If you’re using saffron primarily for its golden color rather than flavor, you can cut costs by using turmeric or even plain yellow food coloring. If you want the proper taste, though, stick with the real thing and avoid the grocery store. Not only can a specialty shop or website (Buck’s and Penzey’s both have good reputations) save you a lot of money, their saffron will be much fresher.
Although some sources recommend lightly roasting saffron for more flavor, the traditional method is to soak it in some of whatever liquid you’re using in the dish you’re making, ideally warm or hot, for a few minutes before adding both saffron and liquid to the dish.
Saffron grows as a beautiful fall crocus that will actually do quite well in our climate, given a sunny spot and very well-drained soil — and reasonable safety from wildlife (a generous sprinkle of chili powder will keep the squirrels from eating all the bulbs). The harvest is a bit labor-intensive but not particularly difficult once you figure out which little bit of flower you’re looking for.
The WSU Extension has a very nice .pdf about growing saffron, written pretty much with Eastern Washington in mind but still useful for those of us on “The Wet Side.” To download it, find the “Miscellaneous” section at the bottom of their listing for Benton and Franklin Counties and click “Grow your own saffron.”
Hey, vendors! I’d love to see locally-grown saffron at the market, even just briefly and in limited amounts. I wonder if it could be sold as whole flowers to make things easier, kind of like shelling peas…
Paella recipe (but I’d leave out the chorizo, especially since they don’t say which kind, and peel the tomatoes)