Saffron ke saath suhana safar

Yesterday there was a gift waiting for me at home. A chocolate and saffron cake! It was a...

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Saffron ke saath suhana safar

Yesterday there was a gift waiting for me at home. A chocolate and saffron cake! It was a perfect marbled effect with dark brown and golden orange swirls. Did I like it? Yes! One slice of it was quite an intense moment with spice. So now I am thinking why not warm some strands of kesar, crush in my mini-mortar and add some milk to it. Use this orange coloured intensely flavoured milk to knead some pizza dough? No, I am not narrating any recent nightmare to you (well, creative stuff like this comes in chef’s dreams!) but a genuine want to research some extended uses of saffron away from the regular kulfis, Moghlai, tikkas, biryanis, cookies and cream sauces…. To continue, if we can have chilli oil, why not saffron oil? That’s a good idea too! 

By all means use your share of saffron in kheer, ice cream, rasmalai, pedhas and kulfi but never forget that these dried stigmas of a mauve-coloured flower are precious because each flower contains only three stigmas. These threads must be picked from each flower by hand and more than 75,000 of these flowers are needed to produce just five hundred grams of saffron filaments. No wonder then that it is the most expensive spice in the world. 

Saffron or the colour kesariya is an Indian’s privilege. Our Tricolour proudly displays it at the top stamping it as the colour for patriotism for eternity. Our northern most state Jammu and Kashmir is the greatest producer of the spice. Available in threads and ground, your best bet is to go with saffron threads. Only ensure that you purchase it from a reputed shop because adulterated saffron is known to have coloured babycorn filaments. Saffron does not spoil, but it will simply lose increasingly more and more of its flavour with age. Recent clinical trials have uncovered the antioxidant properties of saffron and shown its potential as an anti-ageing agent. However saffron has been used as a beauty ingredient for ages. In the olden days women would apply a paste on their faces as it was known to clear the skin of pimples and rashes, soothe the skin and give it a golden glow. 

Someone asked me to describe the taste of saffron at a recent live show. Well, I tell you we cannot put saffron’s flavour in words! That is not surprising when you consider the fact that there is not one single ingredient known to us that can be substituted for saffron. Not one. If someone advises you to substitute turmeric for saffron, he or she is telling you to create a completely different dish! So forget the substitution and go for the real thing (best is to buy saffron with colouring strength of 200 and above). 

As a chef I have realized that when working with saffron threads, avoid using a whisk. Avoid using wooden spoons that tend to absorb the saffron. Don’t worry about using saffron to flavour more than one dish being served at the same meal. It could be a Kesari Aloo (with saffron infused in yogurt gravy) with Kesar Ni Rotli (saffron flavoured bread dotted with nuts) wound up with Kesariya Kachoris UP style (mawa kachoris, deep fried and served steeped in sweet saffron syrup)! Just be careful not to over saffron your dish, it will be difficult to salvage. Add little by little and remember the flavour and colour intensifies on standing.