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Get Stuffed - Mayo and mustard

The big ‘Mmmms’ of summer fare

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Summer time and the livin’ is easy – so shut down the stove, fire up the grill and throw on some smokies or wienies or burgers. Grab the mustard, the mayo and the relish – or pesto these days – and chop up a few sweet onions. And start building your best meal on a bun.

So what kind of an M&M person are you? A mayo on the bun only with mustard on the meat type? Or do you slather both all over anything that doesn’t move? Check it out the next time you’re at a group picnic or bar-b, you’ll see that just about everybody has their own unique ritual when it comes to mayo and mustard.

Whatever your personal style is, you have to admit that life wouldn’t be the same without the sassy touch of these two condiments. This is doubly true in summer when simplicity and ease are the bywords, and sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs take over the dining department.

Before we carry on, though, I should go on record that Sriracha chili sauce and tamarind chutney are also big sellers around our house when it comes to spicing up bun-food. It’s only due to space limitations that we’re sticking to a pretty Euro-centric view of summer condiments here – the two big Ms.

And we’re doing it with a man who definitely knows his spices – Chef Bernard Casavant, co-owner (with his wife Bonnie) of Chef Bernard’s Café, BBK’s Pub, Blackcomb Liquor Store, and creator of his own line of condiments called Ciao Thyme. Chef Bernard has a list of culinary credentials as long as a ribbon of pasta but, more importantly, he relishes the twin dynamos, mayo and mustard.

The many faces of mustard

Mustard: either you love it or hate it. When I was a kid, I cried for half an hour when a well-intentioned babysitter slathered it all over my bologna sandwich. Chef Bernard, on the other hand, happens to love mustard, especially Dijon-style.

But no matter how much anyone loves mustard, it would be hard to beat the mustard fanatic in Wisconsin who opened a mustard museum. At last count it featured nearly 2,000 varieties. Unbelievable. With honey mustard, Dijon-style, a Russian one that knocks your teeth out, and a jar of bright yellow French’s, which finds its tangy way into the occasional hot dog, I thought we had a fair assortment on our shelves.

Mustard is no new kid on the condiment shelf. Mustard plants have been cultivated for more than 2,000 years. It was particularly popular during medieval times because of its ability to disguise the taste of rancid meat. Yummy. One historical account describes a banquet of 50 guests who spooned their way through a half gallon of the stuff.

In the early 1700s an Englishwoman named Mrs. Clements made the first finely ground mustard powder that we’re familiar with today as Keen’s and the like. While the English still prefer to mix their own mustard, the French and other Europeans are hot on the pre-mixed stuff.

Dijon, as Chef Bernard will tell you, is king of the mustard realm, both for taste and versatility. To earn the Dijon designation, it must be made by crushing hulled black mustard seeds, and mixing in spices, salt with white wine, verjuice (the juice of unripened grapes) or vinegar. By law no other ingredients, including flour, oil, sugar or colouring, can be added.

"Dijon is an awesome condiment alone, plus you can also play with the flavour of it," says Chef Bernard. "I’ve come up with a tarragon, wildflower, honey mustard using Fraser Valley honey. You can use it as a condiment on a sandwich, or if you incorporate a little white wine and olive oil, you can make a mustard-maze, like a moist paste or rub, which is great on grilled or roast chicken."

Pretty much at the other end of the mustard spectrum is good old "ballpark" mustard, that neon yellow stuff so-named because, you guessed it, it was made specifically for those rubber hot dogs you can’t resist at a ball game. Since our taste for condiments grows up as we do, ballpark mustard is usually kids’ first choice.

"We had a bunch of kids in here and they actually like French’s mustard," says Chef Bernard, mildly taken aback at the mere thought of it. "We had to rush out to Costco and buy those squeeze bottles." Give them time, Bernard, they’ll figure it out.

Mayonnaise, hollandaise and friends

Mayonnaise and its cousins hollandaise and béarnaise sauce all hale from France. They’re based on the principle of emulsification, that is, binding a stable ingredient with non-stable ones. In the case of mayonnaise, egg yolk is the stabilizer and the olive oil and vinegar (or lemon juice) are the unstable ingredients.

The key here is stirring – relentlessly. In fact, the word "mayonnaise" is likely from the French verb "manier", meaning "to stir", though some think it could also have come from the Old French noun for egg yolk: "moyeu".

Thank goodness we have food processors and blenders these days – they make it so easy. If you’ve never made mayonnaise at home, get yourself a good recipe and try it. It’s a fascinating bit of chemistry. You whip the egg yolks round and round, drizzling in olive oil. Suddenly, the whole liquidy concoction congeals. That’s the magic of emulsification for you.

In fact, some think mayonnaise itself is magic. One gastronomique called it a "beautiful shining golden ointment." Hard to think of it as plain old mayo sleeping under the lettuce in your ham sandwich after that.

Mayonnaise first came to the New World just before the beginning of the last century. Americans primarily used it as a salad dressing, as in Waldorf salad, which made its debut in 1895. While the French – and Chef Bernard – are known for adding fresh herbs and spices for flavour, early American housewives were more intent on adding ingredients for the sake of practicality and availability.

One 1925 Good Housekeeping recipe suggested such astonishing substitutions as gelatine, evaporated milk, condensed milk – even mashed potatoes – for the egg yolk. Mon dieu! A Vivian Z. Teeter topped that: "Those who are trying to reduce will be interested to know that upon the advice of their physician… mineral oil may be used in making mayonnaise." Oh my. Your weight reduction may occur in a rather unexpected manner.

The magic of mayonnaise, if you think of it as simply a cold sauce as the French do, is that it can change form and function easily, depending how you sass it up. (I’m purposefully omitting mineral oil here). Even in the midst of our conversation, Chef Bernard is busy working on an aioli – a very French, very garlicky version of mayonnaise ("ail" is French for "garlic"). He describes it as "simplicity, really". He beats together good quality extra virgin olive oil, egg yolk, garlic, roasted bell pepper purée and a bit of lemon juice until it forms a cream-coloured velvety sauce, perfect for his chilled spicy prawns.

Green mayonnaise is a great addition to summer salads and picnic-type food – just add mayo to a purée of spinach, watercress, parsley, chervil and tarragon. Blanch the greens first then pound them in a mortar or grind them in a food processor. Play with the combos of greens any way your intuition tells you.

A rémoulade adds mustard, anchovy, gherkins, capers, parsley and chervil to mayonnaise, while a Nicoise sauce adds two finely chopped pimentos and two tablespoons of tomato purée to a cup of mayo.

But the final piece de resistance , which combines the best of both worlds, may well be Dijonnaise sauce: Pound together 4 hard-boiled egg yolks and 4 teaspoons of Dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper and then beat with oil and lemon juice like you’re making mayonnaise. Serve it up with your next batch of hot dogs and hamburgers and everyone will love how easy you made the choice between the two big "Ms".

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