Saffron Recipes That Make the Most of the Precious Spice

Well worth the expense, saffron brings unparalleled flavor to a wide variety of dishes, from Spanish paellas to Indian stews to Persian desserts

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 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. Get the recipe for Roast Chicken with Saffron and Lemon »Andre Baranowski

Steamed Saffron Rice with Tahdig (Chelo ba Tahdig)

Steamed Saffron Rice with Tahdig (Chelo ba Tahdig)
Iranians usually serve chelo ba tahdig with stew, kebabs, or meat dishes. Herbs and alliums, feta, or walnuts often share the table. Get the recipe for Steamed Saffron Rice with Tahdig (Chelo ba Tahdig) »Zachary Zavislak

Shellfish Paella

paella
A well-made paella contains a feast within a single pan. Get the recipe for Shellfish Paella »Mariana Velasquez

Risotto alla Milanese

Risotto alla Milanese
Saffron gives this risotto its vibrant color and flavor. Get the recipe for Risotto alla Milanese »Todd Coleman

Baked Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken (Tahcheen-e Morgh)

Baked Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken (Tahcheen-e Morgh)
Bake this tahcheen, a saffron rice with chicken, in a clear glass baking dish so you can check on the crisping of the rice's bottom layer. Get the recipe for Baked Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken (Tahcheen-e Morgh) »Zachary Zavislak

Spaghettoni with Jasmine, Saffron, and Chamomile

Spaghettoni with Jasmine, Saffron, and Chamomile
These floral, buttery noodles from chef Antonia Klugmann at L'Argine a Vencò can be infused using either fresh or dried flowers. Steep the flowers in the butter and pasta cooking water in advance if desired, and reheat when ready to use. Any tubular pasta like bucatini or spaghetti, cooked al dente, will work. Get the recipe for Spaghettoni with Jasmine, Saffron, and Chamomile »Beth Galton

Valencian Chicken and Rabbit Paella

Paella Valenciana
Born among the orchards, gardens, and groves around Valencia, the original paella draws on ingredients from the fields rather than the sea. Rabbit, chicken, and a few types of local beans form the heart of this rustic dish. Searing them in the pan, then simmering the meat and bones for 20 minutes before adding the rice, fortifies the stock for a more intensely flavored paella. Get the recipe for Valencian Chicken and Rabbit Paella »Marcus Nilsson

Roasted Chicken, Corn, and Saffron Soup

Roasted Chicken, Corn, and Saffron Soup
A hefty dose of saffron perfumes this corn-studded chicken noodle soup. Get the recipe for Roasted Chicken, Corn, and Saffron Soup »Matt Taylor-Gross

Persian Almond Cake with Saffron and Rose Water

almond cake with rosewater and saffron
Diamonds of this floral, marzipan-like cake are crowned with a crunchy, aromatic mixture of pistachios and cardamom. Get the recipe for Persian Almond Cake with Saffron and Rose Water »Kat Craddock

Saffron Rice with Partridges and Amontillado Sherry (Arroz con Perdiz)

Saffron Rice with Partridges and Amontillado Sherry (Arroz con Perdiz)
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) »Adrian Morris

Fried Calamari with Saffron Aioli and Agrodolce

Fried Calamari with Saffron Aioli and Agrodolce
Traditional to southern Italy, agrodolce is a sweet-and-sour sauce that adds a bright, tart flavor to this fried dish. Get the recipe for Fried Calamari with Saffron Aioli and Agrodolce »Jenny Huang

Herbed Rice with Fish Tahdig (Sabzi Polo ba Tahdig-e Mahi)

Herbed Rice with Fish Tahdig (Sabzi Polo ba Tahdig-e Mahi)
Have a fishmonger remove the branzino's spine and ribs, to make the fish more malleable and prevent bones from sneaking into the rice. Get the recipe for Herbed Rice with Fish Tahdig (Sabzi Polo ba Tahdig-e Mahi) »Zachary Zavislak

