I’m just mad about saffron

March 6, 2013

008Seriously – I am quite annoyed about saffron.

I thought I’d embark on a Spanish cooking extravaganza commencing with traditional paella. I needed a few ingredients so I stopped on my home from work at a sweet little gourmet food shop. The only saffron they had was in a little tiny vial. $11.95 for 0.4 grams. POINT FOUR of a GRAM. That’s less than half the weight of a regular paper clip. Hand picked in La Mancha Spain it may be, but honestly, that price seems out of this world.

I understand that harvesting saffron is labour-intensive and that growing it is land-intensive. I think I read that an acre yields about one pound of saffron. And that the saffron crocus only grow in certain regions of the world. So I do get why saffron is so expensive.

But when I stood in the little shop going through my paella shopping list – saffron, smoked paprika, really good olive oil, Spanish olives, Bomba rice, Chorizo sausage, chicken, prawns, lemons, and organic chicken stock – I decided that perhaps paella would have to wait for a dinner party and I’d start with some more humble Spanish dishes. A tortilla Espanola sprang to mind.

I picked out an irresistible little black tin of Spanish smoked paprika, some olives and some good olive oil. Thirty dollars later I left the store. Mad about saffron.

I know there are a million recipes for tortilla Espanola otherwise known as a Spanish omelette. I make omelettes all the time and frequently start with potato and onion before pouring the egg over – I call it a simple frittata. But I’d never made a true tortilla Espanola and I wasn’t sure what the difference was. I started looking at recipes. Some of them called for one and a half cups of olive oil, or more. That seems like a lot of olive oil for an omelette or a frittata. I think that’s the difference.

I decided to wing it and make my own. I wanted to use some of my new smoked paprika – perhaps not strictly authentic in a tortilla Espanola – but I don’t think there are rigid laws governing these things. Anyway the result was pretty fantastic. This is a really easy, slightly tricky, inexpensive, beautiful vegetarian dish. I served it along with a salad. 

Paella soon. In the meantime, I’m serving this up and listening to a little Donovan… he’s mad about Saffron too.

Tortilla Espanola

¼ cup olive oil

3 large potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

¼ tsp smoked paprika

½ tsp salt, few grinds of pepper

6 eggs

8-10 jalapeno stuffed olives, sliced

NO saffron

Pour the full ¼ cup olive oil into a large non-stick pan. You can be a purist and use a cast iron or stainless pan but I expect you’ll regret it. Add the potatoes and cook on a medium-low heat. Don’t try to speed the process up by cooking quickly – the potatoes need to be cooked through before you add the egg. This will take about 20 minutes or longer depending on the type and thickness of your potatoes. (I might microwave mine first next time.) Add the onion once the potatoes are just starting to brown. Keep cooking. Add the salt, pepper and paprika.  Once the potatoes are tender and completely cooked, whisk the eggs and pour over the top. Add the sliced olives. Cook slowly over low-ish heat until the egg is almost but not quite set – as in this photograph here….ready to flip

Now comes the hard part. If you have two similar sized fry pans – you can place one over the over and flip so that the slightly uncooked side is now on the bottom. If you don’t have two same sized fry pans (like me) you will need to find a large plate or a board and cover the pan – flip and then slide the omelette back into the pan and finish cooking. There may be some cursing involved at this stage – that’s normal.

NB – If you’re using a cast iron or stainless pan – you could finish it in the oven at this stage BUT that’s not traditional for a Tortilla Espanola. That’s traditional for a frittata. Flipping the tortilla gives the finished dish a slightly different texture and appearance – with a nice rounded edge.

Tortilla Espanola can be served hot, warm, or cold. Serve it with a green vegetable, or a salad, and perhaps some sweet chilli sauce.

Buen apetito!

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  • Reply ejain2013 March 6, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Saffron costs more than gold 🙂

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen March 6, 2013 at 5:18 pm

      ejain!!!!!! Ecstatic to see you here. You are so right – and you should know! You have more gold than saffron.

  • Reply Eliza B March 6, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    My roommate makes tortilla espanola all the time. We will have to try this spicier version. Although we’ve got a bit of saffron salt left…. We might just throw it in there. PS made your Irish coffee a few days ago. Delicious. And decadent.

  • Reply johnnysenough hepburn March 6, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    – When I made mine for one recently I thought I probably would end up cursing when trying to flip the pan over. Nope, not a single expletive was uttered.
    – Saffron is expensive! Love the stuff, though.

