Working with saffron

Yield: 1 servings

Measure Ingredient
1 Text Only

Pulled out my saffron book, which I hadn't really looked at closely, and discovered that it was written by a local gal. And is autographed to boot. Sat down at my scanner and it was so interesting I could hardly get up. There's a lot of historical stuff, but I thought you might be interested in what it says about countries propagating and selling the corms++Japan, the Netherlands and *Oregon, USA*! This first post is about how to prepare the stuff for use.

Saffron is no more difficult to work with than any other herb or spice, but it is different. Central to getting good results is not to be wasteful and at the same time to respect saffron's potency.

These two rules contradict each other only if you have measured out too much saffron to begin with. To be fully activated, saffron threads (hereafter referred to as threads) must come in contact with: HEAT, ALCOHOL, CITRUS OR MUST BE POUNDED IN A MORTAR.

I discovered how long good threads release color and flavor by pouring two kettles worth of boiling water over ½ teaspoon of threads (¼ gram) and leaving them overnight. By morning I had enough yellow- orange liquid to make 40 glasses of tea by adding lemon juice, sugar and ice cubes to the concentrate.

Threads can also be steeped in lemon juice, rose or orange water, stocks, bouillons, vinegar, or white wine. I find red wine too heavy to use with saffron. No cookbook authors seem to agree on how long saffron should steep (opinions vary from 3 minutes to 48 hours!). For practicality and cost effectiveness, I have settled on 20 minutes.

You can achieve great color (pale custard to vibrant yellow-orange) in a matter of minutes with good saffron. It is the flavor which takes longer to come out. I find that as long as I begin my prep work with the steeping, I do not prolong my time in the kitchen. It is a matter of getting in the habit. As long as I steep my threads for 20 minutes, it does not seem to matter when I add them to what I am cooking.

I was surprised to see Gina Sarra, my hostess in Italy's Abruzzo, add the saffron paste, made ahead by adding boiling water to powder, to her spaghetti just before she served it. Again, the key is in activating the spice with heat. POWDERED SAFFRON:

I have not found it necessary to steep powdered saffron. When I bake I find it practical to use powder because it works into chilled butter nicely. The butter's hard surface necessitates the right amount of pressure to release saffron's color and flavor. Room temperature butter is too soft to release color although the flavor seems to release regardless. If you prefer, saffron can be added to milk or water in a baking recipe as well.

Keep in mind ½ teaspoon of threads crushes down to a scant ⅛ teaspoon of powder. This is why powdered saffron appears so much more expensive than threads. If you are particularly interested in powder, you can often find it in Italian delicatessens and gourmet shops.

Powdering threads is simple. In the beginning, use a heavy skillet with white insides against which you will be able to monitor the dark threads easier than you can in a black skillet. Over low heat, toast the threads just until crispy enough to crumble with your fingers (no more than 2 minutes). It is not a good idea to have your attention on any other prep work while you do this. Dump the crispy threads onto kitchen paper and crush them with the back of an ordinary metal spoon.

From "Wild About Saffron++A Contemporary Guide to an Ancient Spice", by Ellen Szita. Published by Saffron Rose, 28 John Glenn Circle, Daly City, Ca., 94105. 1987.

Posted by Stephen Ceideberg; March 30 1993.

Similar recipes