24 Saffron Recipes to Showcase the World's Most Expensive Spice

Shrimp with Saffron Rice and Fennel Salad
Photo: © Con Poulos

Saffron is known as the world's most expensive spice because of the labor intensive process to cultivate just a single ounce. But a little goes a long way. Once used to make medicines and dye cloth a dark yellow, this pungent and aromatic spice flavors drinks as well as foods like paella and risotto. Here, we're highlighting our favorite saffron recipes, including Rosewater and Saffron Ice Cream, Cioppino with Fennel and Saffron, and Squid Pizza with Saffron Aioli.

01 of 24

Saffron Chicken Tagine

Saffron Chicken Tagine
John Kernick

Our version of North Africa's deeply flavored tagine is designed for a large enameled cast-iron casserole, no earthenware tagine necessary. Don't be intimidated by the long list of ingredients; it consists mostly of spices and easy-to-find staples that you'll use over and over.

02 of 24

Shrimp with Saffron Rice and Fennel Salad

Shrimp with Saffron Rice and Fennel Salad
© Con Poulos

Chef Joshua Hopkins uses Aleppo pepper and saffron from spice importer Behroush Sharifi in this decadent, Carolina-style shrimp with rice that would qualify as a stunt double for shrimp and grits.

03 of 24

Bastani Irani (Rosewater and Saffron Ice Cream)

Rosewater-and-Saffron Ice Cream (Bastani Irani)
© Con Poulos

This fragrant ice cream is redolent with flavor. It's traditionally served between two thin wafers to make ice cream sandwiches, but it's equally delicious on its own.

04 of 24

Safran Şerbeti (Saffron Cordial)

Safran Serberti
Photo by Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Carrie Purcell / Prop Styling by Jillian Knox

In Turkish culture, this floral, citrusy, sweet cordial is believed to have protective properties: If someone trips on a flat path, it's poured on the spot to ward off the evil eye. Magical properties aside, this chilled, sunshine-yellow drink gets its hue from saffron threads; grinding them with sugar helps them dissolve easily.

05 of 24

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail with Saffron

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail with Saffron
Jen Causey

In this coctél de camarón recipe, saffron is mixed with charred bell pepper, tomato, onion, and garlic to build an umami-filled stock. Combined with the saucy shrimp and all the cucumber, tomato, onion, cilantro, and avocado, this dish is suitable for a complete lunch. Eat it with some good tostadas or saltine crackers.

06 of 24

Saffron Cucumber Pickles

Saffron Cucumber Pickles
© Anna Williams

For this recipe from chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, English cucumbers are pickled in a brine made of Champagne vinegar, dry white wine, sugar, salt, and saffron. They're especially wonderful served with fish like salmon, swordfish, tuna, and mackerel.

07 of 24

Skillet Chicken and Chorizo Paella

Chicken and Chorizo Skillet Paella
Photo by Greg DuPree / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Missie Crawford

This recipe builds layers of flavors as you sauté aromatics in the same pan you've used to sear the chorizo and chicken. From delicately floral saffron to smoky paprika and a bright lemony finish, this one-pan meal has it all.

08 of 24

Saffron Spaghetti with Santa Barbara Spot Prawns

Saffron Spaghetti with Spot Prawns Recipe
Aubrie Pick

Spot prawns are incredibly sweet, with plump, tender tails reminscent of lobster. Be sure to remove the prawns from the pan before finishing the sauce to keep them from overcooking.

09 of 24

Chicken Breasts with Spinach, Leek, and Saffron Sauce

Chicken Breasts with Spinach, Leek and Saffron Sauce
© Dana Gallagher

This dish is all about its luxurious sauce. The saffron threads are crumbled into dry white wine, which then gets cooked with butter, leeks, garlic, spinach, and cream. Pair it with an Austrian Grüner Veltliner.

10 of 24

Squid Pizza with Saffron Aioli

HD-200910-r-squid-pizza.jpg
© James Baigrie

Chef Michael Emanuel, an alumnus of Berkeley's Chez Panisse, tops this pizza with an irresistible mix of Provençal flavors: salty-sweet roasted squid, creamy aioli, and crushed red pepper (French piment d'Espelette would also work well). The remaining aioli can be used as a dip for vegetables or a spread for sandwiches.

11 of 24

Creamy Saffron Risotto

HD-fw200701_saffronRisotto.jpg
© James Merrell

Risotto alla Milanese, the traditional accompaniment to osso buco, is flavored with saffron, which is the world's most expensive spice. The deep red filaments are the dried stigmas of a variety of crocus and they're harvested exclusively by hand. Each crocus has three stigmas and it takes more than 14,000 to make one ounce of saffron.

12 of 24

Saffron Rice with Cashews and Raisins

hd-201401-r-saffron-rice-with-cashews-and-raisins2014-r-saffron-rice-with-cashews-and-raisins.jpg
© Kristin Gladney

Our Indian-inspired rice calls for traditional basmati, but Texmati rice is a good substitution; in fact, any white rice is good prepared this way. Substitute almonds for the cashews if you prefer.