Indian Fried Dough with Saffron Syrup (Jalebi)

Indian Fried Dough with Saffron Syrup (Jalebi)
Jalebis get their golden hue from a saffron-infused sugar syrup. Get the recipe for Indian Fried Dough with Saffron Syrup (Jalebi) »Alex Testere

Marseille-Style Fish Stew with Aioli

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. Get the recipe for Marseille-Style Fish Stew with Aioli »Ingalls Photography

Saffron Orange Ice Cream

Saffron Orange Ice Cream
Here, saffron and orange bitters join forces for an ambrosial, can't-put-your-finger-on-it deliciousness. Get the recipe for Saffron Orange Ice Cream »Matt Taylor-Gross

Chicken Tagine with Apricots, Figs, and Olives (Tagine Djaj Bzitoun)

Chicken Tagine with Apricots, Figs, and Olives (Tagine Djaj Bzitoun)
Briny olives, sweet apricots and figs, and tart preserved lemons flavor this aromatic North African braised chicken stew. Get the recipe for Chicken Tagine with Apricots, Figs, and Olives (Tagine Djaj Bzitoun) »Landon Nordeman

Persian Lentil Rice with Lavash Tahdig (Adas Polo)

Persian Lentil Rice with Lavash Tahdig (Adas Polo)
A thin layer of lavash bread can be cooked beneath the rice to serve as a tahdig. Press it flat against the pot for even cooking. Get the recipe for Persian Lentil Rice with Lavash Tahdig (Adas Polo) »Zachary Zavislak

Seafood Pasta

Frutti di Mare
The recipe for this shellfish-laden pasta comes from chef Michael Chiarello. Get the recipe for Seafood Pasta »Michael Kraus

Beef Broth with Liver Dumplings and Saffron

Beef Broth with Liver Dumplings and Saffron
This dish is known in Slovenia as "Sunday soup," a reference to the long simmering time it takes to extract flavor from beef bones for the broth. Get the recipe for Beef Broth with Liver Dumplings and Saffron »Chris Court

Oyster Club's Lobster

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. Get the recipe for Oyster Club's Lobster »Farideh Sadeghin

Khan Plov (Chicken Pilaf in a Lavash Crust)

khan plov (chicken pilaf in a lavash crust)
Like many rice pilafs from the region, this one is spattered with saffron-infused water to create patches of fragrant yellow rice. The whole pilaf is wrapped in butter-saturated lavash to create a crispy, golden-brown casing that's cracker thin. Any shape of lavash will work—just trim the pieces as needed into strips, rectangles, or ovals to fit the pot. Get the recipe for Khan Plov (Chicken Pilaf in a Lavash Crust) »Jason Lang

Stuffed Meatballs and Chestnuts in Saffron Broth (Küfta Bozbash)

stuffed meatballs and chestnuts in saffron broth (küfta bozbash)
Made with a simple broth steeped with saffron and fresh mint, this traditional Azeri soup has delicate flavors. Chickpeas, chestnuts, and tender lamb-and-rice meatballs filled with dried fruit give it heartiness, and garnishes of radishes, scallions, and red onion add texture and crunch. Get the recipe for Stuffed Meatballs and Chestnuts in Saffron Broth (Küfta Bozbash) »Jason Lang

Honey-Braised Lamb Shanks (Mrouzia)

Honey-Braised Lamb Shanks (Mrouzia)
Lamb shanks are braised for hours in a sumptuous sauce of honey, almonds, and raisins in this centuries-old Moroccan dish served at the restaurant Mansouria. Get the recipe for Honey-Braised Lamb Shanks »Landon Nordeman

Saffron and Cider

Saffron and Cider
Exotic saffron bitters and apple cider add warm, earthy flavor to this pisco cocktail created by Litty Mathew of Greenbar Craft Distillery in Los Angeles. Get the recipe for Saffron and Cider »Ingalls Photography

Paella with Chorizo, Chicken, and Shrimp (Paella Mixta)

