Kate Heyhoe

Kate's Global Kitchen


Mellow Yellow: A Saffron FAQ

by Kate Heyhoe


I'm just mad about Saffron
Saffron's mad about me
I'm just mad about Saffron
She's just mad about me

They call me mellow yellow (Quite rightly)
They call me mellow yellow (Quite rightly)
They call me mellow yellow...

— Donovan


If cars, music and jewelry can be sexy, so too can certain foods.

Take saffron for instance: it's the world's most expensive spice, it's picked by hand, and when used, saffron commands the center of attention—both in taste and in glorious color. Saffron is the queen of culinary make-overs: just a pinch of saffron can transform ordinary foods into sophisticated, drop-dead gorgeous meals that entice the senses with seductive aroma and eye-catching hues. A single bite of a saffron-laced dish can send a diner into heaven.

Fortunately, only a small amount of saffron is needed when cooking. In fact, it can be a lazy cook's best friend, as little else is needed to turn a meal from boring to sensational. But saffron also proves that you can have too much of a good thing: adding more than a pinch can overpower a dish with its characteristic pungency, so use it sparingly.

Being at times a lazy cook myself, I created several saffron recipes that look and taste elegant, yet are quick and easy to prepare. Saffron Poached Chicken illustrates how well saffron can work with just a few simple ingredients to produce a succulent but nearly effortless main course—and with a bonus saffron-flavored broth to turn into soup, sauce or for cooking with rice. Other simple saffron recipes that I whip up on occasion are Saffron Basmati Rice and Turkey in Saffron Cream Sauce, a "Turkey+Three Ingredients" dish.

A Saffron FAQ  

Saffron FAQ

Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions about saffron:

  • What is saffron? Saffron is the dried orange-red stigmas of the crocus flower. These threadlike strands are about one inch long, thin and wiry, and very brittle.
  • Why is it so expensive? It takes 70,000 crocus flowers to produce one pound of saffron. One acre will yield only ten pounds of saffron. Only three stagmas are produced by each crocus flower, plus the delicate stigmas can only be picked by hand.
  • Can anything be substituted for saffron? Two spices are sometimes used to achieve the same yellow coloring: turmeric and achiote. But neither of these will produce saffron's unique flavor.
  • Where is saffron grown? Saffron may be expensive, but it is widely cultivated in several countries. It originated in western Asia, in and around ancient Persia, and is still grown there as well as in Spain, France, Italy, India, and other nations. The finest quality saffron comes from Spain, Kashmir and Iran.
  • How should saffron be used and stored? Always buy whole saffron threads, instead of powdered saffron, which may be cut with non-saffron ingredients. Crush the threads between your fingers to better release their flavors before adding them to a dish. When using saffron threads whole in a recipe, you'll get more flavor by soaking them in hot liquid first. Store saffron airtight away from light. It's best to buy saffron in small quantities as it loses its flavor quickly.
  • What goes well with saffron? Saffron has an affinity for butter and cream, making luscious cream sauces and simple saffron-infused butter that works well for basting on grilled meats or drizzling on seafood. It tastes great with fish and shellfish, especially mussels, in rice dishes and with pasta. Famous saffron dishes include French Bouillabaisse, Risotto alla Milanese, Spanish Paella, Middle Eastern pilafs, and Indian biryani dishes. It's also used in some sweet pastries and desserts, as in England's saffron cakes.

One final tip: if you're going to buy the world's most expensive spice, don't be chintzy. It's worth getting a top quality saffron, even if it costs a few dollars more. You'll taste the difference immediately. Look for threads with a dark, deep reddish-orange color, and follow the tips above the get the most of this sexy little spice.

Kate Heyhoe


Kate's Saffron Recipes:


Other Saffron Recipes:


Kate's Global Kitchen for January, 2001:

01/06/01 The Global Meatball
01/13/01 Mellow Yellow: A Saffron FAQ
01/20/01 Asian New Year: Honoring the Kitchen God
01/27/00 Kitchen Remodel, PLUS: Remodelers' Survival Recipes, Phase 1


Copyright © 2001, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.


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