13 of 24

Monkfish Stew with Saffron Broth

HD-201502-r-monkfish-stew-with-saffron-broth.jpg
© Oddur Thorisson

French food writer Mimi Thorisson makes a quick and easy fish stew, flavoring the luscious broth with white wine, saffron, and aromatic vegetables. Pair this light stew with a crisp, medium-bodied white Bordeaux.

14 of 24

Saffron Fingerling Potato Salad with Mixed Greens and Tomatoes

Saffron Fingerling Potato Salad with Mixed Greens and Tomatoes
© Stephanie Foley

2002 F&W Best New Chef Michael Anthony includes just a few coins of tender, saffron-flavored fingerling potatoes in his 50-ingredient warm vegetable salad. We've reimagined those fingerlings for this light, fresh take on a potato salad, tossed with fennel, tomatoes, and plenty of greens.

15 of 24

Risotto-Style Ditalini with Mussels, Clams and Saffron

HD-201204-r-risotto-style-ditalini-with-mussels-clams-and-saffron.jpg
© Fredrika Stjärne

For this creamy dish, chefs Tyler Rodde and Curtis Di Fede use a fish stock to cook pasta slowly, risotto-style. If you can't find ditalini, look for another small pasta shape or pearl couscous.

16 of 24

Jalebi

Jalebi
Anna Stockwell

Anytime around Diwali, you'll find golden, translucent, crispy, sticky, jewel-like jalebis in boxes stacked up high inside mithai shops and Indian grocery stores all around the world. Jalebi, a Persian-origin sweet that is popular in India, is made from batter that's drizzled into hot oil to deep-fry it, then briefly soaked in a fragrant saffron- and cardamom-infused syrup.

17 of 24

Le Grand (Saffron) Aioli

Le Grand (Saffron) Aioli
Con Poulos

Embrace the start of spring with this poached vegetable and shrimp spread. Garlicky aioli infused with saffron provides a pop of flavor and color as a delicious dip for those crisp-tender veggies and succulent bites of shrimp.

18 of 24

Saffron Rice Pudding

Saffron Rice Pudding
Jen Causey

This simple but gorgeous dessert makes use of the extra box of rice you might have left over from last night's takeout. By simmering the rice gently in milk with a few threads of saffron, you can create a luxurious dessert, a golden pudding topped with ruby pomegranate seeds.

19 of 24

Seafood Stew with Saffron Zabaglione

Seafood Stew with Saffron Zabaglione
© Quentin Bacon

For this brothy stew full of wonderfully moist snapper, tender squid, and plump mussels and clams, prepare the ingredients separately so nothing becomes over- or undercooked. To make the lush saffron zabaglione, which gets stirred into the stew, egg yolks are cooked slowly in wine over the gentle heat of simmering water.

20 of 24

Kuku Sabzi (Persian Herb Frittata)

Persian Frittata (Kuku Sibzamini)
© Con Poulos

Kuku Sabzi is the Persian version of a frittata. Shredded carrots, onion, zucchini, and potato give it excellent texture — light and airy but deeply satisfying — while saffron adds the distinct Persian flavor.

21 of 24

Cioppino with Fennel and Saffron

bowl of copping with grilled bread
Photo by Andrew Bui / Food Styling by Max Rappaport

An abundance of seafood and three types of fennel (bulb, seed, and pollen) infuse chef Brandon Boudet's version of this San Francisco fish stew with remarkable flavor, while Calabrian chile paste and crushed red pepper add a subtle layer of heat. Because the West Coast is famous for its Dungeness crab, a large orange crab with meaty claws, it makes a dramatic showing in this seafood-packed dish.

22 of 24

Mussels with Saffron and Citrus

Mussels with Saffron and Citrus
© Fredrika Stjärne

For this dish, chef Mourad Lahlou simmers mussels in a lovely saffron cream sauce. Lahlou prefers to use Mediterranean mussels. "They're plump, juicy, and don't toughen up as much as other varieties when you cook them," he says.

23 of 24

Persian Roasted Chicken with Dried Cherry-Saffron Rice

Persian Roasted Chicken with Dried Cherry-Saffron Rice
© Quentin Bacon

Chef Anoosh Shariat likes to use super-tart dried sour cherries in this buttery, fragrant rice dish, but raisins, dates, or pecans are also delicious.

24 of 24

Saffron Shrimp and Stuffed Cherry Peppers

Saffron Shrimp and Stuffed Cherry Peppers
© James Baigrie

Mildly hot Italian cherry peppers are packed with corn and Manchego cheese custard. They're baked and served warm with shrimp that's been simmered in saffron-infused wine and marinated with garlicky anchovies. Additional Manchego cheese, green olives, Serrano ham, and bread make great accompaniments.

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