The saffron plant, a native of India, Iranian, and Southern Europe is a beautiful 2-inch lilac flower that takes 3 weeks to bloom in fall. The flower has a yellow stamen and the female organ, the stigma; a reddish-orange thin thread is the saffron spice.
The laborious work that goes into picking the saffron spice determines the price of the spice in the international market. The stigma ranges in color from light red to very dark orange-red which is the best. Saffron costs between $500 to $5000 depending on the grade and quality of the harvest.
How to pick saffron
During the saffron picking season, workers put in a maximum of 19 hours a day. The harvest begins at noon to dry off the early morning dew on the flowers. The flowers are cut gently from the stalk and gathered into a basket. They are taken into a storehouse and spread on a large table where each flower is cut open and the stigma is gently picked out and packed in a bowl. The stigmas are dried using a dehydrator or air-dried but not under the sun. The most important use of saffron is cooking and about ten to twenty threads release enough aroma and flavor.
Cooking with saffron
Saffron is used in cooking, baking, flavoring, and making drinks. It is also a good spice for rubs and mixes well with other spices such as curry, cumin, cardamom, cloves, garlic, and thyme. It gives a golden color to the Indian biryani, Spanish paella, and the Italian risotto dishes (rice dishes). In baking, it gives a beautiful, bright golden hue to cakes and in ice creams too.
Saffron goes well with poultry, lamb, meat, and excellent with seafood. It also pairs well with apples, pears, and fish.
To cook with saffron, draw out the flavor by soaking it in hot water, alcohol or wine for 10 to 20 minutes to release its flavors and added to the cooking.
When using it as a rub, the spice is ground with other spices and used to rub fish or poultry. It is roasted in a dry skillet before adding it to other spice for a rub.
Saffron stains cooking utensils, so avoid using wooden spoons or porous metals else you will have a yellowish-orange discoloration. They do clear overtime but it does take time.
You can put some measure of saffron into a large bottle and add your desired liquid and store. Saffron keeps releasing its color and aroma as long it still in a steeping liquid. The mix is kept in the fridge or on the countertop away from sunlight and used anytime to give color and aroma to your dishes.
Saffron mixed with cardamom to make excellent Arabian tea.
Saffron takes the place of turmeric in India cooking and although turmeric can also replace the spice, it does not have the flavor and aroma like saffron.
DO NOT purchase powdered saffron, it does not have the same aroma and flavor as the thread, even in the pure saffron, the powered form loses it flavor very easily.
Saffron is a spice that works well with most food items, whether you want to bake, roast, cook, marinate, and season. Saffron is one spice that adds beauty, taste, color, and flavor to your dish making it picture perfect.
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