Demystifying Saffron: Mark Bittman Explains The Pricey Spice
In the latest installment of NPR's Cook Your Cupboard, New York Times columnist and cookbook author Mark Bittman sheds a little light on saffron — a spice that has been stumping Lennet Radke in Wisconsin. Radke, who received a little jar in a contest, says she's never really used it. The stuff isn't cheap. And that knowledge alone can stifle experimentation.
Bittman concedes that it's exotic and expensive. But also, he says, "it should be used."
So what is it? The stringy red spice is actually the dried stigma of a saffron flower. It has a distinct flavor — and turns dishes a distinctly rich, yellow color. (For that reason, it's also used as a dye.)
Saffron is most famously used in Bouillabaisse (a French fish stew), but Bittman says there are some really basic things you can do with it. "The simplest thing to do with saffron is just make rice," he says.
He's not really one for recipes, but instead offers a few basic methods:
Bittman also offers a few tips about cardamom. It's on the sweeter side of the spice spectrum and, he says, "turns something quite ordinary into something special."
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