Today's Special: Miami Recipes

Mustard is one of Jacques Pépin’s cooking tricks

French chef Jacque Pépin has a new cookbook.
French chef Jacque Pépin has a new cookbook.

When I was first married I didn’t know how to cook anything except well-done steaks.

On the advice of my butcher, I slathered steaks with ballpark mustard before grilling, and I thought I was a gourmet. Then, I learned a few tricks about cooking and about prepared mustards.

When Jacques Pépin taught at my cooking school in Miami, I watched in awe as he chopped garlic as fast as a food processor, deboned a whole chicken in less than a minute, and taught me the correct way to peel a carrot (pull the vegetable peeler towards you in one stroke; rather than away).

I think of Pépin almost every time I cook. In his classes he explored the many facets of cooking with mustard, from sharp Dijons to the standard, bright-yellow French’s.

He combined mustard with soy and Tabasco to create a simple sauce for chicken. He explained that mustard gets sweeter when you cook it, so soy provides both salt and umami as the dish cooks.

Besides chicken, mustard works wonders with bright salads, tender roasted vegetables, and more. In most cases all you need is a spoonful to add some tangy flavor to stews or to create an emulsion in a vinaigrette.

Of course, it’s the mustard flavor we love in a South Carolina barbecue sauce and in sauce for stone crabs.

Prepared mustard dates back thousands of years to the early Romans, who ground mustard seeds and mixed them with wine into a paste. There are hundreds of varieties of prepared mustards, including many specialty blends that include a fruit, herb, honey or spice base.

Prepared mustard generally has about one-third to one-half the strength of dry mustard (crushed and powdered mustard seeds).

Yellow or ballpark mustard, America’s favorite condiment for hotdogs, is one of the mildest-flavored mustards. It is made with white mustard seeds mixed with salt, spices and vinegar, usually with turmeric added to increase the yellow color. This type was first manufactured in 1904 by George T. French as Cream Salad Brand.

Dijon mustard originated in Dijon, France, and is made with brown and/or black mustard seeds, seasonings, verjuice (juice of unripe grapes), wine and vinegar. It is pale tan to yellow in color and usually smooth in texture.

Besides its popular use as a sandwich condiment, Dijon is the magic ingredient in many sauces. It’s especially crucial in vinaigrette to keep the oil and vinegar from separating.

Brown mustard seeds are marinated in vinegar, ground and mixed with a little horseradish to make hot and spicy creole mustard. Whole-grain mustard, also called Meaux mustard, is made with roughly crushed, multicolored mustard seeds mixed with vinegar and spices.

You can always have mustard on hand since it keeps indefinitely in the refrigerator. I still think coating a steak with mustard is a good idea, but now I use Dijon flavored with horseradish and cook those steaks medium-rare.

Carole Kotkin:

Veal Chops Dijonnaise

Recipe adapted from Jacques Pépin’s newest book, “Heart & Soul in the Kitchen” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35). Pépin writes, “In this classic recipe of veal with mushrooms, veal chops are sautéed and the pan juices deglazed with wine and demi-glace, then finished with cream and mustard to make a luscious, smooth sauce. Good demi-glace is available at specialty stores, but if you are unable to obtain it, substitute chicken stock reduced by half.” The sharpness of the mustard and the strong herbal flavor of the tarragon match well with the brisk toasty flavors of barrel-fermented 2012 Cairdean Estate Napa Valley Fumé Blanc ($32).

4 veal rib chops (about 7 ounces each)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

2 cups sliced mushrooms

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup demi-glace (see headnote)

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

Heat oven to 140 degrees. Sprinkle the chops with the salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet. When the oil is hot, add the chops and cook over medium-high heat for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate and keep warm in the oven while you make the sauce with the pan drippings.

Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook for about 1 minute. Add the wine and demi-glace, bring to a boil, and boil for about 2 minutes. Stir in the cream and boil for about 30 seconds. Finally, mix in the mustard, but do not boil. Add any juices that have accumulated around the chops to the pan.

Arrange a chop on each of four very hot plates. Coat with the mushroom sauce, sprinkle with the tarragon, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings