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It’s a tall order, calling saffron the world’s most versatile spice. Maybe your good friend down the street will sneer and say “No it’s not, salt is!” The difference between salt, and saffron is that one is a seasoning meant to enhance a dish (salt) whereas the other is a spice - the key flavor of the dish (saffron).
Quiz: Which one is pepper? Is it a seasoning or a spice?
Saffron is characterized by its low, rumbling earthy flavor. If Lemon was the type of bright flavor to jump out of the bushes and punch you in the nose, saffron would be more like the clouds - slow, lingering, pervasive, moody; a unique presentation in every dish.
Saffron has been in human hands for thousands of years, in more recent history, the hands of cooks, chefs, and household kitchen keepers. The sheer multitude of primary recipes and their variants is staggering. In the more classical cooking eras, supermarkets were not available to further experimentation. Saffron was paired ad-absurdum with whatever locally sourced goods could be found at the medieval market that week, and the results? Saffron has attained a cultural cooking versatility due to its traditional uses and flavor profile.
Oh, right, the quiz! Pepper is both a seasoning and a spice; trick question. When used to make something like black pepper chicken, it’s a spice. When you use it tableside to elevate the spiciness of your soup, it’s a seasoning.
Saffron is not a punchy dominating spice. It’s versatile, prone to experiment, and fun. Presentation is a key element of cooking, especially in the last decade where media is highly sharable and likeable. That bright yellow, all natural coloring that saffron can infuse into a dish just enhances its versatility - to put it plainly, saffron can also be considered versatile because it enhances both presentation and flavor. It could also be considered versatile because historically, it’s been used as a textile dye, an aphrodisiac, a cure for cuts and wounds, teas, makeups, and more. Topics for another day, let’s talk about cooking with this spice!
Saffron is fun. We highly encourage you to experiment with it. There are exact ways to use it when you’re cooking, but with a few basic rules, you can play with it in so many different ways, it’s versatile!
Once we convert your saffron threads into an oil, the sky is the limit. You can use it on absolutely any dish you regularly cook with an oil just to play with it. Maybe the dish doesn’t work and the flavors conflict, but maybe you just found a new rock star. You can infuse it with olive oil if you’re looking for more of a topical food enhancer, or with regular oil, should you want to fry the hints of saffron into something.
Again, we come up against how much saffron you want in your saffron infused oil. If you take a 12oz bottle of oil (350ml) you can experiment with anywhere between 50 and 450 threads. Heating the oil too much will change its characteristics, so it’s difficult to heat the oil and pull out all the saffron flavor from the threads. As such, the sooner you need to use it the more saffron you might want to add. If you’ve got time to leave it in the pantry for a year, the less you need. We find a nice average is four full capsules of Pure Saffron Farms high quality Persian saffron. To give you a close estimate one capsule contains about 55 threads equal to 0.01 grams.
The basic method is simple. Remove one ounce (30ml) of oil from a 12oz bottle. Pour 8 ounces of the oil into your pot or pan. Gently heat the oil, if it’s smoking you have gone way too far! Pour the heated oil back into the bottle, add your desired amount of saffron threads, and add the last 3oz back into the bottle at room temperature. Shut the bottle tightly, and leave for at least eight hours. The oil should keep just as long as regular non infused oil.
No need for modern technology here; with a mortar and pestle, take your saffron threads which should already be dry if high quality, and grind, grind, grind. Grind the saffron threads until you have the desired amount. Much like making your saffron oil, you can use this to experiment with any dish - soup, chicken, and everything in between.
This is your standard saffron powder, but paired with other spices that have proven to be a great match with saffron. Grind up the desired amount of saffron again in your mortar and pestle, but this time smash up some friends alongside. Spices that traditionally pair well with saffron are cumin, thyme, paprika, and turmeric, along with cinnamon, cilantro and rosemary.
Before you ruin your dish with the horrible mix you just made, we can recommend the following method of testing:
Does it taste like something that’s going to go well with your dish? Fantastic, we thought so too & enjoy!
In the comments below please share with us how you like to use saffron in the kitchen.