Filed Under:

Demystifying Saffron: Mark Bittman Explains The Pricey Spice

Play associated audio

In the latest installment of NPR's Cook Your Cupboard, New York Times columnist and cookbook author Mark Bittman sheds a little light on saffron — a spice that has been stumping Lennet Radke in Wisconsin. Radke, who received a little jar in a contest, says she's never really used it. The stuff isn't cheap. And that knowledge alone can stifle experimentation.

Bittman concedes that it's exotic and expensive. But also, he says, "it should be used."

So what is it? The stringy red spice is actually the dried stigma of a saffron flower. It has a distinct flavor — and turns dishes a distinctly rich, yellow color. (For that reason, it's also used as a dye.)

Saffron is most famously used in Bouillabaisse (a French fish stew), but Bittman says there are some really basic things you can do with it. "The simplest thing to do with saffron is just make rice," he says.

He's not really one for recipes, but instead offers a few basic methods:

  • Sautee some onions, add some rice, and cook the rice in the oil or butter until glossy. Then add a pinch of saffron and the rice will turn a beautiful golden color. (Do this to make any kind of risotto, pilaf, paella or couscous.)
  • Take a lot of olive oil and add slivered garlic, smoked paprika and some saffron. Cook shrimp in the spicy oil. Dip bread in the excess oil.
  • Steam mussels with a little bit of white wine, garlic herbs and a pinch of saffron.

Bittman also offers a few tips about cardamom. It's on the sweeter side of the spice spectrum and, he says, "turns something quite ordinary into something special."

  • Throw the pods into something like rice or stew.
  • Add a small amount of powdered cardamom to coffee.
  • Add a pinch of it to a tomato sauce or a rice pudding.
  • Sprinkle a bit on fresh toast — or regular toast.
  • Try adding a bit to oatmeal with some nuts and orange zest.
  • Sautee some chopped fruit (apples, pears or both — maybe even bananas) gently in butter until they brown a little bit and sprinkle with cardamom.

We've got a new round of Cook Your Cupboard going: Freezer Finds. Don't toss those forgotten frozen peas! Keep your cool and get summer dish ideas by asking the community!

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Military Veterans Take On Zombies In 'Range 15'

Range 15 is a new zombie movie made by war veterans for veterans. It's a dark comedy with a cast that includes a Navy Cross recipient, amputees and William Shatner.
NPR

Chef Eddie Huang On Cultural Identity And 'Intestine Sticky Rice Hot Dog'

Huang and his brothers, Evan and Emery, headed to China to reconnect with their culture, to eat lots and lots of food — and to cook. He's documented his travels in his new book, Double Cup Love.
NPR

Family of Kate Steinle Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The suit alleges San Francisco's "sanctuary city" immigration policies led to Steinle's death, allegedly at the hands of a man in the U.S. illegally. It also blames two federal agencies.
NPR

North Korea Linked To $81 Million Bangladesh Bank Heist

Experts say code used by hackers in recent attacks on banks appears to be the same as code used in an attack on Sony Pictures which the FBI says was carried out by North Korea.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.