The hills are speckled with purple and golden flowers, as are the vineyards and orchards throughout California. One of these flowers that help make our beautiful state golden is the noble and versatile mustard plant, which has been used through the millennia as a seasoning and a medicine, as well as a weapon of war.
Yes, aside from Biblical references about the power of the mustard-seed, literature mentions mustard poultices, or pastes, as being used to cure colds and other ailments as well as to flavor food. Using a culinary perspective, the use of mustard, from mild white and peppery brown to the spicy black variety, cross cultures and unifies cuisine in a way few other ingredients can boast.
A cruciferous vegetable, mustard is related to kale, cabbages and broccoli, and can be used to accent everything from barbeque sauces and marinades to being served on its own or combined with other winter greens, like collard and chard. Mustard seeds are paired with coriander and dill in pickling, as it underlays the notes of vinegar with a bit of spice, and is used by some cheese-makers as well.
Rich in thiamine and riboflavin, as well as vitamins A and C, mustard greens are a common component of soul food. It also is popular in Chinese food, where mustard oil, much like sesame oil, is used in stir fry and is notorious for being hot and fiery. As an American condiment, flavors run the gamut from sweet and creamy to savory, spicy, granular. Often combined with vinegars and beers as well as honey to create an optimal spread, Sierra Nevada Brewery, the local emperor of beers, is just one example of producers that make several flavors. Our local brew-masters use their pale ale, stout and porter to accent the food they serve in their local alehouse, and some would say that, as with chocolate, beer and mustard make beautiful pairings, whether being blended in dressings for Asian chicken salads or rubbed into pork.
So it is no surprise that Grey Poupon is coming to Napa where mustard is so popular, insomuch that there is even a restaurant called Mustard’s Grill, to judge a student competition at CIA Greystone, in St. Helena. This Friday, March 25th at 10:00, students will assemble their version of the ultimate club sandwich, having the opportunity to win scholarships from the illustrious icon of gourmet condiments. Their creativity will be challenged and their architectural skills tested as they layer poultry, pork, breads and spreads in the hopes of standing out against their outstanding compatriots.
And while Grey Poupon is the sponsor, it will be a challenge for the Culinary Institute of America’s finest not to use such local favorites as Annie’s Organic Honey Mustard or Napa Valley’s Champagne, Honey, and Garlic concoction.
Will they use honey-cured bacon or prosciutto? Rye bread or Kaisar rolls? Cranberry or avocado? Or perhaps pomegranate jelly and sautéed mustard greens will be used as the optimal pairing for the illustrious king of this year’s club.
The possibilities are truly fantastic: from sweet and sour sauces for shrimp skewers to rubs and marinades for pork and lamb, mustard seeds and greens make essential additions to the early spring table.