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Jenise

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Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Jenise » Sat Jun 02, 2007 5:50 pm

The painted walls at the ruins at Knossos on the Greek island of Crete contain pictorial evidence that saffron may have originated in this area in very very distant times. Certainly the name of its parent flower, the crocus, is Greek even though the name saffron comes from Arabic, where the spice is known as az-za 'fran; that name is often explained to derive from a Semitic root signifying “be yellow” or “become yellow”.

Saffron is the red stigma of the crocus, the female sexual organ. There is also a male sexual organ which is yellow, but it has no flavor (though it is sometimes included in saffrons of lower quality). It takes approximately 75,000 flowers to net a pound of this precious spice. No wonder it's so expensive.

Fortunately, one needs to use only a little.

Valued in many cuisines, today the largest commercial producers, by country, are Spain and Iran. In recent centuries past, desire for the spice encouraged crocus farming in Europe, where it actually grew fairly well. The town of Saffron Walden in Sussex, England, actually got it's name from local saffron production in the 16th century. But today, the only commercial grower of saffron in Northern Europe is the small town of Mund, Switzerland. As a result of past production in various parts of Europe, though, edible crocus escaped into the wild and is now easily confused with, as luck always has it, an entirely poisonous variety of crocus called autumn crocus.

Though used more extensively in the cuisines of Central Asia and India, the world's most famous saffron dishes are European, namely France's bouillabaise and Spain's paella. And the latter has just a little bit to do with why we chose saffron for a featured ingredient: it seemed a nice pairing with Wine Focus's putting the limelight on sherry.

For additional interest and variation, we're also including paprika be that a sweet paprika like Hungarian or a smoked Pimenton of Spain. This is also a good chance to encourage anyone who has never ventured beyond the tasteless crappy supermarket McCormick that your mother used to sprinkle on her devilled eggs to actually seek out a really high quality paprika. I keep several in my pantry, little cans of the smoked Spanish variety in both mild and hot, and two Hungarians I buy from Penzey's: a sweet and one called half-sharp. The latter is just what it sounds like, intensely sharp but not quite hot. What, you say, you buy the Szeged brand available at a lot of grocery stores these days? Well, that beats McCormick's to be sure, but is it as good as the fresh stuff from Penzey's? Not even half.

Buy the good stuff--it's inexpensive and it will open a whole new world of paprika opportunities for you. It's not a decoration, it's a true spice, and a very versatile and useful one. It's not only the principal ingredient in many braises and stews, like Hungary's famous paprikash, as a supporting player it gives a fabulous fruitiness to red chile dominant Mexican and Southwestern dishes.

As usual, please join the conversation by discussing your favorite uses for these wonderful ingredients.

And if you don't have them on hand? Time to go shopping!
Last edited by Jenise on Mon Jul 16, 2007 4:42 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Cynthia Wenslow

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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Cynthia Wenslow » Sun Jun 03, 2007 2:49 pm

Paprikash is comfort food in my house. I use the recipe from a friend's Hungarian grandmother. Well, it's more of a method than a recipe.

Her grandmother was from the Hungarian/Austrian border region and insisted that no sour cream be used in this. Like most things, I am sure there are a lot of regional variations.


Ingredients:

Chicken thighs and breasts, bone-in, skinned and individually salted.
At least one good sized onion, I usually use two
Hungarian hot peppers
Celery, few stalks
Carrots
Celery root (celeriac)
Paprika-- I use a mix of half sweet, half hot
Bacon fat-- a couple of tablespoons

To make:

1. Melt bacon fat in a heavy Dutch oven. Chop the vegetables uniformly and add them to the Dutch oven and cook until onion is transparent.

2. While heat is still on, add paprika to the pot (we usually start with a couple of tablespoons and go from there. The vegetables should take on a red cast). Stir over heat for a minute or so, to release the fragrance of the paprika.

3. Add a cup or so of water to the pot, and add the chicken pieces. Then add more water, until the chicken pieces are mostly submerged.

