Sunday, February 29, 2004

Perfect Saffron Rice and Chicken Porridge with Saffron and Ginger

This weekend I fixed a quick batch of saffron rice with peas for our lunch.

2. cups long grain rice, rinsed
1/4 c. milk, heated to boil in microwave
10 strands of saffron
1 tsp sea salt
2. cups water
3 tbsp. butter
1 c. frozen sweet peas, defrosted.

Add the saffron to the hot milk, stir well until the milk has a bright yellow color and set aside. Actually, if you don't want to use milk you can use chicken broth or white wine, just bring the liquid to a good heat before adding the strands. But DO NOT boil the strands. Bring the water to boil. Add the rice and salt. Reduce heat to low. Add the butter and the saffron milk. Cook covered over low heat for 10-15 minutes. Fluff the rice when cooked through and add the peas. Serve while warm with lemon-baked chicken breasts.

There's something powerful about saffron. I'm drawn to food that's blessed with the daffodil color of these little dark orange strands. When I eat rice flavored with the best quality saffron (I found some pretty excellent stuff at The Spanish Table at Seattle's Pike market. Also, Trader Joes has fairly decent saffron at a good price), the flavor is not overwhelming, but its essence graces the food with mild warmth. I did a little internet research on saffron. Saffron's use in cooking can be dated back to ancient Babylonia and China. Saffron comes from a species of crocus. The strands that we buy a premium prices are actually the stigma harvested from inside the blossoms according to one of the sources I read it can take up to 85,000 flowers to produce a pound of saffron. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans also prized saffron as a flavoring. I remember reading a recipe for an ancient Roman sweet that called for honey, saffron, dates and nuts.

From my childhood memories, I associate saffron with the chicken porridge my mother made for me (actually she wasn't much of a cook and this was one of the few dishes that she did well. Sorry, Mom). This dish usually appeared when someone was sick or had a cold. The sunny warmth of the saffron is complimented by the warm spice of fresh ginger root. I think I actually made this about two months ago on a particularly cold and dreary day.

1 cut up fryer (Kosher or free-range)
4 sq. inches of fresh ginger root, peeled and julienned
1 yellow onion sliced thin
2 cloves of garlic minced
3 tbsp. Canola oil
14 threads of saffron soaked in 1/4 cup of warm chicken broth
10 c. water
Salt and white pepper to taste
1/3 c. fish sauce (patis)
2 Limes cut in wedges
1 c jasmine rice

Chopped scallions to garnish.

Salt and pepper the chicken. In a large frying pan heat up 2 tbsps of oil (medium-high heat). Fry the chicken so that they are browned on both sides. Remove from heat and set aside. In a large soup pot add remaining tbsp of oil and heat to medium-high. Add the onions garlic and ginger. Sautéed for a few minutes (3-4). Add the chicken and water. Reduce heat to simmer and add rice. Cook for 1 hour. About 20 minutes before serving, add the saffron and chicken broth. Stir the porridge well. Serve with chopped scallions and lime wedges to garnish.


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