Nov 26, 2013

Saffron & Onion Jam

My back is throbbing from a cortisone shot at Quincy hospital yesterday, where afterwards, sitting in a wheelchair eating Lorna Doone shortbread cookies and sipping cranberry juice, I listened to a nurse give the office lunch order for Chinese food over the phone, at the end of which she was required to give the delivery address: "Quincy Medical Center, fourth floor, wing C, Pain Clinic," but the person on the other end of the line, the Chinese take-out phone person I suppose, couldn't understand what she was saying so the nurse kept repeating "Pain clinic. PAIN clinic. PAIN. No, no, PAIN. As in, P-A-I-N." 

I haven't been able to think about much else today other than this pain, and it's made me pretty mean and tearful but it's a brief suffering and I can tolerate it, especially reading Ipperkiro haiku:

on this winter night
as nothing whatsover happens
Hemp grows dense
prize my life. 
Here too
the sounds of a rough sea
an onion field. 
translated by Soichi Furuta

Speaking of onion fields, I made some onion jam last night to go with the Big Bird on Thursday, and flavored it with a spice I knew would cheer me up, the beloved saffron. Something about saffron has this simple effect on me, this "I / prize my life" effect every time I use it. It's like cooking with something so precious and delicious I feel lucky to be alive just to taste it. The saffron I cooked these onions with is special because it's from a batch I helped harvest in Greek Macedonia with the Mitsopolous family.

Saffron is the stigma of an autumn blooming crocus, and appropriately has a warm, earthy flavor that is perfect in fall-flavored dishes (rich comfort foods) but also is perfect in light, springtime dishes. It's a versatile spice. The particular crocus that produces the spice saffron is called Crocus sativus and grows all over the world, but known regions are Iran, northern India, Morrocco, Italy, Greece, Spain and even the Pacific Northwest of USA. It only takes a tiny amount of the spice to flavor a dish, which is fortunate because the spice is only sold by the gram or by the quarter ounce.

Most of my friends and family know by now that the spice-love of my life is saffron, and there's no changing it. Just a whiff of the special stuff will make me feel good. I figured Thanksgiving was as lovely as an occasion as any to try using this spice in a new application. Plus, not only does the kitchen fill with the lovely scent of sunny saffron while making this dish, but the scent of onions frying in butter just can't be beat.

So here is my onion jam session ode to saffron. In the original recipe it calls for grenadine, but I couldn't get down with that so I decided to substitute honey and add a bit of saffron and more vinegar. The result is a sweet, tangy and earthy jam that would be good with goat cheese or baked brie. I'm going to offer this jam as a condiment with the turkey, but I think it'll be even better on the sandwich the day after!

Sweet Onion Jam with Saffron & Honey

adapted from John Fleer, Food & Wine

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2-3 sweet onions, sliced into half moons
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron threads or powder
1/4 cup honey


Heat a medium skillet and melt the butter. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring until very soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. While the onions are cooking, measure out the vinegar and add the saffron directly into the vinegar to steep. (Saffron is water soluble so it's best to soak it in a liquid before adding it to your dish.) When the onions are soft, add the vinegar-saffron mixture, the wine, sugar, honey and a pinch of salt. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the liquid thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 35 minutes. Keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days. Bring to room temp before serving!

1 comment:

  1. You know that sound that Homer Simpson makes, or atleast used to make when I watched the Simpsons some 20 years ago... That sounds is my comment here.