and lime, they were as far away from those Dominican croquetas of long ago as I could imagine.
And yet, I bit into one and recalled that restaurant. I remembered the hot, crispy plantain chips and big bottle of Presidente beers sold at an airport shack. Buzzing from the beer we would sweat through an aerobics class at the hotel in Spanish, then convene at the pool for Cuba libres garnished with Dominican limons.
For an entire month, the airline’s chief pilot bought our crews’ drinks. He was brought in to fly the airplane because it was two minutes away from ditching into the ocean on its inaugural flight the day before.
It was a scary month. We worked that trip every few days, not knowing why the airplane had almost crashed, nor if it was a design flaw that could possibly end our lives.
Yet still, we ate. We drank. We laughed. We relished those simple potato croquetas with their bright burst of lime.
Times are scary again. No one knows if or when the virus will strike. Seems to me that eating, drinking and laughing should be way up at the top of our to-do list. I don’t have any Dominican limons in my house now, but I do have mustard. Lots and lots of mustard.
Melissa said that if she were still doing graphic arts, she would create a visual with mustard as the center, and the various applications surrounding it. I can barely work the simple platform this blog is on; much less create an aesthetically pleasing graphic.
What I can offer, though, are some suggested uses for the various mustards, as well as some accompanying recipes. Here’s what I’ve learned thus far:
Liquid mustards have a discernable tang. A little can go a long way. When using Creole or country style mustard, more is called for. The mustard seeds present in those types of mustard add texture as well as tang.
Ina’s recipe slathered on potatoes before roasting was delicious. When I tried a simple mixture of country mustard and honey, it tasted awful and burned my baking pan. The lesson here is that fat should be a component of your dish. Without fat you’re less likely to get a good result.
Use alone as a marinade for chicken, meat or fish. Can be a substitute for eggs, or used in conjunction with them.
1. Add to vinaigrettes.
2. Mix mustard with miso and a squeeze of lemon as a marinade for basting roasted vegetables, tofu, fish and chicken.
3. Add to deviled eggs or egg salad.
4. Use in sandwich spreads.
5. Use in potato salad or cole slaw.
6. Use in dipping sauces for chicken fingers, wings, fried vegetables, shrimp.
7. Use in chicken salad, tuna salad or chickpea salad.
8. Pair mustard with something sweet such as honey, cane syrup or maple syrup, peach jam, etc. Use to marinate meat, fish, veggies or tofu.
Dry mustard adds acid to a dish without extra liquid. Acid is important to brighten dishes and cut through excessive fat. Dry mustard, therefore, makes an excellent addition to things like mac and cheese or potatoes au gratin. There are so many more uses for it than my sole crabcake recipe.
1. Spice rubs.
2. Add to macaroni and cheese.
3. Add to potatoes au gratin.
4. Sprinkle a little into pan gravies from chicken or meat.
5. Stir a little into cream soups.
6. Add a little to meatloaf.
7. Add to crab or fishcakes.
8. Stir into marinades or dipping sauces.
9. Make your own wet mustard from dry mustard.
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. Not to mention all of the recipes that we've been trying that have been successful. Soon I will do another post with just the recipes.
Do you have any favorite uses for mustard? If so, please share with us in the comment section below.