This Past Week at La Domestique: Saffron

Saffron (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

This past week at La Domestique was devoted to the exotic spice, saffron. We explored cuisines of Italy, France, Spain, India and Middle Eastern countries such as Morocco. We tried the classic pairing of saffron and seafood with a mussels dish, and even baked bread with saffron. Rather than making saffron the star of a dish, I have learned to use it as a deep, intriguing background flavor alongside stronger ingredients like tomatoes or peppers. I hope you enjoyed saffron week.

In case you missed anything I’ve got a recap for you!

  • Monday:  Announcing saffron as the ingredient of the week in videocast.
  • Tuesday:  10 Ways Tuesday! Creative ways to use saffron in summer cooking.
  • Wednesday:  Cook in the moment with a quick and easy recipe for Mussels with Tomato Saffron Broth
  • Thursday:  The story behind saffron: growing, harvesting, buying good quality, cooking and flavor pairing.
  • Friday:  Baking saffron bread rolls.
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Saffron Bread Rolls

Here at LaDomestique.com, I’m wrapping up a week spent on saffron with Saffron Rolls from one of my favorite baking books- Dough: Simple Contemporary Bread. I have been a huge fan of Richard Bertinet, who wrote this book, for years. He’s a French born baker/chef now living in England. Richard Bertinet currently teaches bread and cooking classes to students of all abilities at the Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School in Bath. When I bought his cookbook, Dough, it came with a DVD that shows Richard demonstrating techniques from the book. I found him endearing on video and liked his writing style because it was relaxed and so real life. In the book, Richard Bertinet writes about getting to a place where baking bread is a natural part of the rhythm of family life. I love this quote, “To me baking bread is part of making a meal . . . and I can’t imagine dinner without bread.” It’s this idea that with practice, you can arrive home from work and throw a loaf of bread in the oven in time for supper. This may sound impossible, but I’ve found it’s true. One day, when I had enough of soul-less store bought bread, I announced to the husband that “we are not buying another loaf of bread.” It was like throwing down a challenge, an ultimatum. From that moment on I’ve begun baking all the bread we eat. Now it’s a habit, and making bread dough has become second nature to me.

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Storyboard: Saffron

Saffron Storyboard (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

The History of Saffron

In Artichoke to Za’atar, Lucy Malouf writes that the word for saffron in most languages is strikingly similar, all coming from the Arabic words sahafarn, meaning “thread”, and Za’faran, meaning “yellow”. Yellow thread, there you go. According to Herbs and Spices, saffron is native to the Mediterranean and western Asia. Saffron was first used as a dye and later as a flavoring for food. The Phoenecians were famously addicted to saffron.

Harvesting Saffron

If you want to really appreciate the harvesting of saffron (without leaving the U.S.) you must read Lidia Bastianich’s account of the saffron harvests in the region of Abruzzo, Italy. In Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy, she writes, “for me, saffron has a magical effect on the palate, creating the illusion of distant, mystic places.” Lidia gives an account of the saffron harvest she witnessed and with each detail her passion for this spice is more apparent. The crocus flowers in autumn, and the flowers are picked carefully by hand. To this day the harvesting is done by families in rural areas who care deeply about continuing tradition. The work is labor intense and there is no easy way about it, as the flowers bloom for a short period of time and then quickly wilt in the hot sun. After collecting the flowers the stigmas are carefully removed and dried. The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion states that each flower has 3 stigmas and it takes 14,000 stigmas to make an ounce of saffron.

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Cook in the Moment: Mussels with Tomato-Saffron Broth

Saffron and mussels are old friends. Traditionally this combo is found in Bouillabaisse, a Provencal seafood stew. For today’s recipe I wanted to keep things simple and quick- just stick with mussels. I love cooking mussels for the briny, savory broth these mollusks release. Often you’ll come across mussels served with linguine or frites, but I’m a big fan of boiled potatoes for soaking up broth. At the Boulder Farmers Market I picked up little new potatoes and plump grape tomatoes. Mussels with Tomato-Saffron Broth served over boiled new potatoes is a comforting and satisfying meal. Keeping things simple is a great way to experiment with adding saffron to the mix. Use a frugal hand when sprinkling in the brick red threads- too much saffron will leave a bitter taste in your mouth, seriously. I started with 10 strands saffron. After stirring and tasting the broth I carefully added 5 more strands. Seek balance- you don’t want to taste saffron. Your seasonings should be in harmony so no one spice stands out. The goal is an intriguing broth with a subtle heat. Give this dish a try and you’ll see what I mean.

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10 Ways Tuesday: Saffron

Saffron (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

I’ve come up with 10 ways to use saffron in your summer pantry:

1.  The Simplest Way is the Best

Lidia Bastianich shares a simple recipe for Saffron Infused Olive Oil tossed with pasta in Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy. The saffron threads are toasted, ground into a powder, and stirred into the olive oil. This is a great way to appreciate the flavor of saffron on its own. Risotto Milanese is another classic way to enjoy the flavor of saffron. According to Elizabeth David’s book, Italian Food, the original Risotto Milanese is made by flavoring chicken broth with saffron and using this base to cook the arborio (risotto rice). At the end of cooking, butter and Parmesan are stirred in. Simple but oh so delicious.

2.  Saffron & Vegetables

In A Platter of Figs, David Tanis writes, “It’s amazing how a little saffron and garlic can transform ordinary carrots into something sublime.” He suggests sautéing carrot coins with butter , chopped garlic, and crumbled saffron then adding a bit of water as well as lemon zest and simmering the carrots until tender. Experiment using saffron with summer squash and zucchini.

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