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Saffron – The Topic

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I made saffron mashed potatoes...BLECHHH!  It was so bitter and tinny! 

Uk chef Simon Hopkinson claims to have invented "saff mash" and I always use his recipe from Roast Chicken and Other Stories which works a treat. It's online here.

I can assure you the Pennsylvania Dutch have been making saff mash for centuries.along with cakes,teas,soups etc.They brought the bulbs with them from Germany in the 1600,s,they even have there own specially made containers for storage.BTW for those in the philly region ,Some of the finest saffron available can be had at the Reading Terminal Market labeled under Keen,s Lancaster County Saffron :wink:


"Food is our common ground,a universal experience"

James Beard

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In his book, Hopkinson explains that he got the idea while finishing off a dish of bouillabaise served with boiled potatos as he crushed the potatos into the remaining soup dregs and rouille. He finishes by saying "it is the one dish I can truly call my own."

Do you have a recipe for the Pennsylvania Dutch version, it would be very interesting to compare the two.

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My neighbour was kind enough to bring back some saffron for me after working in Azerbaijan for a while (he's a helicopter mechanic for oil rigs).

I had never actually tasted it before but have read all about it and was excited to try it out.  I made saffron mashed potatoes.  I figured the bland taste of the potatoes would allow the saffron flavour to come through.  I steeped the saffron in some warm milk before adding it to the potatoes, was excited to see the yellow/orange colour appear and then taste - BLECHHH!  It was so bitter and tinny!  Did I do something wrong?  Does saffron not taste good on its own?  What about saffron cakes?  Fish with saffron sauce?  Is it an acquired taste?  Anyone with a recipe that actually uses saffron and tastes good?

Susan NS

Well, SusanNS, in just over 24 hours you have gotten more than 82 responses to your question. Did you find your answers? Was this post useful to you?

I'm amazed a simple question would provoke such spirited responses!!! I think I may have used too much saffron and I'm going to try it in a paella or boulliabaisse this weekend. I'm not letting one failure stop my culinary adventure. After all, eating is about trying new things, isn't it? The saffron I have is from Iran (Azerbaijan is on its border).

Thanks everyone!

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This discussion reminds me a little of a discussion of caviar in which every category of fish roe, from lumpfish to Imperial caviar, would be mentioned without distinction, leading to some impossible dialogue between those who would argue that caviar was little more than disguised gunshot (who would be thinking of such things as lumpfish 'caviar') and those defending the concept of caviar as a supreme delicacy (the fortunate Imperial or beluga aficionados). Meaning: unless we all get on the same page and comment on the same product, we won't get anywhere near an agreement.

There is a lot of counterfeit or semi-counterfeit saffron out there, and at any rate powdered saffron should be cast aside automatically.

Top-notch, well-dried, pistils-only saffron is one of the world's greatest spices, and of course not just for color. Ask any Milanese denizen how a risotto made with turmeric differs from one that's been properly saffroned, or 'zafferanato'!

There are only two products in which Spain is the world leader, and one of the two has been recognized as the best for many centuries: saffron. (The other, cured Ibérico ham, was a well-kept secret outside Spain because it wasn't exported due to past African swine fever problems, until the name Joselito became world-famous - and if you haven't heard of Joselito, you're not 'with it' in the world of hams, as they would say in the 1960s!) My gourmet friend, the Indian publisher Cushrow Irani, considers getting a jar of Manchuela saffron his greatest priority when arriving in Spain, and he prizes top Spanish saffron above anything produced in Asia.

It's a matter of terroir, as in wine – the dry, hot high plateaus of Castile, with the very cool nights and the poor clay-limestone soils, produce the kind of flavor concentration that is hard to find elsewhere.

Manchuela is to La Mancha like Pomerol is to Bordeaux – a very specific, high-class sub-appellation. Other areas like Toledo produce nice saffron as well, but not quite as nice.

However, La Mancha saffron in general and Manchuela saffron in particular could very well be a vanishing species. Production has fallen off precipitously over the past 10 years due to one fact: saffron production is one of the most labor-intensive chores in agriculture anywhere, and the sharp increase of labor costs in Spain plus the dearth of manpower (Spanish agriculture has become largely dependent on immigrant laborers, as is the case elsewhere in the European Union) means that even at $1,200 a kilo saffron is no longer profitable. Research into ways to mechanize (at least partly) the production process, particularly removing the few pistils from each flower, is under way in both Italy and Spain. If it doesn't succeed in producing efficient equipment, European saffron will soon be a thing of the past.

