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THE HERITAGE INGREDIENT SAFFRON

Painstakingly harvested from crocus flowers, saffron has a reputation for being tricky to cook with. The flavour imparted by the orange-red threads is both subtle and powerful – but seasoned cook Debbie Major knows how to make it shine

''Saffron has been one of the world’s most prized spices for millennia. It comes from the gently dried stigmas of a mauve species of crocus flower – Crocus sativus – and it takes more than 1,000 flowers to produce just 100g saffron. Little wonder it’s more expensive per gram than gold. It’s revered in the kitchen for its subtle yet distinctively earthy, hay-like flavours, as well as for the deep yellow colour it imparts to food. You have to be careful how much you use, though, or it can taste medicinal.

RECIPES AND FOOD STYLING DEBBIE MAJOR PHOTOGRAPHS ANDREW MONTGOMERY STYLING POLLY WEBB-WILSON

Iran produces 90-95 per cent of the world’s harvest, but it’s also grown in India, China, Spain, Greece and North Africa, and on a small scale in the east of England, where it was introduced by the Romans. The harvesters work through the night to pick the flowers, then painstakingly remove two or three stigmas from each flower head, all by hand.

Buy whole threads, rather than powdered saffron, for the freshest flavour. I like to soak the saffron in warm water or milk before using, as this draws out the colour and flavour. Alternatively, toast the strands for 2-3 seconds in a dry pan, then grind to a powder to use.

Saffron is used in all sorts of dishes – think bouillabaisse from France, risotto Milanese from Italy and paella from Spain. It works magic in soups, sweet and savoury breads, milky puddings and ice cream, sauces and potato dishes, all of which show off the spice’s vibrant colour and complex flavour.''

THE INGREDIENTS SAFFRON LOVES

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About Delicious Magazine

The March issue has inspirational ideas for the Easter Bank Holiday: gifts, chocolate eggs and the best brunches, lunches and family feasts. Enjoy recipes from Nathan Outlaw, José Pizarro and Vivek Singh – then dive into 16 pages of the best chocolate recipes ever. Plus there’s plenty of light and healthy recipes to help power you through the cold weather and our guide to making scotch eggs and the GBBO bamboozler, sweet flaky kouign ammans.
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