A humble cup of white rice can be transformed into an addictively crunchy accent to a weeknight meal!
I love rice. I often make a big pot of rice on the weekend and doll it out in various incarnations throughout the week. While my usual house rice is a nutty, brown, jasmine rice, I love many other types of rice as well, include the occasion guilty pleasure of a flavorful white rice. I had some white jasmine rice left over in the pantry after making another dish, and so I decided it was time for it to make its second appearance.
I also love saffron, so flavoring my simple but fragrant white rice with this exotic spice seemed like a good move. Saffron tastes like nothing else in the world, and I’ve always struggled to find the right words; its flavor has been likened to hay, mushrooms, flowers, and medicine! Perhaps it is a little of all of these, and something else unique to saffron. If you have never used it before, start with less before adding more if in doubt.
This spice is also really pretty, imparting a lovely golden hue to everything it touches, and when you use white instead of brown rice, the color is more pronounced.
Saffron rice is delicious on its own with its beautiful color, just add a pinch the pot before you cook it. However, cooked with a crispy crust, it is even better. A favorite dish of my inn guests was an individual crispy rice cake with a poached egg on top. It’s a simple dish, but one that is memorable, especially if enhanced with the saffron.
Saffron has a special place in my heart. For many years, beginning in our most financially challenged days, my brother Floyd (a really good cook) and I would give each other little tins of saffron for our birthdays. It is expensive, and when on a tight budget, that $10 represented a gram of saffron or a large bag of vegetables! We each treasured the gift, and sought out special dishes to highlight this spice. Even when the cost was not as big a sacrifice, we continued this gift, because buying saffron is still a special thing!
I lost my brother a few years back, and still have the last tin he gave me, I keep it on my spice rack where I can look at it, and once in a while, sacrifice a thread or two for a special dish. Otherwise I usually just buy my own now.
Imagine my joy when this week, on of his daughters gave me saffron for my birthday! Thank you Jess! Of course, that called for a dish to feature this treasure!
The most expensive spice
Saffron is expensive because it is unbelievably labor intensive to harvest. The saffron threads are the stamens and stigma of a tiny crocus plant, Crocus sativus, and the only way to harvest is by plucking them out by hand. It takes about 150 flowers to produce 1 gram of dried saffron threads.
You get what you pay for
Although saffron is grown in many countries, you will most likely find either Persian or Spanish varieties most widely available. I sometimes find Italian as well in a specialty market. The Persian is a little more pronounced in flavor, but they are interchangeable in recipes. Beware of really cheap saffron, it does not exist. Unfortunately there are frauds out there! If it is too good to be true, you are right. Everything from colored tree bark to shredded flower petals have been substituted.
Luckily, a little pinch is all you need or want in a dish, so a gram might last a long time.
So, if you are wondering what to get me for my birthday next year…
Crispy Saffron Jasmine Rice
1 cup jasmine or other white rice
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 pinch of saffron
Place the rice in a bowl of water to soak for a half hour. This will start to soften the rice.
While rice is soaking, bring a couple of quarts of water to boil. Once soaked, place the rice in a mesh strainer and drain it, add it back to the bowl and fill with water again to soak for a minute, swish the rice around, then rinse it again. Do this four or five times or until the water runs clear. You are trying to remove as much of the surface starch as possible.
Sprinkle the saffron threads in a custard cup or small bowl and add a quarter cup of the boiling water. Let this set for 15 minutes. The water should almost immediately begin to color. So pretty!
Once rinsed, put the rice in the boiling water, heavily salted as you would for pasta, and cook until it is al dente, still some rawness on the inside, about 5 minutes. Rinse in cold water.
Place the rice in a bowl and add the saffron and every drop of the liquid. I put a little of the rice in the saffron bowl and mix it around in the bowl to remove every drop and strand. Taste the rice, add a pinch more salt if needed, and mix everything up well.
Heat an 8″ non-stick or cast-iron skillet over medium high, and add 1 tablespoon of the oil and both tablespoons of the butter. Swirl around and add the rice mix. Neaten it up around the edges, and with the handle-end of a wooden spoon, make five or six holes through the rice directly to the bottom of the pot. This releases steam from the bottom of the pot allowing the rice to crisp up nicely (I do the same when I make paella and want that traditional crispy bottom). The holes will disappear by the time you turn this out.
Cover, and let this cook on medium high for about five minutes, then reduce the heat and let cook for 20 to 25 minutes or so on low, uncovered. Drizzle a little more of the oil around the outside edge if it appears the pan is getting dry, you want to continue to see the oil at the edges because you don’t want the rice to stick!
When the edges are nice and crispy, it is time to turn out. Take a breath; turning anything out like this from cake to casserole always involves a bit of kitchen bravery.
Very gently nudge the sides with a spatula. You should start to feel it give a bit. Give it a shake. Place your serving plate over the top of the pan and use a kitchen towel to cover the handle across to the other side of the pan to protect your hands. With confidence, simply invert the whole thing, and, holding tightly to each side of the pan, give it a shake. Show it who’s boss! You will hear a plop.
Exhale, and remove the pan. Gently center the cake in the center of the plate.
You can top with a little parsley if you like, or, in summer, sprinkle a few flowers around. You don’t want to cover up too much of the color!
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