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Saffron--do you love it?

I've never used saffron, nor eaten a dish (save paella) that was seasoned with it.

Doing my best to try new flavors, and saffron is on my list but it's expensive, so I want to use it correctly and to full advantage.

Can anyone give a primer on buying, using, attributes, etc?
Thank you!

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  1. I love saffron, and a little goes a long way. The key is to soak it in a bit of warm water to release the flavor & color before using it. Some people toast it first as well. I like it in rice, and also make a mayonnaise based orange saffron sauce for fish.

    2 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      MM Ruth: Can you tell us how to make this sauce for fish? I have lots of saffron I brought home from Spain and do not know what to do with it! Thanks!

    2. I've just been on a major saffron research spree. I use it quite a bit--in risotto Milanese, bouillabaisse, and paella--which I make frequently. My supply was running low, my brother--who lives in Spain--is coming for T'giving dinner, and so I was looking at various qualities and prices available here in the states by mail order to see if he could do significantly better than I. Turns out, he can't. I've asked him to bring me some anyway just to see if the quality is better than what I can buy here, but pricewise, at least in Cadiz where he lives, Spain doesn't seem to be that big a bargain.

      First of all, don't buy powdered saffron; buy the threads. The powdered saffron often contains fillers. Saffron is the stigma of the saffron crocus. When you buy saffron, there is often a bit of yellow among the threads; that is the stamen part of the flower. How much of the yellow is contained among the threads is an indication of how well the saffron has been cleaned. Since the yellow part is flavorless, the more yellow in the mix the more you are paying for a somewhat diluted product.

      Although I haven't ordered saffron from them, latienda.com had the best prices I could find online, much less than Penzeys.

      http://www.tienda.com/support/search....

      2 Replies
      1. re: JoanN

        A friend gave me the one ounce tin from Tienda. It's fabulously aromatic, lends good flavor to the usual risotto, paella, etc., and is therefore presumably worth the price. That being said, it's really a lot of saffron, and I don't know of any recipes that use much more than a pinch, so I guess I have enough saffron to last me for a while.

        1. re: Spot

          You can also add it to sweet dishes like rice pudding. Some candied orange peel & toasted pine nuts and you're good to go.

      2. Can't stand the stuff!

        However, I would recommend Moroccan or other North African recipes, and also Spanish recipes. Claudia Roden's Moroccan Lemon Chicken recipe is easy and outstanding. It calls for saffron, but I substitute turmeric for the color and a different flavor.

        And paella is a good dish for showcasing saffron too.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Kagey

          I'm with you. Tastes like dirt to me.

        2. I like saffron for many of the dishes already mentioned, but a little goes a long way, which is good because it can be pricey.

          Check your Trader Joe's to see if they carry it now; I bought a little jar of Spanish saffron from there a while back and it was the cheapest I've seen.

          Some friends gave me some Iranian saffron that I have yet to use. Anyone know the differences between the two?

          3 Replies
          1. re: Carb Lover

            I've never used Iranian saffron, but I have brought saffron back from both Turkey and Morocco. It is my understading that all saffron comes from the same type of crocus and that where that crocus is grown is not an issue. I never noticed a difference in flavor among the saffrons from Spain, Turkey or Morocco--just a difference in how much of the yellow stamen still clung to the red threads. If there was more yellow among the threads, I just increased the amount used proportionately.

            1. re: JoanN

              Crocus sativus is the species I believe. Sold in nurseries in the spring, it blooms in fall with a large pale lilac colored flower. THREE stigma (the female part),or dried threads, per flower; gold turning to dark orange when dried. Takes a large number to harvest any amount of saffron. So I suppose any vaariance in flavor would come from soil condition and climate.

              here is a note from White's Flower Farm catalog:
              'Harvesting and Using Saffron: Three stigmas are borne in the center of each purple, cup-shaped bloom. The best time to harvest the stigmas is mid-morning on a sunny day when the flowers have fully opened and are still fresh. Carefully pluck the stigmas from the flowers with your fingers, then dry them in a warm place to preserve them for cooking. Store in a closed container.'

              1. re: toodie jane

                In the way too much information category, I got most of mine from Wikipedia when I was looking all this up last week.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron

                I found the information on grades of saffron particularly interesting.

          2. If you are really into saffron, try San Francisco herb and spice co. $33.00 per ounce, An ounce is a lot of saffron, but it keeps well.
            http://sfherb.com/spices.asp

            1. It doesn't have to be expensive. Indian grocery stores sell ounces of good quality Spanish saffron for $20 or less, and prices for other varieties are lower there than you're likely to find anywhere outside their native areas. Though obviously large amounts aren't the place to start if you don't know if you like it.

              1. I make a pasta sauce with cauliflower, pancetta, saffron, and toasted pine nuts. The saffron really adds something--subtle but unmistakeable, and d*** delicious.

                Of course, you can also go the purist route and make a pasta in saffron cream sauce. Farfalle (butterflies/bowties) work especially well.

                1. Ruth thanks for the recipe. I wonder about storage of saffron..would it be good to keep in freezer to avoid fading of flavor? Do CH people keep their overflow spices there? I always stock up on exotic spices when I travel and find that I still have lots left after a year or two...examples are smoked Spanish paprika and saffron.....

                  1. I buy whole threads and crush them myself before letting them steep in warm water. If you just steep the whole threads, the saffron doesn't go as far or integrate as well into your dish.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: SuzMiCo

                      That's a good point - and a step I always forget ...

                    2. I love saffron, it really makes my mouth water. I get mine at penzey's, they have different grades and varieties at different price levels. I don't use mine often so it lasts a long time. But I intend to look into Tienda.com, since NoanN says it's cheaper...