4. Simmer with lid mostly on until chicken is done.

5. Serve with kluski noodles, egg noodles, spaetzle, or rice.

You can make this in as large a batch as you like. It reheats well and freezes great. I tend to make it in batches of 6 breasts and 8 thighs, then freeze it for fast lunches or dinners.
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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Jenise » Mon Jun 04, 2007 12:46 pm

Cynthia, I just adore paprikash. Didn't grow up with it, but when a girlfriend started dating a crazy Hungarian (few men have ever caused so many women so much pain, he thought he was Warren Beatty) I got to taste a number of versions of it (pork, chicken, beef), as this was his signature dish. I always liked the chicken best. In lieu of Hungarian peppers, he always threw in a few whole fresh jalapenos that he'd fish out again before serving.
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Jon Peterson

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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Jon Peterson » Tue Jun 05, 2007 12:47 pm

How long would you say Saffron lasts? I have quite a bit that my Mom bought in Spain - both natural and powerded. A little seems to go such a long way I may never finish it.
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Paul Winalski

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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Paul Winalski » Tue Jun 05, 2007 1:50 pm

Jon Peterson wrote:How long would you say Saffron lasts? I have quite a bit that my Mom bought in Spain - both natural and powerded. A little seems to go such a long way I may never finish it.


If you keep it in a sealed container (best would be a sealable plastic bag from which you've expelled as much air as possible) in a cool, dark place, it'll keep for a year or more.

-Paul W.
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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Jenise » Tue Jun 05, 2007 2:46 pm

Jon Peterson wrote:How long would you say Saffron lasts? I have quite a bit that my Mom bought in Spain - both natural and powerded. A little seems to go such a long way I may never finish it.


What Paul said, Jon. Mine is in little tiny jars with corked closures, and probably two years old. Fresher would be better (it always is with dry spices), but this still packs a good saffron punch.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Robert J. » Tue Jun 05, 2007 11:05 pm

I have a HUGE container of Turkish saffron that my mother brought back from a recent trip (among other wonderful goodies). It is not as fragrant as the Spanish variety but it is very good for coloring purposes. Mixed with a more fragrant saffron, it does wonders for the color of paella.

rwj
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Randy Buckner

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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Randy Buckner » Wed Jun 06, 2007 12:19 am

I made a paprika dish tonight -- Bigos, a Polish soup/stew that is terrific with dark rye bread. I like to use Penzeys Hungarian Sweet Kulonleges Paprika.
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Jenise

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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Jenise » Wed Jun 06, 2007 4:06 pm

Robert J. wrote:I have a HUGE container of Turkish saffron that my mother brought back from a recent trip (among other wonderful goodies). It is not as fragrant as the Spanish variety but it is very good for coloring purposes. Mixed with a more fragrant saffron, it does wonders for the color of paella.

rwj


Paella's on my near term horizons. It's a dish I've made often enough so I am not going to learn anything from it, but last week I bought two new paella pans. There's a local importer/wholesaler of kitchen and household stuff that has a sale once a year to get rid of the stuff they used for demo's and photography for peanuts. They don't otherwise sell retail. (Last year I saw things I bought at their sale for $5 and $10 in Williams Sonoma's catalog at $30 and $80--the prices are THAT good). Anyway, This time they had paella pans, a 20" and a 25", very high quality with thick sandwiched bottoms for $20 so I bought them both. Love the idea that I can now make paella for a crowd.

Bucko, the soup sounds good. What else is in it?
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Robert J. » Wed Jun 06, 2007 10:05 pm

Jenise wrote:Paella's on my near term horizons. It's a dish I've made often enough so I am not going to learn anything from it, but last week I bought two new paella pans. There's a local importer/wholesaler of kitchen and household stuff that has a sale once a year to get rid of the stuff they used for demo's and photography for peanuts. They don't otherwise sell retail. (Last year I saw things I bought at their sale for $5 and $10 in Williams Sonoma's catalog at $30 and $80--the prices are THAT good). Anyway, This time they had paella pans, a 20" and a 25", very high quality with thick sandwiched bottoms for $20 so I bought them both. Love the idea that I can now make paella for a crowd.

