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 something 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 simply involves soaking mustard seeds in vinegar (or other liquid) for a couple of days, and then processing it to the desired consistency. It’s that easy. But 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 a month, 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.
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 the ratio can be altered to suit your taste.
Cider vinegar, with about 5% acidity, stands up to the pungency of the mustard seeds. Generally, equal parts mustard seed and vinegar provides a nice balance. If using slightly less acidic vinegar, like wine vinegar, you might want to use a little more.
Next is my favorite part of making mustard: beer. A quarter cup adds a malty sweetness to the mustard—and also leaves a ½ cup left in bottle to drink! Don’t like beer? Wine, brandy, apple cider, or water are all good alternatives.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the seeds soften at room temperature for at least 8 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.
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. If you like honey mustard on your turkey sandwich, try adding a ½ cup of honey at this point.
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.
Transfer the mustard to a glass container. Why glass? I’ve had mustards that have picked up off-flavors from metal and plastic containers; plus, it looks cooler.
That’s it. You’re done—well, not quite. You’ll have to wait for the mustard to “ripen” for a few days. Tasted right after mixing, the mustard might taste a little bitter; however, this will dissipate with age. Also, for spicier mustard, leave the mixture at room temperature (provided it has no perishable ingredients) 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.