10 Savory Saffron Recipes to Make Any Meal a Special Occasion
Many people get scared away from saffron by its price tag, and that’s totally understandable—the dried crocus stamens are among the most expensive ingredients in the world, pound for pound. The good news is that just a pinch goes a long way, so it costs very little to infuse a single dish with saffron’s copper color and musky flavor. (Check out our articles about buying and cooking with saffron and whether it needs to be bloomed before use to help familiarize yourself with the spice.)
If you’re making the investment in a few ounces of saffron, you’ll want to make the most of it. We’ve rounded up 10 of our favorite savory saffron recipes to get you started, from a classic, fragrant Milanese-style risotto to real-deal French bouillabaisse to a simple dinner of roasted chicken and potatoes. More interested in saffron’s sweet applications? You’ll find our flourless orange-saffron cake and saffron, honey, and orange ice cream plenty tempting.
An ingredient as luxurious as saffron should be showcased in an equally luxurious dish, and golden-tinged, creamy risotto alla milanese fits the bill nicely. Despite its reputation, risotto isn’t a difficult dish to make, and our near-foolproof technique makes it especially smooth sailing. A little whipped heavy cream folded in at the end makes the risotto feel especially light.
Traditional risotto must be served hot off the stove, so it’s not exactly a great candidate for making ahead of time. (Though, if you take a page from standard restaurant practices, you can cook it halfway through and store it for up to a week before finishing it.) But by combining the risotto with a béchamel sauce and forming it into a casserole, similar to mac and cheese, you’ll have a dish that can be baked up à la minute whenever you’re ready. It’s important to use a gelatin-rich chicken broth here, to help the rice set.
The baked risotto above is basically a casserole version of the Italian rice croquettes called arancini, those golden-fried spheres of saffron-scented rice stuffed with cheese (or meat, or vegetables). We fill ours here with stretchy mozzarella, which helps protect them from the dreaded dryness that befalls so many arancini. A pressure cooker is a great time-saving device for cooking the rice.
If you’ve ever ordered bouillabaisse at a restaurant and received a bowl of shellfish in a one-note, saffron-infused broth, you’ve missed out on the real deal. Traditional bouillabaisse is actually made mostly with finfish (though feel free to add clams and mussels if you like), and, while the broth does typically contain saffron, that floral flavor should be layered with more: fennel, orange zest, and anise-scented Pernod or pastis.
If the above is a fairly traditional bouillabaisse, this is a version that will make a purist cringe—but more importantly, it’s delicious. This stew trades the fish for chicken legs, though the broth is still delicately scented with fennel and saffron. One of my favorite parts of any bouillabaisse is the garlicky rouille that’s spread on baguette toasts and served alongside—here, we make a cheat-y version using mayonnaise, lemon juice, olive oil, cayenne, and garlic.
Want the flavors of bouillabaisse, but in a hurry? Making a pot of mussels takes only 15 minutes, so it’s perfect for a weeknight dinner that still feels like a treat. Adding dry fennel salami and a shot of Pernod to the mussels means tripling down on the anise flavor of the fresh fennel. You’ll need just a pinch of saffron here, so this is a good recipe if you want to save some of your stash for another purpose.
Hailing from Palermo and influenced by Sicily’s long history of Arab rule, pasta con le sarde is intensely flavored, with onions, fennel, raisins, pine nuts, anchovies, sardines (fresh, not canned!), and saffron all contributing to its heady aroma. The strands are topped with toasted seasoned bread crumbs rather than Parmesan cheese. If you’ve never filleted sardines before, we’ve got a guide to show you how it’s done.
Chicken thighs and red potatoes sound like the makings of a basic weeknight dinner, but the addition of golden, fragrant saffron transforms them into something special. It’s still easy enough to make after work, though—all you have to do is sear the chicken in a sauté pan, add the potatoes and chicken stock, and finish it in the oven.
This recipe puts an unexpected spin on stuffing, flavoring it with aromatic saffron, smoky Spanish chorizo, and briny green olives (look for firm, meaty ones), for a side dish that’s got the basic building blocks of stuffing but a flavor profile reminiscent of paella. It’s at once comforting and unexpected, and great for those Thanksgiving and other holiday dinners when you find yourself tired of the same old menu.
Plov, or Uzbek rice pilaf, can be made a million different ways; many recipes use meat, but ours keeps it simple, studding the pilaf with carrots and onions only. It’s the saffron that really elevates this version, deepening the flavors of the cumin, coriander, and caramelized vegetables—a pricey addition to what is otherwise a humble dish, but we find it’s really worth it.
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