Saffron: worth its weight in gold

Or more, if you attach to it the immense thoughtfulness that my friend Erika had in bringing back a good quantity of it for me from her travels in Turkey, Morocco, and Greece.  I couldn’t join her on her travels, but she helped me get a taste of her adventures by bringing back this cherished spice and inspiring me to experiment with it in the kitchen.

Saffron, with its sweet and grassy notes, is truly a labor-intensive spice to collect.  It is derived from the stigmas of Crocus sativus.   Each plant bears up to four flowers, which each only have 3 stigmas.   It takes 150,000 to 170,000 flowers to glean just 1 kg of the precious saffron threads, and requires the equivalent of 40 hrs of labor.  It is widely used in the cooking of many cuisines, including the paella of Spain, the Milanese risotto of Italy, the bouillabaisse of France, and the biryani of South Asia.  Its vibrant beautiful color adds brightness to all of these dishes, as well as a unique flavor.

J and I have used it lately to make paella (recipe to come later!) but tonight I used it very simply to poach cod, with delightful results.  I paired the poached cod and saffron broth with a refreshing shaved asparagus salad.  It was a quick and healthy weeknight meal, full of bright and interesting flavors!

Gently simmering the cod in the broth is key to achieving buttery, flaky cod (and avoiding rubbery fish).

IMG_3432Poached Cod with Saffron-Tomato Broth (adapted from here)

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ~1 cup (8 oz) of quartered grape tomatoes
  • ~2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • bay leaves
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • two 4-5-oz. skinless cod fillets

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes) and cook, stirring often, until fragrant (garlic should not take on any color), about 3 minutes.
  2. Add tomatoes, wine, bay leaf, saffron, and ~1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until flavors meld, 5–7 minutes; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low; season cod with salt and pepper and place in skillet. Cover and cook at a bare simmer until cod is opaque throughout and beginning to flake, 5–7 minutes (thicker pieces will take longer to cook).
  4. Gently transfer cod to shallow bowls and spoon poaching liquid over.

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Lemon-Parmesan Dressing (original recipe from Food and Wine)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound large asparagus
  • 1/4 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (3/4 ounces)
  • 3/4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon warm water
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into long, thin strips and transfer to a large bowl.
  2.  In a small bowl, mix the Parmigiano-Reggiano with the lemon juice, water and olive oil. Add to the asparagus and toss to coat. Season the salad with salt and pepper and serve at once.
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