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Exotic, aesthetic, expensive ... saffron is a spice to be reckoned with.
Saffron, botanical name crocus sativus, is the most expensive spice in the world. Derived from the dried stigmas of the purple saffron crocus, it takes anything from 70,000 to 250,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron. Moreover, the flowers have to be individually hand-picked in the autumn when fully open. Fortunately, only a little needs to be added to a dish to lend it colour and aroma; too much makes the food bitter and as the quotation from Culpeper (below) suggests, large quantities of it can be toxic.
Records detailing the use of saffron go back to ancient Egypt and Rome where it was used as a dye, in perfumes, and as a drug, as well as for culinary purposes. It reached China in the 7th century and spread through Europe in the Middle Ages. The town of Saffron Walden, where it was once grown commercially, takes its name from the plant. Now, however, most saffron is imported from Iran (southern Khorason) and Spain which are recognised as producing the best quality, but it can also be found in Egypt, Kashmir, Morocco and Turkey.
'The use of it ought to be moderate and reasonable, for when the dose is too large, it produces a heaviness of the head and sleepiness. Some have fallen into an immoderate convulsive laughter which ended in death.'
Saffron Threads vs. Powdered SaffronSaffron has an aroma and flavor which cannot be duplicated, and a chemical make-up which, when understood, helps the chef or home cook to know how to best release that flavor and aroma in cooking and baking. Saffron is sold in two forms, powder and threads, and each behave very differently in the kitchen.
In order to understand commercial saffron, it is important to understand the make-up of the saffron plant. More importantly, it is the easiest way for you, as a consumer, to be sure you are buying good saffron. Commercial saffron comes from the bright red stigmas of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) which flowers in the Fall in many different countries, including Greece, India, Iran and Spain. The Crocus sativus stigmas are the female part of the flower. In a good year, each saffron crocus plant might produce several flowers. Each flower contains three stigmas, which are the only part of the saffron crocus that when dried (cured) properly, become commercial saffron. Each red stigma is like a little capsule that encloses the complex chemicals that make up saffron's aroma, flavor, and yellow dye. In order to release these chemicals, you must steep the threads. Powdered saffron is more efficient because it does not need to be steeped.
Saffron Steamed Rice
Ingredients: (6 servings)
Tah-Chin - Saffron Rice Chicken Dish
Ingredients: (4 servings)
Start by washing rice and soaking it in warm water (with added salt) for 2 hours. Then filter out the water.
Chop onions into thin slices and fry in oil until slightly golden. Wash and cut chicken, remove skin, and fry in onions until color changes. Add some water and bring to boil. Turn heat down and let boil slowly until cooked, adding more water if needed. Remove the bones.
While chicken is cooking, beat the yogurt until it is smooth. Dissolve saffron in half a cup of hot water. Add saffron, salt, pepper and egg-yolks to the yogurt and mix very well.
Pour a few glasses of water in a large pot and bring to boil. Pour in rice and cook while stirring occasionally until rice grows longer and slightly softens (Take care not to overcook the rice. It should still be too hard for eating). Again filter out the water.
Pour several spoons of oil and several spoons of the yogurt mix into a non-stick pot. Add a thin layer of rice and flatten using the back of a spoon. Add a layer of chicken on top followed by another layer of rice. Again flatten the rice. Spread several more spoons of the yogurt mix on the rice. Continue in this fashion until chicken, rice and the yogurt mix have been used up. Add some more oil on top. Put the lid on and cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat.
Place the pot in an oven (preheated to 250 F) and cook for 1.5 to 2 hours. Note that the longer Tah-Chin is cooked, the thicker the Tah-Dig (delicious crispy layer of rice at the bottom) will be. When cooked, remove the lid and let cool for a few minutes.
Place an inverted large dish over the pot and turn it over. Tap the pot in order to loosen the contents inside. The contents should fall on the dish in one piece with the Tah-Dig on the outside.
Saffron Scalloped Potatoes
Ingredients: (4 servings)1 pinch (.125 g) saffron threads
1 1/4 cups half & half
3 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. virgin olive oil
2 Large yellow onions, sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 large white potatoes, sliced thin
DirectionsHeat half & half, remove from heat and steep saffron for 20 min. Saute and garlic until limp in olive oil and butter. Do not brown. Butter large pie plate and layer with potato and onion slices. Pour half & half over the top and bake at 350:(175: C), covered with tin foil, for an hour. Remove foil and bake an additional 15 min. or until top is browned. Serve in wedges. Serves 4.
Saffron Parsnip Lemon Puree
Ingredients:1 pinch (.125 g) saffron threads
2 tsp. lemon juice
4 parsnips, peeled & cubed
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup half & half
DirectionsAdd saffron to lemon juice. Cover parsnips with water in sauce pan and cook until tender. Drain parsnips and combine with remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until smooth, scraping down sides if necessary. Serve immediately.
Orange Saffron Butter Cookies
Ingredients:1 1/8 cups of flour
1 stick of butter
2 pinches saffron threads(.250 gr)
1/2 Tbsp. orange rind
1/3 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
DirectionsLeave stick of butter out to soften. Butter should be spreadable by now. Work saffron and orange rind into butter. Blend in sugar, then egg yolks, one at a time. Add flour to form soft ball of dough. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. When ready to bake, remove dough from refrigerator to soften slightly. Preheat oven to 325: (165: C). Pinch off bite size pieces of dough and place on ungreased cookie sheet. When sheet is full, press dough flat with back of metal fork. Bake 10 min, or until edges begin to brown. Cool on rack. Store in airtight container.
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