Bucko, the soup sounds good. What else is in it?


I understand that true Paella Valenciana does not contain seafood but uses rabbit and other meats (chicken and sausage maybe?). I'll have to dig out my old copy of Saveur that had the cover article.

rwj
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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Bill Spohn » Thu Jun 07, 2007 1:34 am

I'd give you my recipe for Saffron Succotash, (from, Chef Sylvester), but I'd prefer to hear your greatest recipes using saffron as I have a stash that should be used!

Trot out those great recipes, I have my pen ready!

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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Robert J. » Thu Jun 07, 2007 10:41 am

Bill Spohn wrote:I'd give you my recipe for Saffron Succotash, (from, Chef Sylvester), but I'd prefer to hear your greatest recipes using saffron as I have a stash that should be used!

Trot out those great recipes, I have my pen ready!

Image


Saffron Aioli. The name says it all. If you can't make your own aioli or mayonnaise then you could use Hellman's in a pinch. This is great for dipping french fries and easy as all heck to make.

Crumble the saffron threads into a small bowl.
Add a few drops of warm water or vermouth to "bloom" the aroma and flavor.
Stir into mayonnaise.

rwj
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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Jenise » Thu Jun 07, 2007 3:05 pm

Robert J. wrote:I understand that true Paella Valenciana does not contain seafood but uses rabbit and other meats (chicken and sausage maybe?). I'll have to dig out my old copy of Saveur that had the cover article.

rwj


Robert, I believe what I've read in the past is not that traditional paellas wouldn't include seafood, but that it wouldn't mix meat and seafood. Key word, mix: a paella would be one or the other. I'd be willing to bet though that modern paellas generously mix ingredients. I'll go dig out some books, and report back.
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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Robin Garr » Thu Jun 07, 2007 3:38 pm

Jenise wrote: Key word, mix: a paella would be one or the other.


For what it's worth, the signature paella at de la Torre's here, a fine European Spanish restaurant, is seafood only, at least according to this excerpt from my 2001 review:

<i>Presented in a traditional paella pan (see photo above) then served on individual plates, it was an appetizing mix of seafood - shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, calamari rings - tossed in a rich, creamy rice gently flavored with tomatoes and saffron, with a few green beans and peas, garnished with lemon wedges and, atop each serving, a small, sweet and tender lobster tail in the shell. The flavor combination was almost impossible to resist, and it appeared that everyone in the group earned status in the Clean Plate Club. Despite the generous rations of delicate white seafood, the dish's robust and aromatic flavors made it work with a red wine, the elegant if rather oaky Marqués De Riscal 1997 Rioja ($33).</i>
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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Randy Buckner » Thu Jun 07, 2007 3:52 pm

Paella Valenciana is the original paella and is made from snails, chicken, pork and/or rabbit.

Paella Marisco Seafood paella. The fact that paella valenciana came first is not to say the seafood version is not ‘authentic’, just don’t be forcing yourself into eating it out of some appeal to ‘tradition’. Will usually contain prawns, mussels and calamares (squid). Another reason why I personally wouldn't go for paella marisco is that calamares is very difficult to cook right and not taste like rubber. I have never had nice calamares in a paella.

Paella Mixta To get the best of both worlds, try the mixta, which is a mixture of meat and seafood.

Paella Vegetal or Vegetariana Spanish cuisine has broken from its typical mentality by providing a vegetarian paella as well!

Paella Negra Seafood pasta cooked in squid ink.

Paella Fideus Paella made with a fine pasta instead of rice.
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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Randy Buckner » Thu Jun 07, 2007 6:49 pm

Bucko, the soup sounds good. What else is in it?


