Saffron's Spicing Up SF Dishes


Saffron is popping up in tasty ways in SF and local chefs aren't letting its price get in the way of creating fabulous dishes tinged with that signature gold and deep red. The spice is so coveted in the culinary world that it's often kept under lock and key at supermarkets and spice shops, along with the likes of aged balsamic vinegar and truffle oil.

Per pound, saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world, yet remains something of a must, thanks to its intoxicating scent and flavor (not to mention its gorgeous color), for dishes from culinary hotspots the are steeped in tradition: paella (Spain), bouillabaisse (France) or risotto Milanese (Italy). 

NYC transplant Larry Finn uses saffron in linguini at Scala’s Bistro, which is plated with Manila clams, garlic, roasted tomato, white wine, and Calabrian chiles (pictured above). Finn—who notably launched a fresh pasta program at Scala’s–says that his kitchen uses saffron in the pasta “mostly for flavor. Since there is tomato in our linguine and clams, I wanted to use fresh pasta and I think saffron, clams and tomato are a great combination.” While Chef Finn learned the ins and outs of saffron at New York’s Café Gray, an earlier stint at the famed Union Square Café found him making risotto Milanese with delicate and flavorful saffron threads. 

Chambers Eat + Drink's executive chef loves saffron for the subtle, sweet flavor and floral aroma it lends to his food. Trevor Ogden is a fan of traditional saffron dishes, like the aforementioned French bouillabaisses, which he learned from Bay Area notables Daniel Patterson and Sarah Schafer at the short-lived Frisson. They showed him how to make a flavorful rendition showcasing saffron in both the broth and the rouille, alongside a pancetta wrapped monkfish, soy beans, shaved fennel, and mirepoix vegetables. At Chambers, look for (gluten free!) saffron rice-encrusted California halibut with summer squash, English peas, banana blossoms, galangal nage, and pea tendrils. 

Craving more saffron? Foreign Cinema incorporates saffron into Moroccan spiced roast quail with tomato jam and cucumber raita, where the Moroccan spice mixture includes saffron. Mattarello restaurant uses saffron in a stunning pasta dish, which is sold at their pop-up events, while Fifth Floor's saffron-infused uni flan remains a silken, satisfying and luxe way to experience the exotic spice.

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