Saffron is derived from the Saffron Crocus Flower species Crocus sativus which belongs to the Iris Family Iridaceae. The parts used for culinary purposes are the stigma or style: the central yellow threads which are, in fact, the female sexual organs of the flower. As there are very few stigma in any one flower, it takes 150,000 flowers to produce one kilogram of dried saffron, making it the most expensive spice in the world.
Since its first documentation in the 7th Century BC, the long and interesting history of saffron traces back over 4000 years and traverses many civilizations, countries, and cultures. Saffron began being used in the middle east and then branched out to conquer hearts worldwide, being utilized as a food seasoning, perfume, hair and clothes dye, and as a medicinal herb. Researchers have shown through historic documents that saffron has its origin in the Zargos mountain range in Iran, where around 1 Kg of saffron was used in the royal kitchen every day.
The word saffron is derived from the Arabic word Zafaraan, it was the Arabs who planted saffron initially in Spain over 1000 years ago when they ruled the region. Although the majority of the world's saffron is produced in Iran, Spain is the world's largest exporter of saffron.
Cooking with Saffron
Saffron is used all over the world to flavour and colour foods from Spanish paella to French bouillabaisse to Arabic lamb and chicken dishes to Indian dessert sauces, as well as in many Swedish and Cornish recipes, but as it's such an expensive spice, it's important to get every bit of flavour out of it. This can be achieved by either toasting and powdering the threads or steeping the saffron ahead of time in hot water or broth.
Your best bet is to go with saffron threads. Not only will they retain their flavor longer, but you will also be assured you have purchased pure saffron.
Powdered saffron is not as strong, tends to lose flavor, and is also easily adulterated with fillers and imitations. Since so little is needed, you will find ground saffron sold in packets of about 1/16 of a teaspoon, and threads equaling about 1/4 gram or 1/2 of a teaspoon. Yet, these seemingly small amounts will often flavor more than one dish.
A major ingredient of a paella is saffron
To Toast Saffron threads, place the strands in a dry frying pan about 30 seconds only or until they begin to give off an aroma. Be very careful not to burn them. Cool and crush finely between two spoons. They can also be dried out in a microwave, again for 30 seconds on high. You can buy ready powdered saffron.
When using whole threads, steep them in hot water for at least 15 minutes to extract as much flavour as possible. The longer better - up to 4 hours. If using alcohol, there's no need to heat it. Always store saffron in an airtight container in a dark place so it stays viable for longer. You can also buy liquid saffron.
A popular stew from the Asturias Region in North Spain
550g/1¼ lb Dried White Beans, pre-soaked overnight
2 Onions, chopped
4 Garlic Cloves, crushed
125g/5oz Bacon, chopped
125g/5oz Jamón Serrano (ham), chopped
2 tbsp Olive Oil
3 tbsp Tomato Paste
1 tbsp Paprika
1 Bay Leaf
Salt and Pepper
A pinch of Saffron
275g/10oz Chorizo Sausage
275g/10oz Morcillas (Spanish blood sausage)
Drain the beans and rinse well. Place in a large saucepan, cover with cold water and bring this to a boil. Remove from heat, and drain again. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or flameproof casserole and the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are transparent.
Stir in the tomato paste and paprika then add the drained beans, bacon, ham, and bay leaf. Season with pepper then add 1L/40fl.oz. water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1½ hours. Periodically skim any "scum" from the surface.
After the cooking time, add the saffron, chorizos and morcillas and adjust the seasoning, adding salt and more pepper if required. Continue to cook for a further 30 minutes adding a little more water if necessary. Serve hot.
|The porron replaced the original bota bag|
A porron, porrón, or porró (Catalan: porró in the singular, porrons in the plural) is a traditional glass wine pitcher used in Spain to serve and drink wine. The idea originated as a replacement to bota bags. Porrones are an old and traditional way to store and to share wine with a group of people. The lack of contact with the lips allows a group of people to share the same vessel without offending their sense of hygiene.