I don’t remember being a mustard fiend, but as I often say, proximity is everything. With hot, grainy homemade mustard nearby, I find myself reaching for it at least once a day. Sandwiches, sure; salad dressings, of course. But almost anytime I add butter and lemon, I now add mustard. Mustard is an ideal glue for breadcrumbs on almost anything, but fish and chicken, in particular. It rarely burns, and adds a pleasant base of flavor and texture. Heck, it even improves scrambled eggs.
Making your own mustard is really as simple as blitzing mustard seeds with a stabilizer (to stop fermentation and help maintain a safe pH), usually vinegar. From there it’s about taste–I like sugar, honey, and horseradish. Combine these elements to your personal taste, and the result is a delight.
However, I beseech you to consider leveling up and fermenting that mustard. Fermented mustard mellows and marries the flavors, and adds an edge of umami that’s hard to pin down. Bottom line, it’s worth your time to get out the food processor and make a batch while the weather works in favor of fermentation. Make it now and use it all winter in soups, stews, and risotto. If you’ve never made fermented mustard before, think about the following questions before you get started, for a condiment that’s perfect for your palate.
How grainy do you want it?
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Mustard you make yourself can be as grainy as you like. We’re starting with whole mustard seeds, but you’ll need to break down some of them to get the fermentation going, and how much you break down is totally up to you. Be forewarned, because of the size of the seeds, this is a lengthy process. Generally, I find a happy medium, and you will too. That said, if you really prefer a smooth mustard, replace a portion of the mustard seeds with mustard powder.
How spicy do you want it?
Mustard isn’t that spicy in and of itself, it gets spicy in conjunction with other ingredients. Prepared horseradish, for instance, can be found in many mustards. Since fresh horseradish loses its spice as soon as you cut it, starting with horseradish root isn’t advised. The preservatives in prepared horseradish are mysterious and secretive, but they manage to help the horseradish keep its zip. Obviously, hot peppers are another source of heat, and you can choose which peppers and how many you’d like to use. Garlic can also add a layer of heat. You can taste as you go to adjust.
What if I don’t have brine?
Usually when fermenting, you start with a salt brine of 2-3% salt. You can also use whey. Think of these as starters for your own fermentation, just like a sourdough starter. If you want to use whey, you can purchase kefir, buttermilk, or yogurt and strain off the watery part. The watery part is the whey. You can also phone a fermenting friend. It is pickle season, after all, and you probably know someone who has some lacto-fermented brine (made with saltwater, not vinegar) you could use.
Get the gear you need to make your own mustard:
You can also make a fresh brine. It’ll take longer to ferment since you’re starting from scratch, but it’ll still work. You can use the brine calculator to figure out how much salt is needed for the amount of water you’re working with. If you’re making the brine, replace all the water and brine in the recipe (so three cups) with this new mixture. Boil three cups of distilled water with 14.4 grams of non-iodized salt, allow it to cool completely, mix in the honey or maple syrup, and leave it at room temperature, with a fermentation lid on screwed on top, for a few days. Once it starts bubbling, it’s fermenting and ready to go, and you can proceed with the recipe.
Fermented Spicy Mustard
- 3 cups mustard seeds (Any combination of colors will work, this is to your taste. I use yellow, brown and black in equal amounts. Be aware, black and brown mustard seeds look the same.)
- 1/2-gallon jar with fermentation lid
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 cup of real whey or brine from a previous fermentation
- 2 cups of distilled or filtered water
- 1 cup of vinegar
- ½ cup of honey or maple syrup
- Hot peppers, as spicy as you like
- 2-4 tablespoons prepared horseradish (not fresh, should be jarred from the store)
In your food processor, combine all the dry ingredients–your seeds, your peppers, horseradish, garlic, turmeric, etc. In another bowl, combine all the brine and honey/maple syrup (if you hadn’t already) and mix well. Add enough liquid to the food processor to get the mixture going, and pulse for a second at a time. Continue pulsing until you reach the graininess you’re looking for, understanding it will get looser once you add it to the rest of the brine. Add more brine as you need to, to keep things moving.
When you’re happy with the consistency, add this mixture to the half-gallon container, and pour the rest of the brine on top. Mix everything well with a long spoon. Put a fermentation lid on, and put it in a dark place in a room between 60-80℉.
Over the next day, you’ll see the ingredients in the jar separate, then ferment. The fermentation will be represented one of two ways: either you’ll see some slight bubbling, or you will wake up one morning and the mustard will be shooting out the top of the fermenter. Try to catch it before that point.
How to preserve it
You want to let it ferment for a day or two, and this is somewhat controlled by heat. The colder it is, the less it ferments. The hotter, the more it ferments. So if you have a really active ferment, move it someplace slightly colder. Continue tasting the mustard, which should still be bitter, because the mustard seeds haven’t aged at all. It takes time for them to mellow. But you should still be able to taste the underlying notes that will affect the mustard, the heat, and the sweetness.
When you’re happy with the ferment, add your vinegar and mix it in. You can even blend it again at this point, and you should be able to get the mustard smoother. At this point, you can place the mustard in the fridge, and it should last almost indefinitely. Because of the temperature, it will stop fermenting. I generally like to leave it about three months before I dig into it, and at that point, you can continue to alter it with salt or honey or more flavoring, but it won’t need the fermentation lid.
Enjoy your homemade mustard on everything, and watch as it gets better with age. If you make it now, it will really come into its own right around the holidays, when it makes a great gift in small four-ounce jars.