Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of the saffron crocus. Each flower has three threadlike filaments called stigma. The stigma are harvested by hand, dried, and become the spice that we buy. It is the world's most expensive spice, because it takes approximately 150 flowers to yield 1 gram of dry saffron threads.
They had three grades of saffron at Penzeys. I chose Spanish Superior, because it was the cheapest of the three. As the Penzeys catalog notes:
Spanish Superior Saffron is the most widely available saffron and is a very good crop. Spanish Superior Saffron has a bit of the yellow style material left attached to some of the saffron stigmas so it is not quite as strong as Spanish Coupé or Kashmir Indian Saffron.My gram of saffron-less than a tablespoon-cost me about $9.00. The small plastic zip-top bag was secured inside a spice bottle. However, the package label indicated that the spice was so potent that I needed only a pinch. There was a recipe for rice on the label, so I made that to accompany a pork roast.
Classic Saffron Rice
1 cup long-grain white rice
2 cups water or chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon finely minced onion (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small pinch saffron, crumbled
Place butter and onion in a heavy quart saucepan. Saute over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add rice, saffron, water or stock and salt. Bring to a rolling boil. Cover, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed (12-15 minutes).
The recipe was right. It only took a very small pinch of saffron. One of my fingertips is saffron-colored because I used my fingers to crumble the threads; some of it got under my fingernail.
Here's the beautiful result: