The French Condiment You Absolutely Need in Your Life
When it comes to food, we have to acknowledge that the French just know things we don’t. They know that a two-hour lunch is good for the soul. They know that if you spread a bit of soft unsalted butter on your bread or cracker before you add the cheese it will make your cheese taste cheesier. In fact, they know a whole lot of butter-related things that are worth exploring.
And their condiment game is on point. French grocery stores’ condiment aisles go way beyond ours. For all of our zillion options of hot sauces and barbecue sauces and salad dressings, the typical French supermarket will have pretty high-quality versions of everything from béchamel to green peppercorn sauce. We might have mayo, but they have aiolis enriched with everything from garlic to truffle to espelette pepper or tarragon. Need a sauce nantua (creamy crayfish sauce traditional to serve with pastas or poached quenelles of pike)? There it is in a convenient jar. Ditto béarnaise, bourguignonne, rouille, and even a sauce especially designed for potatoes with crème fraiche and chives.
America did, however, embrace French Dijon mustard way back. The American rights to the French Grey Poupon mustards were bought in 1946, bringing both the smooth and whole grain versions over from France. Wildly different from our tamer yellow mustards, this pungent ruddy spread was a revelation. Peppery, spicy, with a deep complex muskiness, brightened with a touch of white wine—suddenly our sandwiches weren’t just more delicious, they were fancy and Continental, even if the guys in the Rolls Royces asking for it had English accents. Of course, in the most French way, by the time Grey Poupon was THE Dijon mustard in America in the 1970s, the company phased it out of the French market. Rumor has it, it was because they were concerned it no longer felt French enough.
Which might be the reason one of their other amazing condiments, Savora, has never been big over here. I get it, sometimes you want to keep the best stuff for yourself. Ever hesitated to tell friends about a fabulous new restaurant because you selfishly wanted to be able to get a reservation whenever you wanted? It’s like that, but with a jarred spread.
Savora is a mustard-based condiment that has been produced in France since 1899. Touted as having 11 spices and aromatics, the top-secret recipe is known to include mustard seeds, cinnamon, Cayenne pepper, nutmeg, curcuma (a member of the ginger family), cloves, celery, garlic, tarragon, vinegar and a touch of honey. These flavors blend into what can arguably be called a mustard, since about 40% of the volume of the product is ground mustard seed. So, it can safely go anywhere mustard can go, with delightful results.
And yet, it is so much more.
Confession time. I personally do not love mustard as a condiment. I prefer it as an ingredient in dishes. So, Dijon mustard vinaigrette? All day long. A schmear of mustard on my sandwich bread or hot dog? I’ll pass. Want to spread mustard on my rack of lamb and crust it with herbed breadcrumbs? Have at it.
But something about Savora, despite its essential mustardiness, breaks all those rules for me. It has some backnote heat without being sinus-clearing. The vinegariness is balanced with the touch of honey sweetness. And the myriad spices take it to a place that is almost more South Asian than French, leaving a hint behind that resonates with the part of me that likes a pinch of curry or garam masala in a sauce or spice rub.
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While it of course goes very well with meats of all sorts, especially charcuterie, it is also delicate enough to use with milder fishes. Savora butter on pan-seared halibut is a personal favorite. Smear some on chicken pieces and coat with a mixture of breadcrumbs and grated parmesan for a baked crispy chicken that will knock your socks off. Swap it out for regular Dijon in salad dressing for that little something extra that will make your greens sing. Put a little bowl on your next cheese and cured meats platter. You can even hack a pretty decent mostarda by simmering some dried fruits in a combination of cider vinegar, brown sugar and Savora.
Or just spread it on a sandwich and enjoy.
While not yet sold widely in stores, and mostly available only in specialty French shops, we are fortunate for Amazon which will send you a jar for $8.50, although I’m always tempted by the $69.57 case of 12, since it makes a delightful host gift for foodie friends.
However you choose to use it, Savora will be your new favorite condiment. Just don’t tell the French.
Note: It also includes some wheat flour, so I apologize to my gluten-free friends. If you are GF but dying to try it, my best attempt is to mix one small jar of mild French Dijon mustard (grey poupon or Maille) with 1 ½ teaspoons of honey, a pinch each of cinnamon, cayenne, ground ginger, celery seed, ground clove, granulated garlic, fresh ground nutmeg and dried tarragon. I pulverize all the spices in a spice grinder to a uniform powder before mixing in. Then I taste, and add more honey if it needs more sweetness, or a few drops of vinegar.