Saffron has been coveted throughout history—not only as a spice, but as a dye, a perfume, and a medicine—and remains one of the culinary world’s most precious commodities. Essential to the cuisines of India, Morocco, and Iran, it is also the crucial ingredient in classic European dishes, such as Spain’s paella and France’s bouillabaisse. At once floral and pleasantly bitter, saffron is reminiscent of tobacco, hay, and cedar, with nuances of pepper, citrus seed, and menthol. This elusive flavor is best coaxed out by briefly toasting the threads in a skillet or steeping them in hot water, after which cooks often crumble it directly into the pot or use it to infuse a stock or wine. Check out our best saffron recipes below—extraordinarily versatile, the spice enhances seafood, meats, and even desserts.
Roast Chicken with Saffron and Lemon
Roast chicken is a classic dish all over the world. In this beautiful version from Spain, the bird is rubbed with musky, floral saffron and stuffed with lemons and fresh rosemary before being popped in the oven.
This regional dish uses the same rice and many of the same techniques as paella—and whatever wild gamebirds are in season. Jan Peterson, owner of the Fernando de Castilla bodega and a collaborator with Equipo Navazos, cooks his on a campero, an outdoor gas range popular in the Spanish countryside. “It’s unthinkable to make arroz con perdiz without amontillado,” Peterson says. A generous amount mixed with the cooking stock lends a light sweetness to the rice. If you can find some, a mix of Iberian ham shank pieces with marrow and salt-cured pork bones intensifies the stock’s flavor. Serve with amontillado, oloroso, or palo cortado. Get the recipe for Saffron Rice with Partridges and Amontillado Sherry (Arroz con Perdiz) »
Marseille-Style Fish Stew with Aioli
A pungent garlic and olive oil aïoli both thickens and enriches this stew perfumed with saffron and white wine.
Oyster Club’s Lobster
Sweet, tender pieces of lobster and beets are topped with a rich asparagus cream sauce in this recipe from Oyster Club in Mystic, Connecticut.
Stuffed Meatballs and Chestnuts in Saffron Broth (Küfta Bozbash)
Linguine with Sardines, Raisins, and Pine Nuts (Pasta con le Sarde)
In this representative Sicilian dish, which seamlessly combines Arab and Sicilian flavors, pasta is tossed with sardines from the Mediterranean, raisins and pine nuts grown in the mountains, and a dash of saffron, which imbues the pasta with a golden color. Look for small sardines, which are sweeter and more delicate than larger ones. Get the recipe for Linguine with Sardines, Raisins, and Pine Nuts (Pasta con le Sarde) »