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Saffron and gastronomy

  • Fleurs en gros plans

    Saffron is the king of the spices.  It has been so since antiquity (4,000-4,500 BC).  Why?  Because, apart from its exceptional colouring qualities, this magical spice is able to harmonise the flavour of foodstuffs, to sublimate and improve them, before adding its own very special, smooth, enchanting taste.

    From there on, the doors are open to a creative space for culinary artists.

    At the same time, the use of saffron in the traditional family kitchen gives scope for new inventions.

    Today, even for professional restaurateurs, the culinary virtues of real saffron have yet to be rediscovered.  Chefs seem to have resigned themselves to work with whatever they can find in the way of spices.

    Pistils secs en gros planHowever, in Alsace, saffron has been known since medieval times.  It is used, as are other spices, to accompany the traditional daily diet.  Saffron rice, apple and fig tart with saffron, Florentines with grapes and saffron, omelettes, fresh-water fish … etc.

    It was used for three reasons - cooking, colouring and therapeutic - up until the Renaissance.

    Its image then fell into disuse from the 18th century onwards, in favour of monocultures which are less exacting in terms of work.
    Today, saffron is essentially used for cooking.  For other purposes, solutions more suitable for our time, more profitable, have been substituted for its colouring and medicinal qualities.

    However, this spice is waiting to be almost completely rediscovered, insofar as its culture has taken on a new lease of life in the last few years.

     

  • Unfortunately, an enormous proportion of adulterated saffron is circulating in France these days.  
    The fraud department estimates the staggering figure of 86%.

    One single reason inspires the fraudsters.  It’s the most expensive foodstuff in the world.  Which attracts the greed of speculators and opportunists of all types.

    There are many ways of cheating.  These include powders which contain everything except saffron; saffron from pistils which are too old, and so have no culinary interest; pistils from other flowers which look like saffron stigma, such as those of the Safflower … etc.

    To finish it all, it’s even possible to cheat with genuine saffron pistils, simply by not drying them properly, to increase the weight and so the profit.

    These frauds exercised on something which is seen as a luxury can only accentuate the wrong impression of a product which is too expensive for the average consumer.

    Unfortunately, an enormous proportion of adulterated saffron is circulating in France these days. 

    The fraud department estimates the staggering figure of 86%.

    One single reason inspires the fraudsters.  It’s the most expensive foodstuff in the world.  Which attracts the greed of speculators and opportunists of all types.

    There are many ways of cheating.  These include powders which contain everything except saffron; saffron from pistils which are too old, and so have no culinary interest; pistils from other flowers which look like saffron stigma, such as those of the Safflower … etc.

    To finish it all, it’s even possible to cheat with genuine saffron pistils, simply by not drying them properly, to increase the weight and so the profit.

    These frauds exercised on something which is seen as a luxury can only accentuate the wrong impression of a product which is too expensive for the average consumer.

  • Pure, young saffron (vintage) is used in cooking in homeopathic amounts.

    So far as the Château saffron is concerned, a single gramme is enough to colour, flavour and give an unforgettable taste to forty plates of rice.

    For liquids, sauces, tea, milk, cream, stock, alcohol, wine ...  0.2gramme / litre is the recommended amount.
    Under these conditions, it is easy for professionals to understand that it is very easy to make a profit on a renowned luxury product.

    It’s probably the essential reason which today allows Château saffron to delight the tastebuds of gourmets at Marc Haebelin’s table, at the same time as those of any rushed employee, quickly enjoying a simple saffron tea – from the Château, of course – before hurrying to the office.

    Saffron is not a spice kept just for a wealthy clientele, nor a foodstuff destined only for top-level gastronomy.

    The message seems to be on the right track for assimilation today : if not, ask me, I’ll give you some good addresses !

  • If you look at cookery all over the world, you can easily find hundreds of recipes with saffron as their base.  The best-known are: Paëlla, Bouillabaisse and Risotto.
    It is always better to use saffron stigma rather than powder, as you will be nearer to the authentic product.  A few hours of warm infusion before you finish preparing your menu is enough; the ideal is a cold infusion for 24 hours.

    Résultat de l'infusion de safranInfusing is very important, because the chemical nature of saffron does not react immediately; it takes a little time to unveil its subtleties.

    There are some tips to enhance its flavour, for example with fatty foods where its colouring power improves with the presence of alcohol, just as a slightly acid liquid will accelerate the infusion.

    That said, once it has been incorporated into your menu, saffron’s qualities continue to develop and even several days later, your saffron-flavoured dish can only improve.

     

  • Using the right amount is essential.  If it is not enough, you miss out on a unique, subtle flavour; too much and you will be unfairly disappointed.  You will accidentally spoil the taste of the other ingredients.  Your meal will be inedible, and what is more, ruinous.

    The many cookery books are not of much help to you.  The amount of saffron to use is often expressed in ‘pinches’.  

    Rest assured, even for the uninitiated, there are some simple and precise techniques.

    For example : the amount for liquids.  This is an infusion of 1gramme of pistils in six soup-spoons of any liquid.  Keep this infusion in the ‘fridge for use the next day, or within a few days.  In this way, every time you want to make a recipe with saffron, you will know that each soup-spoonful will give you one-tenth of a gramme.  (one-sixth)


    For the domestic cook, the use of saffron can become a daily event without its becoming ruinously expensive.  Think of all you can do in the kitchen with only one gramme of saffron.

    And to have it regularly in your spice jar, why not plant a few bulbs in your garden?

    A host of ingredients go wonderfully well with saffron.  All the vegetables have an affinity for it: leeks, pumpkin, fennel, carrots, potatoes, asparagus, all the cabbages … etc.

    Many fruits, too, are enhanced by using saffron: pineapple, raspberries, peaches, apples, pears, strawberries … etc.

    All the meats are also improved, especially white meats and offal.

    Obviously, fish and shellfish take on the flavour well, whether steamed, grilled, poached or in other ways …

    Soups, broths, consommés or cream soups all invite you to try a host of recipes: easy, traditional or with a touch of the exotic – according to your tastes – using only a few tenths of a gramme.  

    To finish, many desserts can be prepared with saffron.  They will surprise even fans of traditional sweet delicacies, such as saffron ice-cream, which is just delightful; saffron syrup in a fruit salad will change your mind about this dessert, often ordinary, and too sickly; and why not a drizzle of saffron syrup on a simple square of white coconut chocolate …?

    Finally, desserts is the best way to show your friends, and your children, those much more exacting consumers, the infinite flavours of this wonderful floral medium, isn't it ?