Foothill gourmet: Saffron is a star

By From page B2 | January 13, 2014

Donna BrownSaffron has starred in several previous columns. I delight in the flavor and color of saffron, so my opinion is that everyone should have the experience of enjoying saffron.

Saffron is presumed to be expensive. By weight saffron is the most expensive spice. Because it takes only a small amount to flavor dishes, in reality it is not that expensive. One gram of saffron easily translates into golden color and fragrant flavor in 10 recipes of saffron rice for four, several batches of bread, at least four recipes of chicken wings with pancetta and saffron or a couple of big pots of paella.

Locally, I’ve purchased quality saffron from Raley’s for about $7. I’ve also purchased it from the herb and spice mail order company Penzeys. Penzeys has three different grades of saffron. Price ranges from $6.50 to $11. For superior quality, look for “pure” threads with deep-red color.

Only a small amount of the saffron threads are needed to impart intense color, intriguing aroma and a distinctive flavor. For many dishes and baked goods, a pinch, equal to two or three threads is enough. Saffron is also available at supermarkets and specialty food shops.

For storage and usage tips — saffron should be stored in an airtight container away from heat and light. It is best when used within six months. Like teas, saffron releases its flavor when infused in hot liquid. For the fullest flavor add saffron near the end of the cooking process.

One of the easiest ways I’ve found for using saffron is to make saffron rice.

Classic saffron rice — Place 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon finely minced onion in a heavy quart saucepan. Sauté over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add 1 cup long-grain white rice, 1 small pinch saffron crumbled and 2 cups water or chicken stock. Bring to a rolling boil. Cover, reduce heat to simmer, cook until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed (about 18 minutes).

Give every entrée you prepare an elegant touch using saffron rice to replace ordinary rice. Because I love the flavor and color of saffron rice so much, I’ve even used it to accompany stir-fry entrées.

Read on for a chicken entrée recipe that includes saffron. It’s similar to paella in flavor but without the shellfish or rice.

Chicken wings with pancetta and saffron is a country-style Italian main dish or hearty appetizer. Include crusty bread to soak up the sauce.

Purchase ¼ pound pancetta in one piece. Dice pancetta (Italian bacon) and then cook it slowly in a large skillet over medium-low heat until crisp. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels and allow it to drain.
Steep 2-3 threads of saffron in 2 teaspoons hot water. Set aside. Combine ¾ cup flour, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and 2 teaspoons salt in a paper bag. Dredge 2 pounds chicken wings, wing tips removed, lightly in flour mixture, shaking off excess. Add 2 tablespoons butter and 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil to skillet in which pancetta cooked. Over moderately high heat, brown wings in skillet. When browned, transfer wings to a holding plate.

Add ½ cup minced onion, 2 tablespoons minced green onion, 1 ½ teaspoons garlic and 1 teaspoon dried oregano to skillet. Cook slowly for 10 minutes. Return wings to skillet. Next, add ½ cup dry white wine and saffron with soaking liquid to skillet. Cook 5 minutes over medium heat. Mixture should reduce slightly.

Add 2 cups coarsely chopped mushrooms, 1 cup fresh or canned peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes and ½ cup stock to skillet. Cover and simmer until wings are tender, approximately 25 minutes. Add pancetta. Cook uncovered about 5 minutes to reduce sauce slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to warmed serving bowl and garnish with minced parsley.

Donna Brown

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