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: prunefeet

                        Do the different grades taste different?

                        1. re: aqrichards

                          I wouldn't know...I have only got one type...
                          http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzey...
                          I think the one I get is the spanish superior...
                          Incidentally, I like Penzey's recipe for chicken biryani, which you can find at this site as well, using saffron. Making it tonight!

                      2. Whatever you do, don't buy saffron in East Asian stores. No offense to these wonderful Asian markets, but what is called "saffron" in many Toronto Chinatown groceries is not. A Filipino babysitter who'd seen me using saffron brought me a huge bagful of the Chinatown stuff once. I looked at it, smelled it and tasted it, and couldn't bring myself to use this tough-looking woody product.

                        1. Saffron has a distinctly medicinal tone that many people actually don't like, and it sometimes takes a skilled nose and hand to know when you might have used too much.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Karl S

                            Agree (not that I have a skilled nose and hand) - but too much is way too much.

                            1. re: Karl S

                              It is a bit medicinal, my husband referred to it as bleach-like in fact. But something about the smell just makes me hungry...

                              1. re: prunefeet

                                Ah, that's it! That's a great description -- hints of chlorine. Right on the money.

                            2. I LOVE saffron in risotto Milanese. I also add it when I'm making a spicy marinara sauce that I serve with mussels over pasta. This is surprising, but I've found some outstanding saffron that's harvested in Lancaster, PA, very close to where I live, and VERY reasonably priced compared to the imported varieties.

                              1. So far what I'm reading is:
                                infuse the crushed perhaps toasted threads in a liquid to be absorbed by a starch or to be added to a sauce:
                                risotto
                                pasta sauce
                                paella
                                cream sauce

                                Can anyone supply any other examples? Standard recipes or flavor couplings where saffron might be used to best advantage?
                                I think I'll start out with a cream sauce for veggies.
                                Thanks for all the chiming in, it shows there are lots of you who love saffron!

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: toodie jane

                                  I've also seen it in cake or a sweet bread roll. Hot cross buns come to mind, in that case you would add it to the warm milk used to proof the yeast.

                                  1. re: toodie jane

                                    In couscous dishes. Check out Paula Wolfert or Claudia Roden.

                                    1. re: toodie jane

                                      Don't forget rice. I little bit of Saffron added to white rice makes a great side dish. Sometimes I will add nuts and raisins or currants.

                                      I usually use saffron rice as a side dish for fish or poultry with a white wine sauce.

                                    2. I think the taste is over rated.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: mochi mochi

                                        I agree. Overrated and it's color can be somewhat replicated with turmeric. My sister bought me a $45 jar of threads years ago, and it's remained in my freezer, rarely used over that time.

                                        And it kind of does taste like bleach to me too.

                                      2. A few people said a little goes a long way. What happens if you use too much?

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: aqrichards

                                          The taste is stronger. But given the price and usual teeny package size, it's not like cinnamon where you might mistake 1 T for 1 t and oops.

                                          1. re: aqrichards

                                            People who are turned off will move their food around their plate....

                                          2. Here's some trivia: I think it takes something like 65,000+ flowers to make a pound of saffron. That's why it's so expensive.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: HaagenDazs

                                              It's really easy to grow, though. And since you only use a little bit, it's worth trying. I actually grow it for the flowers more than for cooking. I'm not crazy about the taste.

                                            2. I made a chickpea stew with a pinch of saffron and it tasted fairly strongly of saffron. Basically I cooked 1 lb. dried chickpeas with onions, bay leaves and a pork shank for close to three hours. Then I added the saffron at the same time I added some beans that I had mashed along with more onions (this made the liquid less watery similar to a roux). It was then that I also added the salt and red potatoes. Everything cooked another hour or so (and at the last minute I added a lot of swiss chard until it cooked down). I don't think using too much saffron is a a terrible thing (like adding too much salt), but you really don't need much. Crush it between your palms before adding to the liquid because it will help the flavor disperse.

                                              1. Here in SF there's an Indian ice cream shop that makes a tasty saffron-pistachio ice cream. I recently made a delicious honey-saffron ice cream I discovered at epicurious.com:

                                                http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

                                                1. When I was married, my husband, who was Persian, said you can die from having a laughing fit if you eat too much saffron. I don't know if this has any basis in reality, but it was what he had heard growing up in Iran.

                                                  You can find it in small grocery stores which have a middle-eastern clientele, and the prices are quite reasonable there. Do buy the threads, and use a mortar and pestle to really crush them down before you add boiling hot water to dissolve them. I use it with white basmati rice, and also in making chicken kabob (marinate cubed chicken breast with yogurt, grated onion, salt, pepper, saffron, and lemon juice.)

                                                  1. Hi

                                                    Here are a few links that may be helpful.

                                                    Saffron, http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzey...

                                                    http://www.americanspice.com/catalog/...

                                                    http://www.thespicehouse.com/spices-b...

                                                    I don't know how to use a link on the board, so I put the address anyway. Just copy and paste

                                                    jim

                                                    another good source of information is

                                                    Cook's Thesaurus , http://www.foodsubs.com/

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: jim2100

                                                      thanks for these links, jim--found some good recipes!

                                                    2. Saffron can add gorgeous color and perfume to a dish, but the amounts really need to be controlled.

                                                      Many find that saffron has a metallic or medicinal taste. When used in very small quantities, that should not be a problem. If you want more color, add a little turmeric, don't increase the amount of saffron.

                                                      We had wonderful saffron ice cream at an Indian restaurant in Baltimore.