Monday, March 10, 2008
A costly pinch
The most expensive spice on earth, saffron, weighs in over one thousand dollars a pound -- fortunately, it is used by the pinch and bought by the gram. It is the stigmas from an autumnal crocus indigenous to Asia Minor that has been adding an ethereal note to dishes for millennium. It is Spain and northern India that supplies us with the majority of these pungent, culinary filaments and needs to be purchased with care. I believe you should always buy saffron that is packaged in a dark glass jar or tin in order to prevent light from activating the volatile oils within these petite threads – keeping the fragrance waiting for the cook. I then store the leftover saffron in the freezer for heat and light are the activators of fragrance, and I prefer it to sit dormant waiting for my command.
When I use the saffron I would say that 9 times out of 10 I bloom the threads in some liquid in order to release its flavors as well allow its dyeing possibilities to spread evenly throughout a dish. As an alternative for saffron, only for its ability to stain, are annatto seeds and turmeric – there won’t be those high notes of saffron.
Saffron and Lemon Risotto - yields 6 to 8 servings
1/4-cup olive oil
1 medium onion - diced
1/8 teaspoon red chili flakes
11/2 cup Arborio rice
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock - at the boil
1 large pinch saffron
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup chopped oregano leaves
2 tablespoons chopped thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 pound shaved Asiago cheese for garnish
Zest the lemons (that is the yellow portion only avoiding any of the white pith) and finely dice the zest. Juice the lemon and hold to the side with the pinch of saffron soaking in the juice.
Heat a 4 quart sauce pan over a medium flame and add the oil, onions and chili flakes. Cook the onions until they start to turn a golden hue. Add the rice and lemon zest and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Start adding the stock and white wine into the rice mixture one ladle full at a time (should be approximately 6 ounces) and continue stirring until the rice has absorbed the liquid or it has evaporated. Continue until all the stock has been add then add the reserved lemon juice, saffron, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is softened throughout – this will take about 25 minutes. Serve immediately with some shave Asiago cheese over each serving.