King of the Spices – Saffron for your Risotto
Did you know that at the beginning of the 20th century, the centre of saffron cultivation in Central Europe was Austria? The highest quality saffron was also called Crócus austriacus for that very reason.
Saffron has a very particular flavour and you only need a few strands to greatly enhance a dish. Back in the olden days, saffron was also used for colouring and even counterfeiting - gold lettering was faked by using saffron and sometimes it was used to make pewter look like gold. Saffron stains enormously - even just a gram of it turns 100 litres of water a bright yellow.
It is said that in ancient Rome, the togas of magistrates were coloured with saffron. Rich Romans also spread saffron strands all over the marriage bed, leading to the Latin saying „dormivit in sacco croci“ („he slept on a bed of saffron“), conveying a state of carefree joy and cheerfulness.
And I dug up some more information...
Saffron belongs to the crocus family (Crocus sativus); the spice threads are derived from the plant's flower. Harvesting saffron is a very elaborate process - the threads have to be picked from the blossoms by hand - which is why it is one of the most expensive spices in the world. One saffron picker usually doesn't manage to harvest more than 60-80 grams per day.
In Europe, saffron is a very popular ingredient in bouillabaisse (fish soup), Italian risotto, Swedish Lussekatter (sweet pastry) and paella. In Iran, it is used to enhance rice dishes. Saffron is a great addition to soups, vegetables, cakes and desserts like the sophisticated saffron parfait.
How to best store saffron
You shouldn't expose saffron to light or humidity. If stored incorrectly, the spice may suffer from bleaching (through sunlight, for example) or dissipation of its essential oils, so your best storage option is a metal or glass jar with a tight lid.
© Illustration/Eva Fischer
- 200g risotto rice
- 2 shallots
- 1 pinch of ground saffron
- 1/2 bunch parsley
- 1/2 bunch thyme
- 50g parmesan
- 800-1000ml water
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- 50-100ml white wine
- 1 pinch of nutmeg
- salt and pepper
- For the stock, bring the water to the boil and dissolve the stock cube. Peel and finely cube the shallots.
- Heat up olive oil in a pan and fry the shallots until they are translucent. Add the risotto rice and fry for another minute, then add the saffron and nutmeg and deglaze with white wine. Cook over a medium heat until the liquid has evaporated. Keep stirring until the risotto is nice and creamy, then add the vegetable stock bit by bit until the rice has the desired consistency (around 20 minutes). After around 10 minutes, stir in half of the grated parmesan.
- In the meantime, wash, shake dry, pick and finely chop the parsley. Season the risotto with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Fold in the herbs before serving. Arrange the risotto on plates, garnish with the rest of the parmesan and serve.