From American hamburger mustard to grain with cider, Mark Hix pays homage to that most ancient of seeds

Mustard is said to be the oldest condiment known to the human race, but our ancestors would be astonished by the number of different types we can dab on our sausages. Mustard seeds have been found in the tombs of the Egyptian pharoahs, and more recently - but still going back a bit - the Romans ground the seeds and mixed them with wine to create their own sauce. The spice then spread throughout Europe, and there are records of mustard being made in British homes and monasteries in the mid-1600s. Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire was known for its fashionable, thick horseradish mustard that's still made today to give roast beef a kick.

In France, Dijon became famous for mustard made from brown seeds ground to a thick paste with vinegar instead of verjuice, the sour juice of unripe grapes that monastries had been using before then. Maille, one of the best-known Dijon mustards, was developed in the 17th century by M Maille, originally as an antiseptic to fight the plague.

Our own Colman's was started in 1814 by Jeremiah Colman, just south of Norwich, and it's still made nearby, with a mix of black and white mustard seeds ground to a fine powder. It comes as a paste or in powder form.

In America, a typical supermarket has a whole section devoted to different types of mustard. We can learn something from them and experiment with all the different types. There are so many, from home and abroad, and I like to keep a selection to use in dressings, sauces and as a condiment. If you pushed me to pick two favourites, I'd have to admit I'm a great fan of the American mustard French's (which Americans need to be reassured has nothing to do with France). It makes a great sauce for burgers mixed with ketchup. At the opposite extreme, I love the jars of Suffolk Larder's grain mustard flavoured with local cider vinegar and green peppercorns.

Calves' liver with mustard and herbs

Serves 4

This recipe comes from Jeremy Lee, chef at the Blueprint Café in London, who once cooked a lunch with mustard in every course in honour of Maille. This would work with lamb's liver or even pork medallions. The secret is to ask your butcher to cut the liver a bit thicker than normal so it still stays pink and juicy in the middle. If you've got people for dinner, you can prepare this in f advance and have it ready on a baking tray to bung in the oven at the end.

4 slices of calves' liver, cut about 1cm thick and weighing about 120-150g each
4tsp Dijon mustard
Vegetable oil for frying
A good knob of butter

for the crust

2 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
40g butter
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
1tbsp chopped parsley
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
1tsp chopped tarragon leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rub a heavy-bottomed frying pan with a little oil and heat it until it's almost smoking. Season the slices of liver and fry them for about 15 seconds on each side then transfer them to a baking tray.

Gently cook the shallots and garlic in the butter without colouring for 2-3 minutes then transfer them to a food processor with the breadcrumbs and herbs and season lightly. Blend briefly until well mixed. Spread the mustard evenly over the top of the slices of liver and coat with the breadcrumb mixture.

Pre-heat the oven to 230C/gas mark 8. Cook the liver for 6-7 minutes until the crust is lightly coloured and serve immediately.

Seasonal vegetables such as cabbage, sprouting broccoli, creamed spinach or the first of the season's root vegetables are perfect with this. A leafy green salad or mashed potato are other alternatives.

Grilled mackerel with mustard sauce

Serves 4

As a child my friends and I had great fun catching mackerel from the end of the pier. We did it all summer into September. The fish should be eaten within a couple of days of being caught, so if you haven't caught them yourself and are buying from the fishmonger, check them over and make sure their eyes are glossy and gills are bright red. If the fishmonger gives you a funny look for prodding the fish take no notice. When they're really fresh, mackerel are great, but they aren't considered a luxury and so they're cheap. They're good for you, too. Mustard sauce goes equally well with herrings, which are also relatively inexpensive and healthy but becoming scarce these days.

My Gran used to split the mackerel I'd caught and fry them lightly floured to give the skin a delicious crisp texture. Any spare fish would be soused in vinegar, though she never actually made mustard sauce.

4 whole mackerel weighing about 400g each, beheaded, fins trimmed, split like a kipper
Flour for dusting
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
A good knob of butter

for the sauce

4 small shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1tsp English mustard
2tsp grain mustard
2tbsp white wine vinegar
1tbsp double cream
1tbsp chopped chives
60g cold butter, diced

Snip out the mackerel bones with scissors if you prefer to serve it without them. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy frying pan. Season and lightly flour the mackerel and cook, skin-side down first, for 3-4 minutes on each side. You will probably need to do this in two batches depending how many you're cooking and how big your frying pan is.

Meanwhile put the shallots in a pan with the vinegar and a couple of tablespoons of water, and simmer the shallots for 2-3 minutes until the liquid has reduced by half. Add the two mustards and cream and simmer for another minute, then whisk in the butter until well mixed. Add the chives and season.

Serve the mackerel skin side up and the sauce poured on the plate or separately. New potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli go perfectly with this.

Tomatoes with brown mustard seeds

Serves 4-6

I'm toying with getting a greenhouse next year, but meanwhile it's been a good year for outdoor tomatoes so far. Once you start harvesting you have to think of new and interesting tomato recipes to use them up, especially if you have a few green ones on your hands. I've cooked this a couple of times with both green and ripe tomatoes and even a mixture. It goes really well with drier Indian meat dishes such as tandoori or tikka, or with grilled or barbecued fish such as swordfish or tuna. Or mackerel without the mustard sauce. Or have it with naan bread as a light supper.

Mustard seeds, both brown and white, are used extensively in Indian cooking either ground into a masala or whole.

3tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/2tsp chilli powder
1tsp turmeric, or 2tsp freshly grated fresh turmeric root
2tsp brown mustard seeds
1tsp fennel seeds
1kg green or red tomatoes, skinned and quartered
2tbsp freshly shredded coriander leaves

Heat the oil or ghee in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and gently fry the onion, garlic and spices for 3-4 minutes without colouring. Add the green tomatoes and a generous pinch of salt and simmer gently with a lid on for 15 minutes, stirring every so often, then add the ripe tomatoes and do the same for another 15 minutes. Remove the lid, add the coriander leaves and cook on a high heat for 4-5 minutes, or until the liquid has almost evaporated. Re-season if necessary.

Smoked honey and mustard baked ham hocks

Serves 4-6

A ham hock is a really economical cut of meat to cook and most butchers these days can't give them away. One of the best I've eaten is from Richardson's Smokehouse in the Suffolk village of Orford. They smoke them until they're almost burnt and then douse them with local honey and mustard. If you can't buy a pre-smoked ham hock, unsmoked will do, or just use a piece of raw smoked ham. Once cooked, it will last a few days in the fridge or as a part of a cold feast.

2 smoked ham hocks weighing about 1kg each
1 litre medium cider
2 onions, peeled and halved
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
A few sprigs of thyme
2tbsp grain mustard
4-5tbsp clear honey
2tbsp brown sugar

Soak the ham hocks overnight in cold water then rinse them. Put them into a large saucepan with the cider, onions, carrots, peppercorns, bay leaf and thyme and add water to cover them well. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2-21/2 hours, topping up with water if necessary until the meat is tender and almost coming away from the bone. Drain and leave to cool a little. Reserve the cooking liquor for a soup or broth.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 5. Mix together the honey, mustard and sugar. Put the hocks into a roasting tray lined with foil and spread them with the honey and mustard. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, basting every 15 minutes or so until they are caramelised. Serve as a hot main course or sliced cold.