Saffron Rice Pilaf

When my friend Kerissa Barron first told me about this buttery rice pilaf, I couldn’t wait to try it. Then she told me it had saffron in it. Uh oh. For some reason, saffron is a spice that sort of tastes like soap to me. Not a big fan. But, I’ll try just about anything once, and in this case, thank goodness. I couldn’t stop eating this saffron rice!

Browned in clarified butter, with cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves, cooked in a saffron infusion, and tossed with nuts and raisins, this rice is the bomb.

Kerissa came over the other day to make it with me. Here’s what she says about it:

Whether you are making it to accompany a homemade Indian feast or simply serving alongside a roast chicken from the supermarket, this rice, specked with nuts and raisins, imbued with the golden color of saffron, and fragranced with cardamom, cinnamon, clove and orange can truly hold its own.

Saffron Rice Pilaf Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 5 to 6
Yum

Ingredients

  • 1/2 teaspoon of saffron threads
  • 2 Tbsp ghee or clarified butter*
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1 small (2-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 1/2 cups long grain white rice**
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • Zest of one orange (about 1 1/2 teaspoons, packed)
  • 2 Tbsp pistachios
  • 2 Tbsp blanched slivered or sliced almonds
  • 2 Tbsp golden raisins

*To make clarified butter for this recipe, melt 4 tablespoons of sliced unsalted butter in a small saucepan on medium heat. Let the butter foam up, which releases its moisture. When the foaming subsides a bit, you may see solids in the melted butter beginning to brown, remove from heat and pour through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth or a paper towel (to strain out the solids) into a bowl.

**Sometimes depending on how the rice was packed, it will need to be rinsed before cooking, especially rice that you buy in large bulk bags. If there is powdery stuff around the rice, you'll need to rinse it. If this is the case with your rice, rinse it until the rinsing water runs clear, and spread the rice out to dry on a large baking sheet. Make sure it is completely dry before frying.

Method

1 Heat a large kettle of water (a little more than a quart) to boiling. Place saffron in a small bowl, cover with 2 Tbsp of the hot water, set aside.

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2 Heat 2 tablespoons of ghee or clarified butter in a 2 quart, thick-bottomed saucepan on medium-high heat until hot. Add the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, cloves, and peppercorns to the pan. Gently fry the spices for 2 minutes.

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3 Add rice, and fry for 3 more minutes, stirring after a minute or two. Some of the rice should brown at the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from heat. Add four cups of the hot water you prepared in step one to the pan, taking care to add slowly as it may bubble up and splatter. Add two teaspoons of salt. Add the saffron threads and their soaking liquid. Add the orange zest. Stir, bring quickly to a boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Cover tightly and cook for 20 minutes.

4 While the rice is cooking, in a small frying pan, heat on medium high heat and add the pistachios and slivered almonds. Toast until lightly browned, about 3 or 4 minutes, remove from pan into a bowl.

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5 After 20 minutes, remove the lid from the rice, pick out the spices that have floated to the top of the rice - the cinnamon stick, any whole cardamom pods, black peppercorns or cloves. Scatter golden raisins over the top of the rice. Replace the lid and cook for 5 more minutes.

6 Stir in the toasted almonds and pistachios.

Serve.

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Links:

How to make clarified butter - tips from David Lebovitz

Zafrani Kofta Pulao: Saffron and Caramelized Onion Pilaf with Meatballs from ecurry

Saffron rice with red bell pepper from Kalofagas

Red lentil dal - also by Kerissa

Saffron Rice Pilaf

Showing 4 of 25 Comments

  • FigFondue

    That looks yummy! I’ve used turmeric instead of saffron in a similar recipe, and cooked the rice in coconut milk… very good! I’ll try this, as well. Here’s my rice recipe: http://figfondue.blogspot.com/2012/01/chilli-and-herb-masala-chicken-with.html

  • mehrunnisa

    Elise, this kind of rice is called ‘zarda’ in my part of the world which is Pakistan. I am sure variations of it are made in the subcontinent as a whole. We usually eat it sweetened and it is commonly served as a dessert at wedding. The word zarda literally means a deep yellow the colour of an egg yolk.

  • Katrina

    This sounds like such a delightful side! Love it!

  • Camilla

    I thought I was the only person who thinks saffron tastes like soap! Can you still taste it here or is the flavor tempered by the other spices?

    You can definitely still taste it here, but it just works. Must be the combination with the butter and spices. ~Elise

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