Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mustard Oil

2007_12_09__17_07_13I found this New York Times article appropos mainly because I was trying to find out what "mustard essence oil" is not more than a week ago. For us it is about making mostarda (a truly transcendent condiment) as a holiday gift, but according to the times American chefs are being a little more experimental:
While Bengalis mostly use it for sautéeing, reducing its intensity, American chefs usually finish dishes with a trickle of the sharp raw oil, as Jean-Georges Vongerichten does with blanched mustard greens in his new book, “Home Cooking With Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes” (Clarkson Potter).

Mustard oil is a key ingredient in the “uni panini,” a sandwich with a cult following at Alex Raij’s Chelsea tapas bar, El Quinto Pino. Playing on the Japanese pairing of sea urchin and wasabi, Ms. Raij mixes it into butter she slathers on a ficelle and tops with sea urchin. “It has these great vapors, but it’s not the kind of heat that lingers,” she said. “I think because it’s an oil, it hits the tongue differently.”

Ken Oringer said he discovered mustard oil when the Indian cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey made a guest-chef visit to his restaurant, Clio, in Boston. Now he marinates jalapeños in mustard oil for Indian-inspired pickles and poaches fish in mustard oil before searing it with Spanish paprika. “There’s no ingredient that comes close to it,” Mr. Oringer said. “It brings so much flavor.”

Few American chefs have featured mustard oil as prominently as Michael Hodgkins, the former chef at Hung Ry, a hand-pulled-noodle shop in Manhattan. In his time there, Mr. Hodgkins used mustard oil as his go-to seasoning in everything from a simple salad dressing for shaved apples and local greens to a fried squid dish with fennel and coriander seeds, lime and honey.

“It doesn’t have that thick, fatty texture that coats your mouth,” he said. “You taste it, and then it’s gone.”
The catch? The FDA says it has to be labeled "for external use only" because there is some data out there that it causes heart problems in mice. But:
Ramanan Laxminarayan, a research scholar at the Princeton Environmental Institute, said any benefits, like any risks, have yet to be conclusively proved. But Mr. Laxminarayan said he has no concerns about the safety of a drizzle of mustard oil.

“I can’t imagine that at that quantity of use it could do much of anything at all,” he said. “Just as it would require a lot for serious health benefits, it would probably require a lot for any harm.”
Caveat emptor, I suppose, but I'd be pretty confident in taking my chances... it's not like Bengalis are keeling over en masse.