Meanwhile, and to board doubters, I would stress that the bevy of avant-garde chefs that have made Spain one of the culinary hot spots of the world have all devoted much attention to saffron, reaching spectacular results with it both in sweet and in savory dishes. From Ferran Adrià's 'sepia en texturas' (cuttlefish in textures) to saffron guru Manolo de la Osa's many saffron-based recipes (codfish with cumin, garlic and saffron; oyster with pumpkin cream and saffron sauce), they show just how high this spice can reach in the realm of 'grande cuisine'. Of course, there's also tradition – see this forlorn, nondescript inland village in Alicante province, Pinoso, which has become the Mecca for paella freaks all over the world. They go there in pilgrimage to taste Casa Paco's mindboggling, saffron-infused rabbit-and-snail paella, the rice piled only one quarter-inch high at the bottom of an immense flat-bottom pan... (Of course, every one of these cooks uses saffron only in infusions, as an aromatic tea to be added to dishes and sauces – don't just drop the pistils in the pot!)

This is why I love eGullet.

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Do you have a recipe for the Pennsylvania Dutch version, it would be very interesting to compare the two.

Here's a recipe I googled for potato filling which features mashed potato and saffron but is a baked dish with eggs and bread in there as well which sounds quite nice. Haven't found a recipe for mashed potaoes with saffron as a side dish as yet - any offers?

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Interesting that Cook's Illustrated  found the best saffron from Pennsylvania!

A few years ago I planted some fall crocus bulbs hoping to get a small crop, but the plants were eaten by unknown predators.

These were Iranian bulbs sold by a noted bulb purveyor, Cruickshank's in Toronto.

If I had another source, I'd try it again.

Try brentandbeckysbulbs.com, they do two bulb catalogues/year (spring flowering, summer flowering) and in one of them they offer saffron crocus. Their catalogue doesn't saying anything about shipping to Canada but unless there are pest-prevention related regs to stop them I don't know why they wouldn't. My experience w/them is that their selection is good, prices good and just about all of the bulbs I've ordered from them have grown and thrived.

Last fall a friend bought about 40-50 saffron crocus bulbs from them and just about all of them flowered--but then our area got a whole lot of rain--at a time of year we don't usually get that much rain (but then we had weird/atypical weather for just about all of 2005 in this area) so she wasn't able to pick that many of the pistils (is it pistils or stamens?). However, she says they seem to be reproducing well, so she has hopes for next fall.

I get the impression from most of the posts that, with the exception of Cook's Illustrated, most people believe or have found that only arid climates, like Spain and Iran, produce good saffron. Does anyone know whether the lack of rain is necessary only in the fall, at harvest time? Or is it like chile peppers, where an arid hot climate is best for getting the best flavor? I live in a temperate rainforest climate (at the moment, what w/global warming and all the trees being cut down and replaced by manufactured homes and concrete, the climate is changing)--often we will have no rain for close to 3 months from about end of June/early July into September. Some ground fog off and on where my friend lives.

Perhaps a year ago the UK Telegraph online, gardening section, had an article describing a part of England that had once been a saffron growing area. My impression is it stopped when labor costs became too high in comparison to those in Spain, Iran, et al--not that the climate produced lousy saffron (but then would the editors of the UK Telegraph let an article through that criticised English ag?). But my climate is not that different from England's (except for the 2-3 months without much rain), southern England anyway, so I wondered if England could produce good saffron, so could a garden in the foothills of the OR coast range?

My friend gave all the saffron she was able to pick and dry to her son and I have yet to hear what his opinion of the taste was, if he had one. So I don't know how good the saffron was--I saw it before she gave it to him and the color looked pretty good.

S. Hogg


Edited by Jason Perlow (log)

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Kashmiris make their Kahwa (tea) spiced with saffron. It is sheer heaven:

In a saucepan:

Lightly roast a half stick of cinnamon. When toasty and fragrant, add a few cups of water (say, four), and add a pinch of saffron threads (which you can lightly toast beforehand). Cover and let steep until the water is fragrant and saffron-colored.

Add two teaspoons of GREEN (not black) tea (roughly 1/2 tbsp per cup), two or three crushed cardamom pods (green) per cup and reheat the water (if it needs it). You can add sugar at this point (the traditional way)-- or wait and let folks do it themselves. Do not boil, so as to not oversteep the green tea.

Many folks add the cinnamon, green tea and saffron to the cold water and bring it up to a boil -- but I find that oversteeps the green tea, and makes it somewhat bitter.

It is traditionally served in preheated cups with crushed almonds and green cardamom. It is considered a kind of Kashmiri chicken soup -- great for colds!

cass

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Kashmiris make their Kahwa (tea) spiced with saffron.  It is sheer heaven:

In a saucepan:

Lightly roast a half stick of cinnamon.  When toasty and fragrant, add a few cups of water (say, four), and add a pinch of saffron threads (which you can lightly toast beforehand).  Cover and let steep until the water is fragrant and saffron-colored.

