Saffron in a pinch.
- Wine and Food tube Sep 9, 2008 05:35 PM
The color of a Buddhist monk’s robes with its legendary powers, Saffron is undoubtedly the world’s most valuable spice.
One of the few not originated in India, saffron’s discovery is still one of mystery.
The word is from the Middle East, collaborating the words sahafarn (thread) and za’faran (yellow).
In Medieval times it was offered as a dowdy for a bride and accepted as currency.
It is also said to be “possibly the first spice ever used by man”.
Used for its incredible dying ability and unique flavor there is no substitute in the world.
Saffron comes from the flowering plant, the Crocus. Stigmas from the Crocus flowers are few and far between and it takes 14,000 hand picked stigmas to yield one ounce of saffron.
The stigma (female part of the flower) is the actual source of saffron. Then dried or cured and transformed into pure saffron. The masculine part of the crocus is the stamen. Cleopatra scented her baths with saffron, thinking it enhanced sexual pleasure. The emperor Nero in one of his many mad displays of decadence ordered the streets of Rome be strewn with it when he entered the city.
To appreciate its magic, experiment a little. Take half a dozen threads, rub them between your fingertips and bring them to your nostrils. The scent is elusive, fugitive, perhaps a little dusty, a hint of thyme and sage and hot hillsides. Drop the threads on a dry pan and set it over the heat, count to ten - the stuff is fragile and easily burnt - and inhale the fragrance. Better? Now drop the toasted strands in a heatproof glass with a splash of boiling water, just enough to soften them. Wait a few minutes and crush the threads with the back of a spoon. Now you're talking. The dark-red filaments leech their magic into the water, turning it the color of luminous gold. Inhale once more. The scent is there at last: full-blown and mature, it is the essence of summer; musky, with the fragrance of hay, the sweetness of honey, citrus and lemon balm.
It’s value lies partly in the fragrance, but above all, in it’s ability to turn everything it touches the color of sunshine.