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 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.
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) »
A well-made paella contains a feast within a single pan.
Get the recipe for Shellfish Paella
Saffron gives this risotto its vibrant color and flavor.
Get the recipe for Risotto alla Milanese »
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) »
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 »
Paella Valenciana Recipe
Roasted Chicken, Corn, and Saffron Soup
Get the recipe for Najmieh Batmanglij’s
almond cake with saffron and rose water.
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) »
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 »
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) »
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.
No-Cook Saffron-Orange Ice Cream
Briny olives, sweet apricots and figs, and tart preserved lemons flavor this aromatic North African braised chicken stew.
With Bread Tahdig:
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) »
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 »
Sweet, tender pieces of lobster and beets are topped with a rich asparagus cream sauce in this recipe from Oyster Club in Mystic, Connecticut.
Chicken Pilaf in a Lavash Crust (Khan Plov)
Stuffed Meatballs and Chestnuts in Saffron Broth (Küfta Bozbash)
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 »
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
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) »
Baked Rice Cake with Ham and Cheese
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) »
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.
Get the recipe for Almond-Cardamom Pakhlava »
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 »
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) »
Ricotta pancakes soaked in cardamom syrup and sprinkled with pistachios make a creamy, ethereal dessert.
Get the recipe for Ricotta Pancakes in Cardamom Syrup (Malpura) »
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) »
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 »
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) »