This Saffron Rice is a simple side dish that’s fragrant and full of flavor. It’s made in the style of a Rice Pilaf and has fluffy, separate grains. This dish pairs nicely with just about any entree, but especially hearty dishes like Braised Lamb Shanks and Slow Cooker Short Ribs.
Once you taste how delicious this saffron rice is, it may become one the regular side dishes in your meal rotation. The aroma from the saffron is beyond heavenly, and is an extraordinary flavor for this humble grain.
I didn’t grow up eating much saffron, but I fell in love with it while I was living in Spain. Spain is where most of the world’s saffron is grown.
Saffron is most often characterized by how expensive it is, probably because it’s a fun fact to be the world’s most expensive spice by weight. But in my opinion this is a disservice to saffron’s reputation, because cooking with it is not actually expensive. Good quality saffron is incredibly potent and you only use very small amounts at a time.
A little goes a long way, both for flavor and for giving the dish a soft yellow color. It’s such a great ingredient, and takes well to virtually all meats, but especially Chicken Saltimbocca and Leg of Lamb.
What Kind of Rice to Use
I recommend you use a white Basmati rice for this recipe. It’s a long-grain variety with fluffy grains, but more importantly, it has an amazing fragrance and flavor to it.
You may also use any standard long grain rice or a jasmine rice here. I don’t recommend using brown rice for this dish, as it won’t cook the same as white rice.
Tips for Best Results
Pre-rinse the rice – We will start by rinsing the grains under running water for a good couple of minutes, which rinses away excess starch. This will give us more separated grains later on.
Toast the rice before adding liquid – This is another trick that will give you more separate grains in your end result. You will be able to see the grains turn opaque over the course of a few minutes.
Use real saffron – Don’t get scared off by the price tag on saffron, because you really don’t need that much for this recipe. Just 1/4 tsp of saffron strands is all you need to generously flavor this entire batch. Make sure stay away from saffron powder. Also, in my opinion, the best saffron comes from Spain.
Let the dish rest for 10 minutes after cooking – This will give you the absolute most fluffy grains. Make sure to leave the lid on for the full 10 minutes.
Step by Step Overview:
This dish is made in the style of a Pilaf, cooked right on the stove top. The rice is rinsed, then toasted in softened onion and saffron, then simmered in chicken stock, covered with a lid, until tender.
Because toasting the grains is important for giving us the right texture, I do not recommend making this in a rice cooker.
Prep the Rice
Start by rinsing the basmati rice thoroughly under running water for two minutes:
This is a fundamental I learned long ago from The Science of Good Cooking (affiliate). Rinsing, not soaking, makes for the best texture. This helps remove excess starch, which will give us more separate and fluffy grains later on.
Prep the Aromatics
Place some chopped onion and cooking fat in a nonstick skillet or large saucepan, then crumble a pinch of saffron threads by rubbing between your fingers. You only need 1/4 teaspoon here.
For the cooking fat, butter has the best flavor, but you may also use ghee, olive oil, or any other cooking fat you prefer.
Cook all of this together over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the onion has softened:
Toast the Rice
Increase the stove setting to medium-high heat, then add the rinsed rice to the skillet.
Stir it all around for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently with a spatula or wooden spoon, which should cook away the moisture and begin to turn the grains opaque.
Add Chicken Stock
Add chicken stock to the pan, and increase the heat to high.
You may also use chicken broth, or even vegetable stock or vegetable broth.
Broths and stocks are slightly different, in that broths are made more with the meat and stocks more with the bones, but either option will work here.
Wait for the chicken stock to come to a boil, about a minute or two, then reduce the heat to medium low so the chicken stock is at a simmer. Cover the pan with a lid.
Cook the Saffron Rice!
Let the rice cook, covered with the lid, for a cooking time of about 18-20 minutes.
By the end, the liquid should be fully absorbed, and the grains fluffy, tender, and beautifully golden. No yellow food coloring required!
Stir everything well with a spatula, then replace the lid and let sit off the heat for 10 more minutes in the pan.
This extra bit of time with the residual heat will give you the most fluffy rice grains.
I like to serve the saffron rice pilaf in a white dish so the color of the yellow rice really pops.
How to Serve It
This will taste best served right away, especially since it’s such a fragrant side dish, and will be most aromatic as the steam comes off. If you need to keep it warm on the table, cover it with foil or a lid to trap in the heat and moisture.
FAQ and Tips:
This dish keep really well, either in the fridge or the freezer. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Yes, store in an airtight container and freeze for up to 2 months.
Microwave at 50% power for 2-5 minutes, depending on the amount, but make sure you place a dish or plastic wrap or something to seal the top and trap in the moisture, otherwise the grains may dry out. Alternatively, you can thaw overnight by moving the container from the freezer to the fridge.
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- 2 cups basmati rice organic recommended
- 2 tbsp ghee or butter
- 1/2 cup chopped onion (red or yellow)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp saffron I recommend a quality Spanish saffron
- 3 cups chicken stock
- Place the rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under running water for 2 minutes, until the water runs clear.
- Add the ghee, onion, and 1/2 tsp salt to a 12" nonstick skillet set over medium heat. Crumble the saffron between your thumb and finger and add to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes until the onion has softened.
- Increase the heat to medium high and add the rinsed rice. Cook for 3 minutes, until the grains look dry and turn opaque.
- Add the chicken stock and increase the heat to high to bring to a boil, which should take a minute or two. Reduce the heat to medium low to maintain a simmer, then cover the pan with a lid. Cook for 18-20 minutes, until the liquid has been fully absorbed.
- Stir the rice well, then replace the lid and let the pan sit off the heat for 10 more minutes. Serve and enjoy!
Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.