La Mancha Saffron - The Quintessential Spanish Spice
A highly valued spice, saffron is one of Spain’s prized exports. The stuff of legend and a starring ingredient in the Spanish signature dish, paella, fast forward and look across the globe to see chefs using saffron in some unusual and inspiring ways.
Originally planted across Spain during times of Arabic influence, saffron has since become part of Spanish history through the ages, earning its own DOP, as well as making a name in folklore, songs and culinary culture today.
If you haven’t come across this sought-after aromatic spice in cooking yet, you may have heard of saffron as “red gold” in some circles. That’s because the labor-intensive process for cultivating just three fine red stamen from each purple crocus sativus flower - harvested only once a year - equates to an expensive price tag for a rather small amount of spice.
But, as any seasoned chef will tell you, a little saffron goes a long way in cooking. The honey and hay aromas from saffron create a delicate, unmistakable flavor that has been celebrated across Eurasia - by the elite - for thousands of years. It also lends a vivid hue to everything it touches - making for Instagram-friendly dishes today. Aside from being a key player in paella, saffron is also found in other regional Iberian dishes and soups - even desserts.
Take for example the sublime Caldo de Millo, a saffron-based soup that hails from the Canary islands blending corn, potato, plus herbs and spices with an egg on top!
If you want more inspiration, look to the chefs around the country and worldwide who are worth their weight in… saffron: Chef Rudy Lopez over at the recently opened Soulmate (West Hollywood) sparks new interest in Spanish saffron - not only with a signature Soulmate Paella but also in his Vegetable Fideuà. Celebrity chef Rachel Ray likes to spin saffron into her spaghetti recipes online to appeal to the masses.
Meanwhile in Honolulu, Chef Vikram Garg at Halekulani Hotel is creating desserts fit for a pharaoh with his Mango Kulfi, Saffron Anglaise and 24K Gold Flakes. In Hong Kong, Michelin Star BO Innovations’ Cod with Saffron Miso Sauce is a favorite invention by head chef Alvin Leung. Over in Singapore, Davide Oldani is making his mark with a stunning Saffron Risotto. Saffron even spreads its golden tones in baking bread and cakes.
As the modern palate opens up to more exotic flavors, spice cabinets are naturally expanding, making room for ingredients such as saffron in everyday cooking.