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Saffron (Recipe: risotto with shrimp and asparagus) {gluten-free}

Shrimp asparagus risotto 

My sister-in-law, a scientist who often worked with the World Health Organization, traveled to places most tourists never go, and from many of those places she brought back wooden spoons for my kitchen.

From Pakistan, however, she brought saffron. Real, honest-to-goodness saffron threads.

Imagine my glee! It looked red enough, like the high-quality (and high-priced) Spanish saffron I usually buy. When I opened the baggie, I noticed a kind of musty odor, but saffron does smell a bit, so I didn't think twice about cooking with it.

After the first time I used that saffron, in risotto, I knew there wouldn't be a second time. The rice turned brown instead of golden yellow, and the taste? Like road dust. The rest went into the compost bin, and I went back to my good Spanish saffron.

The moral of the story is: be grateful for the gifts you receive, but don't cook with them if they come in unmarked baggies and smell funky.

What is saffron?
The stigmas of the crocus sativus flower. Buy saffron threads rather than ground saffron, so you are sure that what you're getting is pure saffron, and not a mix of saffron cut with less-expensive turmeric.

How/where to store?
In a cool, dark place. I buy saffron in tins, and decant just a small amount into a jar on my spice rack. The rest stays in a plastic bag inside the tin, on a shelf in the cool cellar, for up to one year.

Facts about saffron, and ingredient photos, on The Perfect Pantry:
Saffron (Recipe: pie-ella)

Shrimp asparagus risotto 

Risotto with shrimp and asparagus

What's pink and green and gold all over? This delicious risotto, just in time to usher in Spring. Serves 4 as a main course; can be doubled.


1 tsp olive oil
1/2 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 stalks asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 cups chicken broth (homemade stock or low-sodium store-bought)
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp saffron threads
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup finely minced onion
1 cups carnaroli or arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste


In a small nonstick frying pan, heat 1 tsp olive oil. Sauté the shrimp and asparagus for 2-3 minutes, until the shrimp just curls and turns pink. Remove from the pan to a bowl, and set aside while you make the rice.

Bring broth to a boil on the stovetop or in a microwave, and set aside. Place 1/2 cup water and the saffron threads into a small glass measuring cup; heat in the microwave for 1 minute, then set aside.

Heat remaining oil in a large, deep skillet or 4-quart straight-sided pan. Add the onion, and sauté until soft but not brown, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the rice, making sure to coat each grain, and stir until the rice just begins to turn light brown.

Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the wine. It will bubble up, so be careful. Return the pan to the heat. When the liquid is absorbed, begin adding broth, 1 ladleful at a time, letting each bit of liquid be absorbed. After 1 cup is added, stir the saffron water into the rice. Continue adding broth, reserving a few tablespoons at the end. Remove from heat. Add butter and cheese, and stir vigorously for 2 minutes. Add in any remaining broth, and stir to desired creaminess.

Stir in the shrimp and asparagus. Season to taste with black pepper, and serve immediately.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Pie-ella, improved
Salmon tikka
Lamb tagine with prunes and apricots
Risotto alla Milanese
Mushroom and asparagus paella

Other recipes that use saffron:
Quick coconut ice cream with saffron, from David Lebovitz
Grilled salmon packets with tomatoes, olives, garlic, thyme, and saffron, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Saffron rice pudding, from What's for Lunch, Honey?
Chard and saffron tart, from The Wednesday Chef
Kashmiri chai, from Appetite for China

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


This looks very delicious. Prawns is my favourite...makes the whole dish stand out. Beautiful photography. Thanks for sharing.

I've gotten those gifts too.... though, mine was marigolds packaged as saffron.

Your risotto looks great! I think it's much easier than making paella...

That second photograph looks so delicious, I think it should be x-rated! A cool, rainy day like today seems just right for risotto. But I've never tried to make it on my own - wish me luck!

What a lovely medley of spring flavors in this recipe. I adore saffron both for the distinct flavor and the luminous color.

I've received a huge bag of saffron threads as well (what are the odds, your post is timely) and since I've never cooked with them I have no idea how they should smell. I'll have to trust my best nose judgment after your description. LOL The risotto looks delicious!

I hope to never come across any funky saffron gift or otherwise:D Your risotto looks perfect for my lunch that will be coming up soon with the time change.

That's a great photo of the finished risotto, completely drool-inducing!

When I went to the spice markets in Morocco, saffron was the one spice I was told not to buy; apparently bogus saffron is something that unscrupulous merchants love to pass off on unsuspecting American tourists.

I did it! I made this recipe today. It was easier than I anticipated and it's delicious! Thanks Lydia.

Absolutely beautiful photos! I love the story about the saffon - I hate to think what was actually in that bag. The shrimp and asparagus is a lovely combination of flavors.

Rookie Cookie, I've been writing here for close to four years, and I'll surely be here for a while longer. Glad you found your way here.

MaryMoh, the combination of tastes and colors makes this risotto a winner.

Julia, paella is much more finicky than risotto. I use Penelope Casas' method for paella, which is stovetop plus oven. Risotto is so easy by comparison!

