experimenting with saffron

Saffron is considered the world's most expensive spice. The threads of golden saffron are actually the stigmas of the saffron flower, which are harvested and processed by hand. Each saffron flower has approximately three stigmas, which means it takes over 4,600 flowers to produce just one ounce of saffron for sale.

I was so lucky to reconnect with a college classmate Carol Wang during our ten-year college reunion. She is now working for Rumi Spice, a company that partners with Afghan farmers to bring top-quality, sustainably farmed saffron to new markets around the world. The company has developed relationships with local Afghan farms and specifically employs female farmers in Afghanistan to hand-harvest the saffron stigmas. Carol offered to send to me some of this incredible product to test in new recipes. I certainly did not take much convincing! Saffron has a sweet, hay and honey-like fragrance. When added to sauces or poaching liquids, it lends a deep orange color and subtle flavor.

I decided to incorporate the saffron into one savory dish and one dessert to be featured on Rumi Spice's #summerofsaffron recipe page. The savory dish - saffron butter-poached lobster over summer succotash - features the saffron in a classic butter sauce called beurre monté. The saffron threads are added to a warm emulsified butter sauce over low heat; the sauce becomes golden yellow, fragrant, and the perfect poaching liquid for fresh lobster meat.

I also added the saffron to an ice cream base to create an apricot saffron ice cream with cardamom rock sugar. Saffron ice cream, often made with rosewater, is a classic dessert in the Middle East called bastani. My variation incorporates pureed fresh apricots that are cooked down with sugar, and I top the ice cream with a crispy cardamom sugar condiment that adds spicy flavor and crunch.

The saffron product from Rumi Spice is incredibly pure and high-quality, and was a joy to cook with. While saffron is an expensive ingredient to buy, it goes a long way in cooking. It takes just a pinch of saffron thread to add beautiful color and flavor to your summer dishes.