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 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:
Throughout college and beyond, I’ve always loved spending time at my friend Heather’s family home. While it doesn’t hurt that her family lives on a gorgeous bluff overlooking sunny Santa Barbara, or that they keep one of those pantries any cook dreams of, stocked with every size and shape of pan imaginable and five types of baking cocoa, I think one of my fondest memories and one of the many reasons I’m always finding/inventing a reason to visit, is this golden, buttery, delicious rice. I’ve had it on nearly every occasion I’ve visited and with good reason. 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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yield: Serves 5 to 6.