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen March 6, 2013 at 5:23 pm

      Johnny – that’s fantastic! You’re fabulous – and yes – you’re also a proper chef. That probably helps! I don’t know if I really know what saffron tastes like. Next dinner party……

  • Reply Dave More March 6, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Wonderful post, Lindy!

    Believe it or not, as the former manager of the Histology laboratory in Kingston General Hospital, I regularly had to confront the price of saffron as well, on behalf of our patients. The lab had to extract the dye by boiling natural saffron in ethanol for some time — it is used daily in a routine tissue stain called Hematoxylin-Phloxine-Saffron, or HPS, which we employ in the preparation of tissue sections on microscope slides.

    Those are sent to pathologists to examine and make a diagnosis on the bit of yourself that may have been removed at surgery and sent to this lab. So we bought it by the 100s of grams. As you say, more expensive than gold. A staggering expense. We bought it from the same wholesaler that your grocer does. I am quite sure they looked forward to this annual shower of gold. But even at that, I expect it was still a lot cheaper than buying already made Saffron dye.
    It’s all good.

    cheers, Dave

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen March 6, 2013 at 7:29 pm

      Wow – so interesting – and who knew? Say – I’ve got a business idea…. growing saffron! 😉

  • Reply petit4chocolatier March 6, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    I have never had Saffron! This dish looks sensational! Picture perfect too 🙂

  • Reply apuginthekitchen March 6, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    You are so right, Saffron is out of this world expensive. I think I paid $9.95 for a tiny little packet, literally a thimble full of saffron, I do love your recipe for Espanola and love smoky paprika. One thing about saffron is a little goes a very long way, it has such a unique taste you can’t really explain it. I love it but it’s so darn expensive I only cook with it a few times a year.

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen March 6, 2013 at 7:27 pm

      Next dinner party I’ll break down and buy some!! I’m sure I’ve had saffron over the years – I seem to remember a fantastic Burmese curry with saffron. And I’ve had Paella – but not often enough to really discern the taste of saffron. It was your paella that inspired me. xo

  • Reply Food and Forage Hebrides March 6, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    I love saffron, but not the price. I tried seeking some out in delis in London this week, hoping offerings would be higher quality and better value than supermarkets, alas, to no avail. Better though than the saffron my parents brought me back from India – orange threads 🙂 happens a lot to tourists apparently! Love tortilla but I’m not brave enough to flip – I stick it in the oven to cook and brown the top, otherwise the curses would be excessive! Thanks Tracey

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen March 6, 2013 at 7:24 pm

      Oh my Tracey – orange saffron – that would make one mad! I think of you as very brave – fishing out there in the Hebrides. If I’d used a cast iron pan I might have used the “stick it the oven” technique – but I fought with my cast iron pan a few times before surrendering it to daughter #1 (that’s age not status!). Lovely of you to read and comment – thank you as always. xo Lindy

  • Reply bentodays March 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Oh looks good!Can’t wait to see your paella when you do make it.

  • Reply aodonovan March 6, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    …and saffron’s mad about me! Thank you for the responsible and affordable saffron-free recipe, Lindy…and for your wonderful way with words.

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen March 6, 2013 at 7:59 pm

      Oh lovely Amanda…. thank you. So nice to see you here. Hope life is treating you well. Visit me sometime…. xox

  • Reply Laura Mechefske March 6, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    This looks amazing! I cannot wait to experiment with this – I appreciate the honesty …. lets hope I can manage slightly tricky!
    Thanks for keeping me well fed!!


  • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen March 7, 2013 at 7:17 am

    You can certainly manage slightly tricky! And this is a great one for you being dairy-free.
    Truly, madly, deeply… xoxoxo

  • Reply Nancy Malachowski March 7, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Mmmm. looks so good. I must try this one. (great pic)

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen March 7, 2013 at 7:31 pm

      Thanks Nancy – I had cold leftovers today – still really yummy. Especially appreciate the comment about the photograph since I think my photography skills are minimal…

  • Reply gotasté March 8, 2013 at 2:13 am

    this dish looks really delicious! I have long to make Tortilla Espanola. I like your writing. What a lovely post.

    • Reply A Taste of Wintergreen March 8, 2013 at 6:53 am

      Thank you!! That’s a lovely and generous comment and a nice pick-me up on a morning when it was very much needed!

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