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What Is Saffron Chicken?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 17, 2024
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Saffron chicken is a main dish in which a spice made of the center part of the purple crocus flower is used to flavor it. There are many variations and different types of recipes for saffron chicken, which is most often served with steamed rice. Typical recipes range from serving rich, creamy saffron sauces over roasted chicken to simmering tomatoes and saffron, along with vegetables and other spices, with pieces of chicken.

An expensive spice, saffron comes from the Crocus sativus that appears as yellow threads. Even though saffron is pricey, it is extremely rich in flavor, so typically only a few threads are needed in a dish. Saffron may be used along with turmeric to increase the yellow color of a rice or other dish.

Some cooks either fry chicken pieces or roast a whole bird and prepare a saffron-infused sauce to serve over the poultry. These types of sauces may have both wine and heavy cream added as well as lemon juice. Butter and other spices in addition to saffron are also commonly used in these sauces. Many cooks soak the saffron threads in boiling water for up to 30 minutes as well as saute them before adding to sauces or chicken recipes as a way of getting the most flavor from a small amount of the expensive spice. When saffron chicken is served with a sauce, rice is still usually the side dish, along with a steamed vegetable such as asparagus.

Indian-style chicken made with saffron uses many other spices as well, such as ginger, cumin and coriander. Tandoori Mung, which is roast chicken, is also often made with a yogurt marinade. A spice mixture called masala is combined with the yogurt to form a marinade so that the chicken will absorb the spices, including saffron, before being cooked.

In Thailand, chicken seasoned with saffron may be grilled and served with a sauce such as peanut or sweet pepper. Jasmine rice often accompanies the meal. Alternatively, saffron-flavored rice, in which other flavorings such as coriander and lime juice may be added, could be served alongside cooked chicken. Some Thai cooks flavor rice with saffron and serve it with roast chicken. This meal is called khao mok gai.

Moroccan saffron chicken typically contains tomatoes. Chicken pieces are sauteed in cooking oil in a frying pan. Sauteed onions and garlic may be added to the browned chicken. Water, tomatoes, potatoes and other vegetables are then simmered with the chicken, along with spices such as saffron and paprika, until the meat is cooked through. Crusty bread eaten with the Moroccan chicken helps soak up the tomato sauce.

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