Add two teaspoons of GREEN (not black) tea (roughly 1/2 tbsp per cup), two or three crushed cardamom pods (green) per cup and reheat the water (if it needs it). You can add sugar at this point (the traditional way)-- or wait and let folks do it themselves.  Do not boil, so as to not oversteep the green tea. 

Many folks add the cinnamon, green tea and saffron to the cold water and bring it up to a boil -- but I find that oversteeps the green tea, and makes it somewhat bitter. 

It is traditionally served in preheated cups with crushed almonds and green cardamom.  It is considered a kind of Kashmiri chicken soup -- great for colds!

cass

This sounds great. I'll try it as soon as my saffron shipment arrives. Thanks!


Ilene

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Visiting my brother in the south of France, we have driven over the border, a few kilometers, to purchase stuff, particularly marzipan and saffron in Spain.

Last time I went, just over a year ago, I purchased a couple of plexiglas boxes of saffron, about 2-3 ozs in each. However when I use it in various dishes I don't get the rich yellow color nor do I taste anything. I also noted that some of the threads remain in the bottom of the pan when making a sauce without dissolving.

Is it because its old? I have tried rubbing it in my palms before adding to the dish. I can't believe that it is not real saffron having bought it at the source as it were!

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Saffron, if it is reasonably fresh when you buy it, should have a shelf life of at least three years.

However, you should store it in a air-tight tin where it is protected from light and in a cool, dry place.

Heat and light plus exposure to air - particularly in humid climates, will shorten its life by a considerable amount.

Here is a site with excellent information:

Saffron info.

I infuse saffron for at least 30 minutes or longer, sometimes overnight, depending on the way it will be used. For saffron cake, it has to be infused overnight to extract the optimum amount of flavor and color.


"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I agree with Swisskaesse, Iranian saffron is a cut above the rest. My borther's boss is from iran and he vists and returns with saffron for us several times per year. I grew up with the Spanish and PA DUtch stuff and the iranian will knock your socks off when it comes to potency. It does loose some of that strength after a year or so. Its color and smell fade a bit after a year. The man who brings it to us grinds his for home use with a mortar and pestle and puts it in a shaker jar, keeping it handy to whatever he is preparing..

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Visiting my brother in the south of France, we have driven over the border, a few kilometers, to purchase stuff, particularly marzipan and saffron in Spain.

... However when I use it in various dishes I don't get the rich yellow color nor do I taste anything. 

... I can't believe that it is not real saffron having bought it at the source as it were!

AFAIK the Pyrenees area isn't exactly well known for saffron growing.

I think the main areas are way away from the French border.

So, not quite "the source".

And in our almost borderless Europe, there's no tax, duty or cost - other than transport - to ship Spanish agricultural produce to France. And transport doesn't make up much of the cost of Saffron.

Buying cheap Saffron, in Spain or elsewhere, usually seems to mean buying "cheap 'Saffron' " ...

Regarding the earlier questions about growing Saffron, its perfectly true that there used to be a fair-sized Saffron industry just 50 miles (North and slightly East) from London. The town still called "Saffron Walden" was one of the centres. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ptJ-uRD...num=5&ct=result

But it became commercially non-viable about 250 years ago... Climatically, that's one of the driest parts of the UK. Particularly in summer. Light winter frost is pretty common, but snow unusual, and usually gone in a few days. So, I'd guess it might come down to where in Canada one might be.

But plant lots - you need thousands of flowers to get an ounce of dry Saffron... :smile:

There's a pretty good historical/botanical resource at

http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Croc_sat.html

with plenty more links too -- and further drums in the message that

Saffron cheating is as old as saffron trade, and will persist as long as saffron is traded. There is a multitude of possibilities how to cheat: Crude methods include selling something that is not saffron at all — artificially coloured grass flowers, safflower and calendula flowers being obvious candidates. The common mislabelling of turmeric as “Indian saffron” also borders fraud (after all, there is saffron production in India!). People unaware of the taste of good saffron may be persuaded to buy an old or overdried product. Even large spice companies sometimes sell products that, although deriving from the right plant, have no or even a false aroma. Increasing the weight of saffron by coating the stigmata with a non-volatile liquid (fatty oil or glycerol, which gives a sweet taste an untrained customer might even regard as a sign of quality) is also very common.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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I happened upon the section on growing saffron crocus in Bountiful Container and am considering growing a few on my front porch next season. They might not be worth a crap, but it'll be a fun experiment. :biggrin:

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Anyone ever order from Saffron.com ?  I'm thinking of ordering 1/2 an ounce

http://saffron.com/

Yes, in fact, I just placed an order on Friday and expect it to arrive later today. I purchased both the threads and the powder. I am going to prepare a saffron cake and will top it with marzipan onto which I will brush a tiny bit of the powder to dye a pattern in the shape of a flaming sun.


