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So I've recently bought some saffron (stems, not ground), then tried to make some Risotto with it. I got my water boiling and added about 5 stems to it. I didn't really measure the water because I can just eyeball it, I was making about a cup and a half of rice.

The saffron made the water just barely yellow. As I kept adding the water to the rice, I didn't really notice a change in color. So I added 5 more stems directly to the rice, and kept stirring. The thing never got as yellow as I wished or had seen in pictures. It actually almost didn't change in color by the time the risotto was done. So I gave up on making the classic milanaese risotto and added sun dried tomatoes and some mushrooms to it. It turned out really good, but by far not the color I wanted.

What did I do wrong?

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3  
What kind of saffron are you using? Some of the cheap stuff isn't all stigmas and contains other flower bits. –  Adam Shiemke Aug 11 '10 at 18:40
2  
Don't use cheap saffron. Also, fine dinning restaurants will in a dry pan roast the saffron on the stove top until the richness of the aroma develops. This doesn't help color and might even take away from the color but it certainly adds depth and complexity to the the saffron. If you do use high quality saffron, make sure not to use too much because the final dish will taste medicinal. –  Adam S Jan 30 '11 at 23:19

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

How yellow were you expecting it? How much saffron did your recipe call for?

Generally, when a recipe calls for a "pinch" of saffron that can be anywhere from 15-20 stems (expensive, I know).

Saffron can take time to impart it's yellow coloring, and the depth of that yellow can vary based on the quality, age, or phase of the moon (not really). Some things you can try include:

  • Soaking the saffron in hot water/stock for 20 minutes to an hour prior to adding.
  • Grinding the saffron with a mortar/pestle
  • Using more or a higher quality

Another thing to keep in mind is that a lot of images aren't purely saffron induced coloring. Often turmeric is used for an additional punch, or even food coloring. Here is an example of an accurate image of a saffron risotto.

Finally, your primary reason for using saffron should be for it's remarkable and unique flavor. The yellow is just a bonus. If you want more than what your batch can give you, well... cheat. :)

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I have had good results by filling a ladle with stock, adding the saffron stems (whole or ground up) and then mashing the stems well with a spoon until the stock in the ladle becomes a beautiful red color. Then add the stock to the risotto like you would do normally.

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What hobodave said, plus one more tip: you can toast the saffron briefly. Wrap it in a tiny tin foil packet and put it in a skillet on a very low flame for say 5 minutes. Then proceed to soak in boiling water.

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Soak it in a bit of milk first.

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