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Stovetop: Simple Saffron Rice

June 27, 2024

Stovetop: Simple Saffron Rice
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     Simple saffron rice in my Le Creuset Marseille blue Dutch oven. Pure fluffy heaven. I had to make this version after accidentally eating a bowl in a new multi-course fine dining Indian restaurant that opened in 2022 in the River North neighborhood of Chicago called Indienne. Each course is beautifully plated and presented, but when the curry dishes came our inner Indian craved rice. I mean, what's a curry without the rice even if you are in the hottest Indian food concept to hit Chicago in years? Remember, to us, curry means gravy - it has nothing to do with the spice blend curry powder which we rarely if ever use in traditional Indian cooking. Never mind that the paneer and kofta dishes were painstakingly plated just so and that there was a curated basket of beautiful bread to choose from fresh out of the tandoor - where was the rice?

     I was there for a networking event so I kept my thoughts to myself - until the San Francisco-based tech executive originally from Chennai spoke up and made the request. Whew! It took much longer to come out than it should have - likely because it was not on the chef's original plan and was made fresh to meet our request. What came out was a beautiful bowl of perfectly spiced saffron rice. Simple. Fragrant. Delicious. Mind blowing. I asked the waiter for tips and embarrassingly he insisted on bringing out Chef Sujan Sarkar. I hate bringing attention to myself or what I do. When he arrived table side, he was immediately and understandably bombarded with accolades from our table. Of course I stayed quiet so that he could have his moment. And instead, I came home with an image in my mind and burning desire to get that same experience from my own version of saffron rice. I think I nailed it. My previous recipe here has a somewhat traditional Indian spice spin on it, but this one I love as much if not even more. I even tried eating it with traditional Punjabi curries like rajmah and chana masala with trepidation. It was actually very good! The subtle backdrop of saffron really comes through. Traditionally, we make jeera chawal with our fiery Punjabi dishes - rice with a cumin-clove-black cardamom-cinnamon spice infusion. Even my girls have been crazy in love with saffron rice. I do make my rice in my Le Creuset. The trick is to cook it just about 8 minutes and then when you still hear a touch of water on the bottom, but it's not completely dry, turn the heat off, cover the pot completely with the lid and just let it sit on the same burner to finish off.

 

 

Stovetop: Simple Saffron Rice
2 generous pinches saffron
1/2 cup warm water, for the saffron
1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil 
2 cups basmati rice, washed
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups water, for the rice

1. In a mortar and pestle grind the saffron into a powder. Pour this powder into the bowl of water reserved for the saffron. Let this sit as you prep the rice. This is typically done with warm milk, but I tried warm water and it was perfect. I use a mini brush to get all the saffron out of my mortar and pestle - a pastry brush will do. 
2. In a large roomy pot over medium high heat, warm the ghee until melted. Add the rice and sauté until the rice is slightly translucent. Add the salt and stir gently. You don't want to over stir the rice or you will draw out the starch, which makes the rice sticky. Basmati rice should be fluffy and fall apart at the end. 
3. Add the bowl of saffron water, which should be a warm orange hue by now. Add the remaining water. Stir gently. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat down to low, place the lid on the pot slightly ajar to release steam, and cook about 8 minutes. Once done, turn the heat off, cover the pot entirely, and leave it on the same warm burner for another 2-3 minutes until the rice finishes off. This last step is important to getting perfect rice every time. With a fork, fluff your rice before serving. 



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