Saffron

add some sunshine to your dishes...

I am blown away by this beautiful Saffron inspired illustration by my friend. You can find Katya on IG @honestlygreen 

Hello, hello, hello!

Hope you had a lovely week and are prepared for the last bit of heat in the U.K. I predicted a warm September and yet, I packed away all of my summer dresses so I guess, I’ll be sweating in my winter knits next week. 

This week’s issue is all about Saffron. If you already love this crimson shade spice, you will hopefully discover some new exciting ways to use it. If you haven’t been acquainted yet, prepare your wallets!

ABOUT SAFFRON 

What is Saffron? Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the "saffron crocus". The vivid crimson stigma and styles, called threads, are collected and dried for use mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food. Saffron has long been the world's most costly spice by weight.

The reason for it being nicknamed ‘’red gold’’? Unlike a lot of spice production, every step in the Saffron harvest is done by hand. Saffron has very short harvesting season, the saffron only blooms for two weeks each year. Saffron must be picked before it blossoms otherwise it becomes useless. Each flower has three tiny, threadlike stigmas in the centre. Picked stigmas have to be dried within a few hours of harvest. If not, their quality declines drastically. It’s an intense strenuous process. And you can read more about it here: Labour Intensive Harvest Unites Moroccan Village.

What does it taste like? Saffron is sweet and floral and very subtle. However, if you overdo it you will end up with a bitter aftertaste in your dish (the same goes for using a cheap product). 

It’s believed that Saffron originated in Western Asia, then it travelled to India. By the 10th century, it was being grown by the Arabs in Spain. By the 13th century, it was brought to Italy, France and Germany by the Moors. By the 14th century, Saffron has finally made its’ way to the UK. Saffron growing was widespread in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk (who knew?!). In the 16th and 17th Century Saffron Walden was the epicentre for growing Saffron in the U.K. The soil and the climate provided the perfect conditions for cultivating this stunning spice. However, due to the production being so labour extensive it was abandoned as it didn’t seem to be sustainable. Before Saffron Walden became the growers of Saffron, the town was called Chipping Walden (not as alluring, is it?) 

Currently, more than 90% of Saffron is grown in Iran, the rest comes from Spain, Greece, Australia, Morocco, Afghanistan and China. 

Saffron has also been used in perfumery, fabric dyeing and medicine. 

Look at all of these impressive ways, Saffron can aid your body and health. From mood boosting properties to being a powerful antioxidant, there are so many reasons to love this ‘‘sunshine spice’’.

QUICK SUGGESTIONS FOR USE:

Saffron perfectly pairs with apples, cardamom, honey, cinnamon, garlic, white wine, vinegar, vanilla and citrus fruit. So the possibilities are endless if you’re willing to invest in this beautiful spice. 

Savoury

  • Paellas and risottos. If you already love your starchy rice dishes, try adding some saffron to them. It will add beautiful colouring, heavenly scent and subtle delicate flavour. 

  • Use it as part of a rub for your proteins. Works great with poultry, lamb, white flakey fish and seafood. Make sure you grind the saffron and infuse with hot water before using. 

  • Broths and stocks. You can instantly transform your stock with a little pinch of saffron. 

  • Eggs. How do you like yours? I pretty much like them in any shape or form but I do think that Eggs in Purgatory can only get better with a small addition of Saffron. 

  • Saffron can release the flavour for up 12 hours, so if you’re doing a low and slow cook then this spice is perfect for you. As we’re approaching colder month and some of us will be using our slow cookers, get inventive with saffron. 

  • Crunchy Saffron Roast Potatoes. Always a hit. 

Sweet

Drinks 

  • My ex-colleague from Iran said they add saffron to their tea as it has a calming effect. I add a little strain to my camomile every night, I am not sure it if helps me relax. But it sure as hell makes me feel fancy. 

  • Try this simple Saffron Lemonade. Perfect for the incoming heatwave. 

 Other 

  • Try adding some ground saffron to a salad dressing with white vinegar, garlic and a pinch of salt. 

  • Cleopatra was known to bathe in Saffron baths. This woman had the most eccentric beauty routine and I am here for it. Can’t imagine many of us dropping a fortune for a single crimson shaded soak though… 

Even more recipes to get creative with Saffron:  

BBC Good Food 

RECIPE OF THE WEEK: 

 One Tray Paprika & Saffron Chicken 

This is one of my go-to dinners. Chicken thighs are cheaper than breasts and take on flavour far much better. It takes very little time to prep and while you wait for your dinner to be cooked, you can sit back and relax. Perfect for those ‘’cba Monday’’ dinners. This can be eaten as it is, with orzo or any other small pasta, rice, mashed potatoes or you can add parboiled potatoes to the tray at the beginning of cooking time. I often throw in loose veg that’s been around way too long (beans, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli). There's really no wrong way of making this dish. 

Feeds 2-3

Ingredients

  • 3 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, excess skin trimmed off 

  • 3 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 red onion, peeled, cut into wedges 

  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed 

  • 80g chorizo, cut into rings

  • 1 pepper, deseed and chopped into chunks 

  • 1 tbsp paprika 

  • 1/2 tbsp saffron (ground into powder) 

  • Salt & Pepper 

  • 1 tin of butter beans, drained 

To serve: 

Orzo or Flatbreads to mop up the juices

Method: 

1) Place the saffron powder into a small bowl and add 1tbsp hot water, leave to infuse for up 20 minutes. Preheat in the oven to 190c. 

2) In a large tray mix together the thighs, onion, chorizo, and pepper. Splash the oil all over and add the paprika, garlic and infused saffron, rub thoroughly. Put in the oven for 20 minutes. 

3)After 20 minutes, take the tray out, add the beans and baste everything with chorizo juices. Return to the oven for another 20 minutes. Now cook the orzo (if using orzo) per packet instructions. 

4) Once the chicken is ready and juices run clear, stir through the orzo and serve. Either serve chicken as whole or shred the meat off the bones and portion up. Serves 2-3 people. 

WHERE TO BUY

I was stoked to find this local Saffron grower, Norfolk Saffron. You can also try English Saffron, cultivating Saffron in Essex and Devon. Even closer to home! 

Saffron has gained in popularity over the years and can easily be bought in the local supermarkets. Try checking yours; there’s a 99% chance you’ll be able to pick up a jar of Saffron. 

You can also visit your local Middle Eastern Shops or delis. Or find yourself a Saffron dealer… As already mentioned, Saffron is not a cheap spice so don’t get tricked into buying cheap stuff. You'll get what you paid for. Remember, it’s best to buy Saffron in thread form and in small quantities. 

What to watch: A Taste of Iran PT I 

Cookbooks to explore: Saffron in the Souks; Bottom of the pot (on my lust list);  The Saffron Tales 

A podcast to listen to Splendid Table: Photographer Melanie Dunea undercover in search of saffron in Afghanistan. I listened to this when it first came out, it still pops up in my mind every few months. 

More to read: Afghan Saffron yield up by 10% 

Discovery of the week: Food Combo, it helps you pair ingredients, check it out next time you’re stuck for dinner ideas and have some ingredients to use up.

This might be one of my favourite issues! I love cooking with Saffron so much. Learning even more about my favourite ingredient has been rewarding. Hope you enjoyed it too and are excited to get in the kitchen. As always, if you have any suggestions or feedback let me know! 

Anya xx 

Coming up next week: caraway seeds 

If you enjoyed this issue of Appetite, you can buy me a Ko-Fi to help fuel the next issue