As keen as mustard

by Sam Bilton on April 24, 2014 2 comments


I often wondered where the little phrases we drop idly into everyday conversation originate. Take the saying above – as keen as mustard. Many believe this phrase was coined because Keen & Sons, who established the first mustard factory in London in 1742, was a popular brand of mustard in the 19th century although this site claims the phrase dates from at least the 17th century.

Whatever it’s source, mustard itself has been an important spice in Europe since Roman times. It’s popularity stems from the fact that it could be grown locally (unlike some spices) and was therefore relatively cheap to produce. During the Medieval period a mustardarius would be often be appointed at royal courts across Europe to oversee the growing and preparation of this condiment.

Dijon has been the centre of mustard production in France since the mid 14th century and mustard from this area is now renowned across the world. Maison Maille established their first boutique in the city in 1845 although the company originally began as vinegar producers in the 18th century. The company’s founder, Antoine-Claude Maille, claimed to have found a prevention for plague in his “Vinegar of the Four Thieves”. He suggested the inhabitants of plague ravaged Marseille swallow a teaspoonful of this vinegar in a glass of water and rub it into the temples and palms of the hand. I’m not sure how effective it was but it obviously did enough to spawn a very successful business still going strong some 265 years later.

In Britain mustard was often ground to a paste and mixed with horseradish and vinegar or wine to make a condiment. By the early 18th century a Mrs Clements of Tewkesbury developed a process to dry the seeds so that they could be ground to a powder, paving the way for companies like Keen & Sons to commercially produce mustard powder as an alternative to ready made mustard. Mustard was and still is widely used as a pickling spice and features heavily in the luminous yellow piccalilli ubiquitous at Christmas time as an accompaniment to cold meats.

Maison Maille recently invited me to enter their culinary challenge to create an original and mouthwatering dish with some of their products. It was tempting to use some of their more exotic offerings, such as mustard with white wine, coconut and Colombo spices, but in the end I was drawn to their classic wholegrain mustard and white wine vinegar. However, as a nod towards the use of mustard in Indian cookery and the Brits love of pickles and chutneys I have made something a little different.

Piccalilli Pakoras with Mango Ketchup


Makes around 18 pakoras

Ingredients – for the pakoras

  • 150g gram (chickpea) flour
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1½ tsp mustard powder
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tbsp Maille wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tsp runny honey
  • 100 – 150ml sparkling water
  • 150g fresh cauliflower broken into miniature florets
  • 150g carrot, peeled and diced (around 5mm)
  • 75g onion (about ½ medium onion), peeled and finely chopped
  • 6 Maille extra small gherkins, finely chopped
  • Vegetable oil for deep frying


  1. Sieve the gram flour, bicarbonate of soda, mustard powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the mustard and honey then enough sparkling water to make a thick, sticky batter (125ml should be enough but you may need slightly more or less).
  2. Add the chopped vegetables and mix thoroughly to ensure they are coated with the batter.
  3. Preheat the oil in a deep fat fryer to 180℃. Drop table spoons of the batter coated vegetables in the hot oil and cook for 3 – 4 minutes until puffy and golden (you will need to do this in batches). Drain on absorbent paper and keep warm in a low oven while you cook the remainder of the pakoras.

Mango Ketchup


Makes 2 x 250ml bottles of ketchup


3 – 4 medium, not overly ripe, mangos
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 – 2 red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped (depending on how spicy you like your ketchup!)
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
30g fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
110g Demerara sugar
50g raisins
300ml Maille white wine vinegar
10g fine sea salt
2 tsp garam masala


  1. Peel and chop the mangos into 2cm chunks, discarding the stone. You will need 700 – 750g flesh for this recipe.
  2. Place the mango and the remaining ingredients into a large saucepan or preserving pan with a lid. Bring to the boil, cover and allow to simmer for 40 minutes until the fruit and vegetables are tender.
  3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before placing in an electric blender. Blend in batches until smooth then pass through a sieve to remove any stray skin or fibrous bits.
  4. Return the smooth sauce to the pan an bring back up to boiling point. Simmer for a further 40 – 50 minutes covered until thick, stirring occasionally to prevent the ketchup from sticking.
  5. Bottle while warm using a funnel to help pour the sauce into warm sterilised bottles. Alternatively, spoon into warm sterilised jam jars. Great with these pakoras or anything else you would have with tomato ketchup.


Sam BiltonAs keen as mustard

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  • Lauren Hairston - April 24, 2014 reply

    Looks amazing! Not time for dinner yet and you’re making me hungry! I’ve got a jar of Maille wholegrain in my fridge right now–generally use it for vinaigrettes.

    admin - April 25, 2014 reply

    Appetising posts – that’s what I like to hear! Thanks for the comment Lauren.

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