There are things we approach in the kitchen with care, with hesitation, and, maybe, with a little bit of fear: tempering eggs, making aioli, inverting a just-cooled cake onto a platter.
Cooking with saffron falls into this territory.
We know it’s delicate; we know it’s expensive. So when we reach for it, we do so haltingly, sparingly. The dishes we use it in—paella, ice cream, bouillabase—are saved for special occasions, celebrations, moments we want to savor.
But thanks to Paula Wolfert and her book The Food of Morocco, we can stretch our saffron—and get more bang for our buck—while making it taste bigger, bolder, and more aromatic than out of its jar. All it takes is some warm water; once the saffron soaks in the water, the entire jar becomes perfumed. In fact, as Wolfert says, “I’ve discovered that if I soak all the ground spices called for in a recipe in a little saffron water before adding them to the dish, the moistening intensifies and better distributes their combined flavors.” Here’s how to change your saffron game.
Dry your saffron in a warm skillet, then crush it to pieces.
Soak the dried, crumbled saffron in warm water; the ratio should be one cup of water for every 1/2 teaspoon of saffron. You can store this in the fridge for up to a week. Two tablespoons of this magic water will equal one good pinch of saffron.
If you want to keep your saffron-water around for more than a week, pour it into non-reactive ice cube trays and freeze. One ice cube will equal 1 pinch of saffron.