Monks clothing is (or was) dyed with it and Cleopatra reportedly bathed in water containing it. It used to be made into teas to relive “melancholy ” and, in ancient Persia, was woven into tapestries. It is saffron, which has always been expensive because it takes a harvest of fifty to seventy five thousand flowers to end up with one pound of dry saffron. Only the stigma of the plant, the saffron crocus, is used;
it is hand-harvested and there are only three stigmas per flower. Saffron is available either as threads or as powder and is often adulterated with beets, pomegranete juice, tumeric or paprika which is why consumers are advised to buy the threads. I buy it in either form and have probably bought the bad stuff from time to time because the smell is so subtle I can’t discern it.
Saffron imparts a yellow color to dishes. It’s used in kulfi , (Indian ice cream), arroz con pollo, bouillabaisse, mayonnaise, and many other soups, stews and rice dishes. We had friends who were excellent cooks but poor planners, often starting to make dinner at 11 pm. By then the guests had been drinking for hours and were thinking of bed, not food. Once our friends made paella that arrived on the table well after midnight. We did not stay for dessert that probably turned up about 2 in the morning.
Note: No need to get fussy and insist on a paella pan. I use a large round enameled metal pan with a wide open top that works perfectly.
About 3 T olive oil
1 ½ – 2 lbs chicken pieces, skinless with bone in. (Thighs, half-breast cut into two pieces work well)
6 cups cooked rice (I use Uncle Ben’s) cooked according to package directions. Substitute chicken broth for the water. Do not add butter or salt.
Saffron – if using threads, dissolve in about 1 T hot water.
1 package frozen peas
2 roasted red peppers cut in strips. Use a good quality brand from a jar.
1 lb. chorizo (you can substitute kielbasa but chorizo is the traditional sausage). Cut into ½ inch chunks.
1 lb fresh mussels washed and debearded
One dozen fresh clams, (Littlenecks or cockles,) rinsed
1 lb raw shrimp cooked just so they turn pink
Brown the chicken all over in the olive oil. (This can be done a day ahead and the chicken reheated before going into the paella pan.)
Make the rice (can be done ahead the day you plan to serve the dish. Add the saffron (a pinch should do it. Just mix the powder or dissolved threads into the warm rice.) Put into paella pan (see note about pan.)
Defrost the peas (undercook) and add to the mixture.
Add the roasted red peppers and the chorizo and mix it together. Shortly before serving, add the mussels, clams and cooked shrimp. If the rice seems dry, add a few tablespoons of chicken broth and fluff.
Cover with foil and warm in a 300 oven for about 40 minutes. When chicken and rice are hot to the touch, it’s ready. Unleash your inner food stylist and position some of the shellfish on top. Put a rose in your teeth and serve.