The Edmond Sun

Food

June 18, 2012

Just mad about not-so-mellow smell of saffron

WIRE — Many, many years ago, my first experience with saffron turned into love at first scent. Saffron, although pungent at first, adds a wonderful floral note to dishes once cooked. It’s the world’s most expensive spice, and no wonder. Saffron comes from the dried stigmas of a purple crocus, and each flower has only three stigmas, which must be hand-picked.

It takes more than 14,000 of those tiny stigmas to make an ounce of saffron.

At Penzeys Spices in Beverly Hills, a half-gram jar of Spanish saffron runs $8.49-$9.59. Other varieties from India or Kashmir cost upward of $13 for a half-gram.

It may be expensive, but it’s used sparingly. A pinch goes a long way because saffron is so aromatic.

A friend once told me how disappointed she was the first time she bought saffron at a major grocery store for a lobster bisque recipe. It was in an envelope, inside a jar. When she opened the envelope and saw what little was there, she thought she’d been short-changed considering the price. She hadn’t been.

Saffron looks like a small, tangled mess of red threads. The redder the threads, the higher the quality, though sometimes there are a few yellow threads, too. You can crush the tiny threads and add them directly to what you re making, or you can steep them first in a small amount of liquid.

One well-known use of saffron is in the Spanish dish paella (pie-AY-uh). It’s used not only for flavor, but to tint the rice. Saffron also is used in risottos (a creamy rice dish) and in some seafood bisques.

Paella typically has an array of ingredients: chicken (usually thighs), smoked sausage or Spanish chorizo, seafood (shrimp, clams, mussels) and vegetables. A paella pan is wide and shallow. But any large skillet with a lid that can hold all the ingredients will do.

Paella seems like a lot of work, and many paella recipes have a laundry list of ingredients. But that’s what makes the dish great, especially for a party. It’s a huge mix of ingredients and flavors that meld incredibly well. You can make paella with all seafood or all chicken, or add more of your favorite vegetables.

Today’s recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine. It goes together in less than an hour. Instead of using chicken thighs and Spanish chorizo, it calls for precooked chicken sausage. Use one that is plain without a lot of seasonings or cheese. I also used shrimp because that’s what I had on hand, but you can add clams, mussels or even lobster. Just be sure to add them toward the end so they don’t overcook.

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