Saffron is the First Lady of spices. Called safran in French, saffron in German, zafferano in Italian, azafran in Spanish and kesa, kesram, khesa or zafran in India, by weight, it is the most expensive spice in the world. One cannot imagine Pilafs and Biryanis, bouillabaisse or paella without this vital ingredient. Saffron appears in Moorish, Mediterranean and Asian cuisines. Its most common function is to colour rice yellow, as in festive Indian pilafs and Risotto Milanese, where its delicate flavour make it the most famous of Italian rice dishes. It combines well with fish and seafood and rice. It is also used in some Indian desserts and meat dishes. In England, saffron is used to very good effect in Cornish saffron buns where it is paired with dried fruit in a yeast cake.
Saffron’s high cost is due to the fact that the threads are the actual stigma of a particular crocus flower and must be harvested by hand. Fortunately, a pinch or two of saffron is more than enough to spice up a kilo of rice. Saffron needs moisture to release its flavour so the best way to use saffron is to soak the threads in hot or warm liquid (water or milk) for about 10 minutes and add this to the recipe. You can also simply toss the crushed threads in with the rest of the ingredients but you will get a stronger and better flavour by first soaking the crushed threads and then adding them.
I am including the recipes of Dum Ka Murg and Vermicelli Dessert, both of which are very easy to make and are extremely aromatic because of the strands of saffron used in both these dishes. All the ingredients in the Chicken dish are cooked together.
Dum ka murg (Vegetarians, use 600 grams of paneer instead of chicken)
1 kg Chicken (you can use drumsticks or boneless chicken too)
2 Onions sliced and fried crisp in oil or ghee
1 cup Plain Yogurt, beaten
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 cup cashew nuts
1 teaspoon Red chili powder
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric Powder
2 Tomatoes finely chopped
1/3 cup Oil
1 inch Cinnamon stick
6 Green Cardamoms
4 Black Peppercorns
1 tablespoon khus seeds
½ tablespoon sesame seeds
½ teaspoon shah jeera
½ coconut grated or a small carton of coconut milk.
1 pinch Saffron
Salt to taste
1 bunch Coriander leaves, 1 bunch Mint Leaves
6 Green chillies washed and finely chopped.
Bay leaves to line the dish.
Grind khus, sesame seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorns, coconut, tomato and cashew together. In a mixing bowl, add beaten yoghurt, crushed fried onions, ginger-garlic paste, salt, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, shahjeera, green chilli, ground ingredients, saffron, lemon juice, coriander and mint and mix it all well. Cover the bowl and let the chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. If this is left overnight, the flavour is better and the chicken is softer.
In a large cooking dish, add oil. Line the bottom with bay leaves. Arrange pieces of chicken or paneer and pour over the marinade. Cook on high for 10 minutes. Reduce heat, cover with a lid and put a weight on the lid. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until done.
Garnish with chopped coriander and mint leaves. Serve with rice or rotis.
3 tablespoons roasted fine vermicelli
3 tablespoons sugar, or as per your taste
1 liter milk
1 tablespoon raisins
2 tablespoons ground cashews or almonds
A few strands of saffron.
1 tablespoon ghee.
Chopped almonds and pistachios (optional)
Soak saffron in half a cup milk. In a sauce pan, fry vermicelli in ghee for a few seconds, add raisins and cashew/almond paste. Pour in the milk. Stir in the sugar. Bring to a boil, add saffron milk and let simmer for 15 minutes on low heat. Remove and serve hot or cool and refrigerate. You can garnish with chopped almonds and pistachios.