How to describe saffron? The task has stumped food writers for ages. Its flavor is nothing like anything else, rendering comparisons useless. It’s more heady and fragrant than it is strong on the tongue, yet at the same time it’s also earthy. It’s a little bit flower-like in its aroma (it’s painstakingly harvested from the Safron Crocus flower), and pleasantly bitter. It’s simply something you must experience yourself. One of the best ways to taste it is with rice, perhaps in a traditional Risotto alla Milanese or a classic Spanish paella. Both of which, I think, this particular recipe takes its cue from.
At first glance, this recipe from Gourmet magazine seems like a simple chicken-and-rice preparation, Latin-style, as the recipe title indicates. But a tiny pinch of saffron works its mellow yellow wonders to bring the dish to a new place, just as Nick recently discovered with a saffron-rubbed roast chicken that went from everyday to magical. (Guess saffron is making an impression around here lately, especially with chicken.) In retrospect, maybe this is really just a simple chicken paella with less emphasis on the rice. Whatever it is, it’s a delicious one-pot dinner.
- 2 pounds chicken thighs with skin and bone
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup medium- or long-grain white rice
- 1 cup chicken broth thinned with 3/4 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
- 1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
- 1 cup frozen peas (not thawed)
- chopped flat-leaf parsley to garnish (optional)
1. Rinse the chicken well and pat completely dry. Season with salt and pepper. In a large (12-inch) skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat until the butter foams and subsides, then add the chicken and brown well on all sides, 10-12 minutes. Transfer chicken to plates and discard all but 2 tablespoons of oil from the pan.
2. Lower heat to medium and add the onion, garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until golden, 5-6 minutes. Add rice and stir well to coat with fat, cooking for an additional minute. Add broth, water, saffron, and bay leaf, and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Taste for seasoning. Return chicken to pan, nestling into the rice until half-submerged. Pour in any juices from the plate and cover. Cook for 20-25 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is nearly tender. If it is not yet tender, add boiling water as needed to keep moist.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the peas. Allow to rest, covered with a kitchen towel, until the rice absorbs any remaining liquid and becomes fluffy. Discard bay leaf. Serve with parsley to garnish, if desired.