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Posted on Apr 19, 2012 |

Saffron Chicken, Saffron Rice

Saffron Chicken, Saffron Rice


Song of Solomon 4:14 “You are like a lovely orchard bearing precious fruit with the rarest of perfumes; nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon…”

Saffron seems to be such an exotic spice, and it comes from a type of crocus flower. How was it used in Bible days?

It was used in pressed cakes and to color and flavor grains. As a perfume, saffron was strewn in Greek and Roman halls, courts, theaters and baths. The streets of Rome were sprinkled with saffron when Nero entered into the city. The orange-red pistils and stigmas were laboriously gathered for drying and pressing into ‘saffron cakes’ which were common in the East. In Egypt, saffron powder was used as a clothing dye.

We use it today in much the same way when it comes to flavoring rice and grains. I use it also in curries, fish stews like bouillabaisse and even in holiday breads.

The name saffron is interesting in that it comes from the Arab word meaning “yellow” and that certainly fits the description of some saffrons.

It’s  the stigmas – the little red/yellow threads that we use in cooking that are indicative of the name. FYI you can’t pick the autumn crocuses in your yard and pull out the stigmas! As far as I know, the crocuses that we grow for flowers here are poisonous.

Known as the world’s most expensive spice, it has to be hand picked in the morning when the flower blooms in mid-autumn – as the day goes on, the whole flower wilts and so do the stigmas. It takes about 225,000 hand picked stigmas, or about 75,000 flowers to make one pound of dried saffron threads. That’s why it costs so much. Time is money!


My favorite saffron I like the Spanish saffron. Some experts like the Indian saffron. The best saffron, whether grown in the Middle East or elsewhere, has bright red threads and hardly any yellow. The more yellow on the stigma, the less expensive it is. The flavor is sort of sweet, yet grassy and a bit bitter to my palate. A little goes a long way. Saffron  has antioxidants (that’s sort of like Rustoleum for our bodies), it’s a good digestive spice and has minerals like copper, iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium, along with potassium. Saffron also contains vitamin C.

Like all spices, away from heat and light. I freeze mine in an airtight glass jar. Don’t freeze in any container that is air permeable since that will compromise the quality of the saffron.



1/2 teaspoon saffron steeped in 1/4 cup hot water or hot chicken broth

2-3# favorite chicken pieces, boned and skinned if you like

1/4 cup each: butter and olive oil

1-1/2 cups chopped onion or more to taste

Jalapeno chiles to taste, chopped, or a more mild chile pepper

1-2 teaspoons grated ginger (bottled ginger paste is OK, start with 1 teaspoon and add more as desired)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Salt to taste

Chicken broth if needed

Put olive oil and butter in sauté pan and cook onion, chilies, ginger and garlic over medium heat until onion starts to turn golden, but not brown.  Add saffron. Add chicken and coat with saffron mixture. Cover and cook until chicken is tender. You may need to add some chicken broth if mixture becomes too dry when cooking, especially if you are using boneless, skinless pieces. Adjust seasonings to taste.


Excellent alongside the chicken.


Few strands of saffron

2 cups chicken broth, brought to a boil (or vegetable broth)

Butter or olive oil – start out with about 3 tablespoons of either

1 cup long grain rice

Salt and pepper to taste

As many slightly cooked peas as you like (optional but good) – I use frozen, thawed and cook them in the microwave a couple of minutes


Steep the saffron in 1/2 cup of boiling broth. Meanwhile, melt butter in pan. Stir in the rice and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until the rice begins to absorb the butter and starts looking opaque, but don’t let it brown. Pour the rest of the broth along with the saffron broth onto the rice.  Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked. Stir in peas. Let sit a minute and fluff with a fork before serving.  Adjust seasonings like pepper and salt.

Rita Nader Heikenfeld writes a weekly cooking column and blog for the Community Press, appears weekly on Sacred Heart Radio, and is the author of several cookbooks. An adjunct profesor at the University of Cincinnati, she is Macy’s Regional Culinary Professional  (CCP) and is a Certified Modern Herbalist. She lives “in the sticks” outside Batavia, Ohio with her family, where they heat with wood, raise chickens for eggs, and grow their own produce and herbs.

 Rita’s Bible Foods segment airs on the Son Rise Morning Show every Thursday morning at 7:22 am (rebroadcast Friday at 6:02 am). Tune in to hear her discuss the history behind each recipe and the scripture verses that inspired it. And of course, for cooking tips!