Since I’ve chosen the name of this lovely spice for my blog, I feel obliged to introduce saffron and how to use it, especially as I always see many people (including celebrity chefs) using them in a way that Persians and other Middle Easterners would consider wasteful.
To me, saffron is perhaps the most distinguishing aroma of Persian/Iranian cuisine as we tend to use it in almost every dish. It also serves as an aesthetic element; we dye some rice with this lovely spice to use as a garnish on our rice trays.
But what is saffron?
A spice derived pain painstakingly by hand from the flower of Crocus Sativus (commonly known as the saffron crocus), saffron is in fact more expensive than gold.
For many centuries, this precious condiment has been an essential flavour in Persian/Iranian Cuisine, adding a distinct flavour, gorgeous orange-yellow hue and sweet, exotic aroma to Persian dishes.
Saffron also has many medical properties; a famous legend suggests that consuming this poisonous spice makes people laugh and if used in excessive quantities, one would die of laughter… best way to go surely! But I don’t think many people could afford the amount required!
How to use saffron – grind it first!
I personally don’t approve of the methods used by most TV chefs (i.e. adding the strand directly to the dish) as they don’t make the most of the saffron. However, if the strands are left to infuse in a cup of hot water for a few minutes (like tea), then the resulting liquid would be much stronger and flavourful. There is one more thing to do to make the most of it (after all, it’s more expensive than gold), and that is to grind it first.
The traditional way to use saffron in a dish is to grind the strand, leaving it to infuse in boiling hot water for at least 2-3 minutes before adding it to the dish towards the end of
cooking. This way, one would need a smaller quantity of saffron to achieve the desired aroma and colour.
Iranians usually use a small brass pestle and mortar to finely grind saffron strands, with the aid of a sugar cube which provides more surface for grinding as well as intensifying the sweet flavour of saffron.
I don’t recommend using an electric grinder as it could get really messy and waste the expensive spice. So I’d say in this case, old school is the best way forward.
Last but not least, storage…
Once ground, saffron should be stored in an airtight container, in a dark and cool place. Use as necessary. One piece of advice though: Be careful not to spill it anywhere, because it stains like red wine and is difficult to take off! But on the positive note, it makes you laugh so can’t moan about that, huh? 😀 😉