Lots of goodies -- off the top of my head there is beef broth, onion, salt, pepper, paprika, bay leaf, sauerkraut, bacon, beef, pork, polish sausage, mushrooms...
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Jenise

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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Jenise » Thu Jun 07, 2007 7:33 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:Saffron Succotash


GROAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Jo Ann Henderson » Thu Jun 07, 2007 11:42 pm

I understand that true Paella Valenciana does not contain seafood but uses rabbit and other meats (chicken and sausage maybe?). I'll have to dig out my old copy of Saveur that had the cover article.
True Valenciana Paella is like True Champagne. It bespeaks a food recognized by the region which is given credit for its creation, but it is not restricted by a single recipe or set of ingredients. Like jamablaya and gumbo, there is rich variation in its production. But the one ingredient you cannot sacrifice in recognizing it as paella is the SAFFRON!
"...To undersalt deliberately in the name of dietary chic is to omit from the music of cookery the indispensable bass line over which all tastes and smells form their harmonies." -- Robert Farrar Capon
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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Robert J. » Fri Jun 08, 2007 1:13 am

I probably shouldn't have used the word "true". I'm sure that paella in Spain is kind of like chili in Texas: every cook and area has it's own version of what they claim to be authentic. Sorry about that. I didn't mean to set off a firestorm.

rwj
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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Jenise » Fri Jun 08, 2007 3:13 pm

Robert J. wrote:I probably shouldn't have used the word "true". I'm sure that paella in Spain is kind of like chili in Texas: every cook and area has it's own version of what they claim to be authentic. Sorry about that. I didn't mean to set off a firestorm.

rwj


No firestorm, just an interesting discussion. I pulled out the Time-Life Spain book, btw, which confirmed what I said. It doesn't go into the reasons, but I think logic explains it: once upon a time, transportation wasn't widespread. People in the country made meat paellas, people living closer to water made seafood versions--they used what was available. I doubt if mixing the meats and seafood was ever actually singularly frowned upon.
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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Jon Peterson » Fri Jun 08, 2007 4:02 pm

Thank you Paul and Jenise. I appreciate the information. Time to use my saffron up.
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Mike Filigenzi

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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Mike Filigenzi » Sun Jun 10, 2007 7:25 pm

One of my favorite uses for good paprika is Ridiculously Easy Potatoes. They're quick, easy, and very delicious. I'll just copy-and-paste the RC I posted on the old FLDG:

Saw the preparation on one of the Mario Batali shows on Food Network. He didn't use any measurements and I've made it twice so far without them as well. The only gotcha is that you need some really first-rate paprika. I've been using smoked sweet paprika from Spain. It would also be excellent with a blend of sweet and hot paprika.

Take a bunch of small red potatoes, Yukon Golds, or fingerlings. Cut the larger ones in quarters, the smaller ones in halves. Heat a few tablespoons of good olive oil in a pan and drop the potatoes in. Shake a generous amount (a $hitload, in the Kansas vernacular) of paprika into the pan and stir the potatoes around. They should be well-covered in paprika. Let them cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring often, until they start to get a little crusty with paprika. At that point, add enough chicken stock to half-cover the potatoes. Cook the potatoes in the broth, stirring occasionally and adding more broth as necessary. When the potatoes are fork-tender, let the broth cook off. The paprika will form a crusty covering for the potatoes. Serve hot. Eat lots of 'em.



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Cynthia Wenslow

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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Cynthia Wenslow » Sun Jun 10, 2007 9:29 pm

Yum! Thanks for posting that, Mike.
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Re: Featured ingredients: Saffron and Paprika

by Robert J. » Mon Jun 11, 2007 12:37 am

Last night we did a cooking class on the food and wine of Argentina. The soup that we made was nice. Here is a very loose recipe. Most of you should be able to figure out the proportions.

Mussel Soup with Saffron:

2# Mussels
Oil
Diced onion
Minced Garlic
Rice
Saffron
Fish Stock

Sautee the onions in the oil until translucent then add the rice and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add a good pinch (a fu**ing $hitload in the Texas vernacular) and the fish stock. Cook until the rice is done. Add the mussels and cook, covered, until they open. Serve hot.

NOTE: You want to have enough liquid to make a soup. Therefore, don't use the typical rice/liquid ratio. Go for 1 cup of rice to 6 or 7 cups of stock.

Good luck,
rwj
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