Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Gold most Precious - WHB

You know you’re popular when your continued existence is 100% dependant on the altruistic generosity of others. That without non-stop, dedicated efforts by untold millions over the millennium, you would no longer be a living member of the planet. Just a dusty golden memory.

Saffron, whose name derives from the Latin – Italian – Spanish words, which in turn derive from the Arabic word for yellow, ‘afar’, and in turn the Arabic word for the spice, ‘zafarān’, has enjoyed just such popularity for over 4000 years.




The flower producing saffron is sterile. Unable to reproduce on its own. 100% dependant on the efforts of growers of the host plant, the saffron crocus, for its continued existence.

This sterility situation originated from efforts by ancient saffron agriculturists to create a strain of saffron crocus with ever longer stigmas. The stigmas being the deep golden threads that are carefully plucked from the flower and dried. Three tiny stigma threads per flower. That’s a lot of flowers and nurturing to supply the world with the necessary pile of fried saffron.

There are different grades of saffron. It turns out that most mere mortals usually get a mild variant grown in Spain. This variant lacks the vibrant color and has a subdued flavor compared to the ‘real’ stuff. The ‘real’ stuff is grown primarily in the Kashmir region of India, where weather and politics make it tough to get for Indians as well as those outside India. There is also a region in Italy that produces a superior type of saffron. But unless you’ve got three Michelin stars, you are probably not getting much of that stuff. And irrespective of the price in the local grocery store, or package labeling indicating the saffron being a product of India, you are most certainly getting the milder Spanish saffron.



None the less, there are certain dishes that simply require its presence, mild or authentic.

Certainly color is one reason. Saffron imparts a beautiful hue to dishes. Like risotto Milanese, or paella.

But the flavor is also a big part. Maybe a little bitter. Maybe somewhat floral. But in any event unique. It is that certain something that transforms an ordinary assemblage of ingredients into something special.

Of course, anything that has been in the consumption chain for thousands and thousands of years has every possible benefit attributed to it. Originating in the Mediterranean region, apparently in Crete. From there, it spread across Northern Africa and eastward into Asia. It was used in cooking, perfumes, art work, medicines, seemingly everything.

The saffron I used today is certainly of the milder variety. But, as mentioned, Paella is just not Paella without saffron. Even if I am hesitant to toss in enough of the stuff to achieve the culinary taste sensation that has dazzled humanity for 4000+ years.

So, whether real or imagined, we enjoyed the brilliant color and unique flavor of saffron in a chicken paella. For this edition of , sponsored this week by Pat of

As a twist, I made the paella with ‘brown’ short grained rice. This in our continuing exploration of the whole grain life style. Or maybe it’s the do what’s necessary to appease the bickering factions life style. The brown rice kept TeenGirl happy, the chicken and lack of sea food kept TeenBoy happy. The absence of protracted arguing kept the Serendipitous Chef happy.

Plus, in a nod to the ferocious level of activities going on around here lately, I endeavored to do it all in a single pan. To minimize clean up.

To do this, I first roasted the chicken pieces in olive oil under the broiler until browned on all sides in a large roasting pan. I then roasted the onions and red peppers in a little olive oil under the broiler in the same pan. I then combined all the ingredients in the same roasting pan, brought the whole thing to a boil on a couple of burners, and moved it to the oven to finish. The result was triply satisfying – great flavor, vibrant color, minimal clean up.

Just the thing when you’re about to collapse after a 20 hour day.

(Well - I got one not too clear photo of the paella, my camera batteries died, my second set of batteries were gone from excessive photographing earlier in the day, and by the time the batteries got charged, the food had been eaten! Must have been good!!)




Brown Rice Chicken Paella
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4 as a main dish

Ingredients:
4 pounds boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2-3 red peppers, cleaned, cut into 1 inch pieces
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1-2 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp paprika
1 gram package dried saffron threads
sprinkle of turmeric
salt, pepper
1 32 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes with juice
2 cups frozen peas
8 cups chicken broth
2 ½ to 3 cups short grain brown rice
Parsley, chopped, for garnish
Lemon wedges, for garnish

In a large roasting pan with high sides, toss the chicken pieces with olive oil, and roast under the broiler, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides. Remove to a plate and reserve.

In the same pan, toss the onion and red pepper pieces in olive oil, and roast under the broiler until softened, and all liquid has evaporated.

Turn to oven to 400ºF.

Move the pan to the stove top, setting it across two burners. With the burners on medium, add the cumin, paprika, turmeric, bay leaf, salt and pepper, and stir. Add tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon as you stir. Cook until most of the tomato liquid is gone. Add the peas, chicken, saffron, rice, and enough chicken broth to cover. Increase the heat on the two burners, and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring. When the mixture comes to a boil, move it to the oven.

Roast the paella for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, adding additional chicken broth as necessary, and checking the rice (at the bottom of the pan) to ensure it is completely done. When rice is completely cooked through, remove from oven, and let sit for a few minutes. Serve with a sprinkle of parsley and a wedge of lemon. Enjoy!


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7 Comments:

Blogger chrispy said...

This is a precious ingredient. My husband got a very puzzled look on his face when we were handed a bottle as a wedding present when I was visiting my parents in the Middle East in january. I have not used it yet but I hope to find a moment to do something with it.

9:29 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

What a wonderful post. I love saffron and after reading your post, realize I've probably only tasted the Spanish type. So now I'll go on a hunt and hope to find the "good" stuff from India.

Thanks for sharing.

5:17 AM  
Blogger Kalyn said...

This sounds fantastic. (And using brown rice keeps the South Beach Diet police happy, as well as Teengirl.) I have a friend who sends me saffron from Iran. It seems really flavorful, but I don't know what type it is. Great post about something a lot of people don't know much about including. I learned a lot.

5:38 AM  
Blogger burcu said...

This is a great recipe; thanks for sharing. I love saffron and it's hard (at least for me) to find good recipes to use saffron. There's a beautiful city in Turkey called Safranbolu (meaning: saffroncity) where they used to grow huge amounts of saffron.

7:11 AM  
Blogger burcu said...

This is a great recipe; thanks for sharing. I love saffron and it's hard (at least for me) to find good recipes to use saffron. There's a beautiful city in Turkey called Safranbolu (meaning: saffroncity) where they used to grow huge amounts of saffron.

7:11 AM  
Blogger Brilynn said...

I might have to add some seafood to mine, but this looks pretty good just the way it is!

8:55 AM  
Blogger surfindaave said...

Wow! Thanks for all the comments!

Saffron is a truly precious thing. Some years ago we recieved a tiny tissue wrapped packet of saffron as a gift directly from India, and enjoyed it a lot.

But it does sound almost irresistable to saffron lovers to find out that there is a 'saffron city' in Turkey - a country with some of my favorite food!

11:35 AM  

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