Saffron rice makes a lovely and flavorful side dish (or it could me a main depending on who you are).
Sometimes you really need some color on the plate, especially with grilled or roasted meats (which this very conveniently pairs nicely with).
Funny though, saffron certainly is not my favorite spice of all time. I'll confess that it has always reminded me of plastic in both smell and flavor. However, if it's used in appropriate amounts and in combination with the right dishes, it can be just fine- it doesn't stand out as overly strong and blends well.
The most expensive and most time consuming spice to harvest, saffron is undoubtedly also beautiful. Alone, the hand-harvested stamens of a particular crocus are bright crimson, but when added to a dish, they help food become a vibrant gold.
The good thing is that not much is necessary for both color and flavor transformation. A little really does go a long way.
This recipe is adapted from Moro The Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark.
For one thing, the original recipe calls for optional fried onions. Sadly, I have a slight fear of frying... perhaps it's more of an apprehension. Yes, I know it was "optional"- but sometimes I feel that optional really isn't optional. Anyway, I have tried to fry them, but because of my feelings towards pots of hot oil, things didn't quite turn out like they were supposed to. It was fine, don't get me wrong, but I can't normally bring myself to bring a large(r) quantity of oil to a high heat- even if it's in a deep pot. It's a dangerous thrill I'm not partial to. Other dangerous thrills, yes, but that one, no. I much prefer cliff diving.
And so, it was decided that caramelized shallots would have to be a fantastic substitution. They're so good, and much safer when it comes to options in cooking alliums.
By the way, leftovers are great with a poached or fried egg on top!
1 1/2 c basmati rice
7 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 T olive oil
1 good pinch saffron threads
4 T butter
1 stick cinnamon
6 green cardamom pods, cracked
7 black peppercorns
2 t kosher salt
1/3 c chopped pistachios
Rinse the rice thoroughly, place in a bowl, and cover with hot water. Add enough salt so that the water tastes salty, and stir to dissolve. Set aside to soak for 3 hours.
While the rice soaks, caramelize the shallots. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium-low heat and add the sliced shallots. Stir occasionally at first, and then frequently until the shallots are a browned and caramelized (probably 10-15 minutes). If some of the shallots brown too quickly, turn the heat down a bit and continue cooking and stirring. Set the shallots aside.
Prior to cooking the rice, add the saffron to a small bowl with 1/3 c boiling water. Let soak at least 15 minutes.
When the rice has finished soaking, place a medium pan over low heat and add the butter. Once the butter has melted, fry the cinnamon, cardamom, and black peppercorns in the butter for about 4 minutes, until warm, fragrant, and the flavors are released. Drain the rice and add it to the butter and spices, frying and stirring to coat each grain with butter (about 2 minutes).
Add the 2 t kosher salt, chopped pistachios, and enough water so that it covers the rice by about 1 cm. Increase the heat to medium.
Place a round of parchment paper directly over the water, cover with a lid, bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. When the 5 minutes are up, remove the lid and paper. Drizzle the infused saffron water evenly over the rice, gently stir through, and replace the paper and lid. Continue cooking on low about 5 minutes longer. Remove the pan from the heat, carefully fold in the caramelized shallots, taste for seasonings, and serve.