Spain is the largest producer of saffron or azafran> where it is grown mainly in the high plateau between Madrid and Andalucia known as La Mancha.
These days saffron floods the world from the Middle East and growers in Spain struggle to survive the competition.
The Moors brought saffron to Spain over a thousand years ago, and its use has never been so popular. Itís the queen of the spices, expensive and sought after and therefore open to corruption.
Saffron powder has been known to have fillers added. When buying powder it should be a dark/red orange colour, never yellow. The authentic powder is just as good as threads and more so if youíre pushed for cooking time.
Saffron threads need to be steeped for at least twenty minutes before use, and go on developing aroma and flavour for around 12 hours, powder can be added directly to cooking as the process of development of colour and taste has been started by the powdering process.
There is no substitute for the flavour of saffron, colour additives can be used but the flavour hasnít been able to be simulated.
Itís better to use saffron as the main spice to really appreciate its delicate and unique flavour, and itís equally as delicious in sweet or savoury dishes.
Saffron comes from the bright red/orange stigma of the purple saffron crocus crocus sativus which flowers in the autumn. Each flower produces three stigmas that need hand picking out of the flower. They are then processed by drying and toasting slightly.
Itís estimated that 14,000 stigmas are needed to produce about 25grammes of saffron or around 150,000 crocus flowers to get just one kilo of saffron, and that one kilo takes around 40 hours of manual labour.
Lime and Saffron Chicken Recipe
4 chicken portions (very fresh)
finely grated rind and juice of 3 limes (or 2 lemons)
good pinch of saffron threads
4tbsp olive oil
2 tsbp clear honey
2 tsp fresh chopped thyme (or 1tsp dried)
2tbsp chopped fresh mint
salt and pepper
25g flaked almonds
Prick chicken and place in a dish, sprinkle with lime rind and juice, cover and marinade for 2-3 days in the fridge.
Turn the chicken twice a day.
When ready to start cooking, put the saffron to soak in 4tbsp boiling water for at least 20 minutes then strain. Reserve the liquid.
Melt the butter and oil in a frying pan and add drained chicken, fry until golden on both sides.
Mix the honey with the saffron liquid and any remaining marinade liquid and pour over the cooking chicken, adding the thyme, half the mint and salt and pepper.
Cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
Toast the almonds just before serving, toss together with remaining mint to use as a garnish.
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