Lucia, I'm so happy you made this recipe, and conquered your fear of risotto. It really is easy, when you get the hang of it, and all risotto is made basically the same way. So, truly, if you've made one, you've made them all.

TW, I adore saffron too, and I think I will forever associate it now with Christo's gates in Central Park, which we saw at dawn on a cold winter morning. The color, saffron, was luminous.

April, they will have just the slightest aroma, but the proof will be in the taste and color when you cook with it. Good luck!

Val, just don't accept any saffron gifts from my family members and you'll probably be fine.

Kalyn, sounds like you got good advice. I've received a few funky saffron baggies over the years. Now I always buy from a very reputable spice dealer. It's worth the cost to know you're getting the real thing.

Cookin' Canuck, thanks so much. I love the colors and tastes in this risotto (and don't forget the cheese!). I think what was in the bag was saffron, just of such inferior quality that it was completely inedible.

Your story cracked me up! Thanks for the advice about cooking with funky smelling ingredients---I'll never look at a jar of saffron the same way again ;)

saffron has a very special place in my heart - it's my grandmother's favorite spice and somehow every time i take my jar of saffron out i instantly think of her. i love the color it gives the food and the subtle sweet flavor but most of all because it transports me to ma grandmum! lol! lovely looking risotto°

I've never had the gift of saffron, even the poor quality you were given, though I did forget about a small box of genuine saffron at the back of the pantry for a number of years, had to throw that out plus the dish I made from them.

For some dishes, I like to grind the saffron to a powder in my mortar and pestle, then rinse the contents into the dish with a teaspoon of hot water.

I have heard that you have to be careful with Pakistani saffron. So sorry you got slighted in your gift.
I am a big fan and don't find it so very expensive when I consider how little I use at a time. Looks totally delicious.

Risotto is my most favorite food! There is just something about it. It seems that a lot of love goes into making it so maybe that's it! My dad makes the best asparagus risotto and he sometimes adds grilled shrimp to it as well. If you come to Boston someday he'll make it for us for lunch or dinner!

I love saffron in risotto - it looks so lovely, and adds a wonderfully floral aroma. Especially when it's a risotto with seafood, like you have here. Yum!

I didn't know Pakistan produced saffron as well. I just got a batch of Greek saffron meself!

Hi, just found your blog (trying to find out about nopalitos). Really looking forward to trying some of your fab recipes. I love the idea of Soup Chick. Two of my favourite food groups are home made soup and home made biscuits! Will be back for sure.

Love shrimp and asparagus combo and can only imagine the fabulousness in this risotto. With saffron, to boot? Goodness.

Only a true foodie would be thrilled to get spices from a foreign country! And, saffron pretty much keeps forever, doesn't it?

Oh it looks so fresh and lovely! I just bought some fresh shrimp at the fish monger!! I'll have to try this.

I love saffron and shrimp together, though I've never had the good fortune of having as you say, real honest to goodness saffron. My sister-in-law is a hairstylist in RI, so the most I get is free shampoo samples. ;)

Sandie, I think ground saffron is one the easiest things to fake, which is why I recommend never buying it. Saffron threads are a bit harder, but there's obviously a real difference in quality and in how the harvest is handled.

Meeta, what a lovely association with family and food memories!

Neil, grinding saffron as needed is the best way. Never buy it pre-ground, as it might be cut with turmeric.

Natashya, I agree, it doesn't seem that expensive when you realize a little goes a long way. I tend to buy in one-ounce tins, and share it with a friend, so the saffron doesn't hang around long enough to lose its vibrancy.

Janice, that's an invitation I can't pass up!

Alta, saffron and seafood love each other, especially in risotto. I find the combination intoxicating.

Peter, based on my one experience with Pakistani "saffron", I wouldn't recommend it.

Deb, welcome -- glad you found your way here (and to Soup Chick, too).

Kellypea, this risotto screams Spring, and I am so ready for that.

Donna, I don't recommend keeping saffron forever, because like all spices it loses potency over time. If the saffron is good quality, you can just increase the quantity if it's a bit older.

EB, even without the asparagus this dish is delicious. The key is not to overcook the shrimp.

Susan, free shampoo would have been more useful than this funky saffron my sister-in-law brought me. (Maybe should have tried to wash my hair with it; it turned my risotto brown, and as a hair dye that's not a bad thing...)

That photo look's so delicious that it is truly like "food-porn"
thanks for helping me to remember that I have the tiniest jar of saffron threads at home - hopefully still ok to cook with!

What a gorgeous asparagus recipe to celebrate spring's arrival. Just want to let you know about an asparagus recipe contest that's super simple to enter and offers gourmet prizes. Hope you'll join us at Beet 'n Squash YOU!

I often but "Mexican saffron" at my local latin market. It comes as stigmas. It is dirt cheap, but it tastes different than the good stuff. Do you know what I am buying? GREG

Made the risotto tonight for Xmas eve, it was delicious!! We will definitely be making it again. I doubled the recipe and it worked out perfectly.

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