Paella with Chorizo, Chicken, and Shrimp (Paella Mixta)
This over-the-top Americanized paella gets its smoky kick from paprika and chorizo. Why "Americanized"? Traditional paella valenciana, as documented by David Rosengarten in The Art of Paella, usually contains rabbit, snails, and chicken. Get the recipe for Paella with Chorizo, Chicken, and Shrimp (Paella Mixta) »Andre Baranowski

Baked Rice Cake with Ham and Cheese

Baked Rice Cake with Ham and Cheese
This easy cake version of arancini is a unique spin on Sicily's popular fried rice balls. At Caffe Latino in Palermo, saffron-hued risotto-style rice is spread in a pan, layered with thinly shaved ham and mozzarella, and baked until crunchy and crisp on the outside. Get the recipe for Baked Rice Cake with Ham and Cheese »William Hereford

Linguine with Sardines, Raisins, and Pine Nuts (Pasta con le Sarde)

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) »William Hereford

Almond-Cardamom Pakhlava

almond-cardamom pakhlava
At Zulya Kazimova's bakery in Baku, pakhlava—the Azeri version of baklava, which she cuts into a diamond shape—is made using 14 layers of a dense yeasted dough rolled out so thinly and painstakingly that it becomes translucent. For home cooks, prepared phyllo dough produces a wonderfully crisp, lighter, and flakier version. To defrost frozen phyllo quickly, set it in a microwave (still wrapped in its plastic packaging) on the defrost setting for about 30 seconds, then rotate the package and repeat. Get the recipe for Almond-Cardamom Pakhlava »Jason Lang

Sicilian Seafood Stew with Almonds and Couscous

Sicilian Seafood Stew with Almonds and Couscous
In western Sicily, couscous is often served as an appetizer. Here, a bounty of local seafood—swordfish, shrimp, calamari, and mussels—is piled on top for a hearty main course. Get the recipe for Sicilian Seafood Stew with Almonds and Couscous »William Hereford

Moroccan Pigeon Pie (B'stilla)

Moroccan Pigeon Pie (B'stilla)
Pigeon is traditionally used to make this slightly sweet, savory Moroccan pie, but chicken thighs, quail, or Cornish game hens make excellent substitutes. Get the recipe for Moroccan Pigeon Pie (B'stilla) »Andre Baranowski

Kashmiri Saffron Tea

Kashmiri Saffron Tea
Make your own decaf tea using ingredients from your spice rack. We especially like this saffron tea, garnished, as it typically is in India, with almonds. Get the recipe for Kashmiri Saffron Tea »Luci Gutiérrez

Ricotta Pancakes in Cardamom Syrup (Malpura)

Ricotta Pancakes in Cardamom Syrup (Malpura)
These creamy pancakes soaked in cardamom syrup and sprinkled with pistachios make an ethereal dessert. Get the recipe for Ricotta Pancakes in Cardamom Syrup (Malpura) »Ariana Lindquist

Sweet Yogurt with Saffron and Pistachios (Shrikhand)

Sweet Yogurt with Saffron and Pistachios (Shrikhand)
Super-thick, strained yogurt becomes a tempting dessert with the addition of a little sugar and fragrant saffron. Get the Recipe for Sweet Yogurt with Saffron and Pistachios (Shrikhand) »Todd Coleman

Sopa de Habas (Fava Bean Soup)

Sopa de Habas
This Mexican soup gets its flavor from an aromatic base of tomatoes, garlic, and onions—called a recado—that is puréed and fried before the beans go into the pot. Get the recipe for Sopa de Habas »Todd Coleman

Kefta Tagine (Lamb Meatball and Egg Tagine)

Lamb Meatball and Egg Tagine
Cumin- and paprika-spiced kefta (lamb meatballs), baked eggs, and kalamata olives are the hallmarks of this elegant tagine from the Moroccan restaurant Le Timgad in Paris. Get the recipe for Kefta Tagine (Lamb Meatball and Egg Tagine) »Landon Nordeman