"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Anyone ever order from Saffron.com ?  I'm thinking of ordering 1/2 an ounce

http://saffron.com/

YES I order an oz at a time and split it with a friend ..fantastic company and the saffron is wonderful ..I think :smile:

eta I love the extracts they sell as well (they always toss a freebe in like a soap or an extract with your order)


Edited by hummingbirdkiss (log)

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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Thanks for the feed back. I've had a really good experience with vanilla beans from an ebay vendor and this looks like a great place to order saffron.

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Thanks for the feed back.  I've had a really good experience with vanilla beans from an ebay vendor and this looks like a great place to order saffron.

I've ordered from this company several times and love their saffron and vanilla (beans and extracts.) I also purchased a paella pan that I've enjoyed using (though I have no means of comparison since I've never used any other.) They usually send free samples too. Great company!


Ilene

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Anyone ever order from Saffron.com ?  I'm thinking of ordering 1/2 an ounce

http://saffron.com/

Several of us at work went in on a few ounces from them this winter, along with some packs of vanilla beans. Good product at a good price -- and I like having a pint jar of saffron in the cupboard for experimenting. (Saffron gelato? Sure!)

A good friend, visiting for dinner, said she loves saffron rice, but the grocery store prices make her cringe. We sent her home with a little half-cup mason jar of threads -- along with a warning to use a gentle hand, it's much stronger than the tired stuff she might be used to.

-jon-

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Just got my 1/2 ounce of saffron today from saffron.com. Measured exactly .5 ounces. Looks and smells wonderful. They also sent a complementary 2 oz bottle of their vanilla extract and a bar of vanilla soap.

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I recently ordered from saffron.com and can confirm that everyone's glowing recommendations above are still valid.


 

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I'm still buying from the same place and have never had even a minimal complaint. I use a lot of saffron but I also share it with family and friends who don't need so much.

Last fall I came across this recipe for saffron cheesecake, loved it, as did my guests, and have made it twice more with great results. - I use a generous 1/2 teaspoon saffron.

The first time I didn't have any ginger biscuits so I used amaretti biscuits (cookies) as I had a tin someone had given me and they needed to be used.

I've also made the cheesecake with Danish sugar cookies - also from a huge tin someone gave me (coals to Newcastle gift) and they too needed to be used and being a diabetic, I don't consume many cookies make with sugar. They worked just fine.


Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I ordered some from saffron.com last year and it was still as good as previous purchases. The price was quite a bit higher than a few years ago, but still a bargain compared to buying it in local stores.

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My first post on eGullet! :raz:

I've just bought an ounce of saffron as well. I've taken cooking classes with Najmieh Batmanglij who is the matron of Persian cooking, and her ways of using saffron will use up an ounce in no time, and to great result I find.

1) Grind the saffron into powder before using or in batches to store (but don't store it too long in this form), regardless of what type of cuisine you're using the saffron with. Powder is the best way to release the full flavor and color. Najmieh suggests using a spice grinder and putting a sugar cube in, to help the grinding process. Whole pistils will waste a lot of flavor and color. You can mix the powder with liquid and keep it that way for a week or more maybe. She recommends Iranian saffron but it's hard to find genuine, fresh Iranian saffron, plus it's very expensive. Good Spanish saffron is hard to find also but cheaper than Iranian -- I've found the best quality directly from wholesalers, where I know the packages are sealed and I know the quality is consistent and storage is not a problem. I've had problems with certain retailers selling high priced saffron which tastes like dust.

2) Generally, the Persian style use of saffron (when not done on the cheap) consists of something like this mix: 1.5 tsp ground saffron, 1 tbsp rose water, and several tbsp some type of citrus juice -- lime juice, bitter (Seville) orange juice, etc. If you don't want the perfuminess of flower essence you can just use water but I find this mix distinctive. That is a *lot* of saffron. You'll be finished with an ounce after a few meals. Use this mix in roughly this proportion to marinade any kind of meat (preferably with a Jaccard); to add to any kind of braise (this was a big revelation for me); to add to stuffed vegetable mix; to add to basmati rice by putting a few spoons of the rice into the saffron liquid, then spreading this rice over top of the rest of the rice. (If you marinade meats with it, you might end up with a lot of leftover marinade liquid with your expensive saffron in it -- I'm still working out how to deal with that problem.) You can put the mixture into ground meat kabobs as well, which avoids the wasted marinade problem, and in which case you can substitute tart ground sumac for the citrus juice. Traditionally you can also substitute orange blossom liquid instead of rose water, if the dish is appropriate for that taste, but you need to use less as it is really strong stuff.

There are some Persian desserts with saffron as well -- halva can have saffron in it, ice cream (mentioned earlier in this thread), hard candy, and a saffron pudding which I've never tried making but looks really good.

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