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Nov 13, 2006 03:05 PM

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, had the best prices I could find online, much less than Penzeys.

      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.


                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.