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saffron rice - what's the secret?

everyone tells me that saffron rice is so good, so I tried to make some, threw some saffrom threads in warm water and then used that to try to cook the rice. The rice was a pale pale yelloy and had virtually no flavor. I used quite a few threads cause there was very little color - but no real flavor in the rice. What did I do wrong?

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  1. If you watched Catherine Zeta-Jones movie where she is a chef - you would know that you should add a kafir lime leaf to the rice! Haven't tried it myself but you do have to do more than add saffron - touch of garlic or cilantro and take it out before serving - don't mash up just split the garlic and put a whole twig of cilantro. Same with the kafir lime leaf.

    1. What nationality do you have in mind? Saffron is used in an Italian risotto, and in Spanish paella. There may be Indian versions as well. In the quantities that many of us can afford, saffron adds more color than flavor. A version with kafir lime or cilantro would be more Asian in influence.


      1. A big pinch of threads that produces little colour and less flavour leads straight to questions about your saffron. Where is it from? Are you sure it's genuine saffron and not, say, safflower or calendula? If genuine, is it high grade? How old is it? How has it been stored? With high-quality genuine saffron, the most frequently encountered problem is that even a little can be too much, too overpowering. It's like lavender that way.

        paulj's also right to ask about what you mean by saffron rice. And, yes, there are Indian versions -- though, unlike the Milanese and Spanish specialties, the threads are often added just before serving so as not to colour the rice.

        3 Replies
        1. re: carswell

          It sure does sound like either it isn't genuine or it is really old. I recently purchased spanish saffron for my paella and it was quite strong tasting. I never buy my spices from a grocery store. I order mine online and they insure that the spice is fresh. Mine came in a plastic wrap inside a glass jar. It is expensive but I only order the minimum amount since I don't use it everyday and that way it is affordable and fresh for quite awhile.

          1. re: carswell

            carswell, greetings,

            I've had high-quality saffron from Spain, and have also, on occasion, had less color or saffron flavor than I wanted. My error, I believe, is that I didn't let the saffron "bloom" before adding it to the cooking pot. How does one do this properly? I've also, to get the punch I wanted, added too much saffron to the cooking pot, and the dish took on a medicinal, mercurchrome taste. A happy medium would be nice. Please advise.

            Best to you, M.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              Hi, Maria. Just noticed this post. Sorry for the delay in replying.

              Blooming should involve a 15-minute soak in hot but not boiling water, milk, wine or other liquid. Have heard that acidic solutions extract more colour, though I've never tested this. You may also find that some saffron is lighter than others. In my experience, Iranian and Kashmiri are generally the darkest.

              In Kashmir (and elsewhere for all I know), a slightly different technique is used: toast the threads briefly in a pan -- a minute or two over low heat, just long enough to release the fragrance but not to change the colour -- then transfer to a mortar or small plate and crush with a pestle or the back of a spoon. You can then stir the spice into dry preparations or dissolve it in a little hot water before adding it to wet dishes, the most famous probably being pilau.

              If you still can't get the colour you want without the medicinal taste, you might try adding powdered calendula or safflower (both of which are nearly tasteless), turmeric or annatto.


          2. Someone posted a recipe for the Persian variation of saffron rice - http://www.chow.com/recipes/11066 - It involves cumin, butter, and nigella seeds. I've never tried this particular recipe, but I've had Persian saffron rice on several occasions and it's always been delicious and very flavorful.

            1. Cook the rice partially just as one would normally do in water or broth - in another pan 'saute' the saffron in a little oil or butter, very gently, add a bit of broth and the partially cooked rice, cook until 'done'.

              1. Depending on your experience with saffron, you may be expecting some kind of big flavour. Saffron's not like that. It's very subtle, musky and the kind of thing that you may have to learn to appreciate. And by "quite a few threads" you may have not used quite enough - you said the colour was pale yellow and when there's enough saffron to become flavourful, there's usually a brighter colour as well.

                I also suspect, as carswell said, that your saffron could be poor quality or too old. Buy new stuff - not cheap - and find a good recipe for a risotto milanese, Spanish paella or some other saffron-scented rice to get an idea of what it should taste like.

                1. Call up Penzeys and get some good saffron.

                  1. I would agree with other posters concerning the quality of the saffron. After that the other issues of what flavor of cuisine comes in.

                    1. I only tried it once but I got pretty strong saffron flavour, just like at my favourite Indian restaurant. But I didn't use it "to cook the rice", I cooked the rice the usual way (soak, bring to a boil, stir until most of the water is gone), and just before I covered it to simmer I added the soaked saffron/water to the rice, stirred (it turned the nice yellow colour). I don't remember how many threads I used, but the water I was soaking in was almost red.

                      1. If you're seeking gorgeous, golden color (and a mildly nutty, appealing flavor), you might consider preparing your rice with achiote oil instead of saffron. After several disappointing attempts to make saffron rice (not enough color or too much funky off-taste), I am an enthusiastic convert. Here's Daisy Martinez' recipe for achiote oil:

                        For arroz amarillo (yellow rice), simmer each cup of raw rice with two cups of water, a teaspoon of salt, and two or three tablespoons of achiote oil.

                        1. thank you for all your replies - I did pay some money for the saffron I got, but It was from a grocery store and really had no flavor. My attempt was just to start with saffron rice and go from there with out having a real direction ( I am still trying things out, cooking wise). When It had do real flavor, i ate as was, but really wanted to try the Mexican rice which everyone gave me better tips for. Again thank you.