Looking for a recipe with saffron, I found this saffron chicken & fennel salad in the beautiful cookbook Jerusalem by Ottolenghi (the exact title being Saffron chicken & herb salad).
Saffron is one of the spices grown in Morocco (you can also find it in Greece and other Mediterranean countries). Saffron fares well with white meats & seafood and combined with other spices, it is used in several dishes to add a nice yellow colour and flavour, such as tajines, paellas, curry, bouillabaisse, also in some desserts and tea.
Saffron can also be used as a natural dye for textiles. Last but not least, saffron is said to have healing virtues… However it is the most expensive spice as flowers are harvested by hand over a very short period during the year and you need more than 100 flowers to get 1 gram of saffron. You can read more about saffron harvest here.
As we are approaching our photography workshop in Marrakech, I am very much in the mood for exploring new recipes with ingredients you can find in Morocco. This salad is very refreshing and full of flavours. I prepared the orange and saffron sauce the evening before (easy to let it simmer during your dinner). Then I would even add some hazelnuts to give a bit more crunchy texture next time.
Recipe for this saffron chicken & fennel salad (serves 6)
For the saffron sauce
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
about 300 ml water
For the salad
1 kg skinless chicken breast
4 tbsp olive oil
2 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
1 handful of fresh coriander leaves
1 handful of mint leaves, torn
1 handful of basil leaves, torn (I left those one out)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 red chili, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
salt & black pepper
Step 1: the saffron sauce (best to do the day before)
Trim and discard 1 cm off the top and tail of the orange and cut it into 12 wedges. Place the orange wedges in a small saucepan with the honey, saffron, vinegar and just enough water to cover them.
Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about an hour. At the end you should be left with soft orange and about 3 tablespoons of thick syrup (add water during cooking if the liquid gets very low).
Use a food processor (or hand mixer) to blitz the orange and syrup into a smooth, runny paste; again, add a little water if needed.
Step 2: the chicken
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C /350°F fan forced.
Mix the chicken breast with half of the olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper, and place on a very hot, ridged griddle pan. Sear for about 2 minutes on each side to get clear marks all over. Transfer to a roasting tin and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until just cooked. (I ended cooking the breast directly on the pan with breast cut into small pieces).
Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, but still warm, tear it with your hands into rough and quite large pieces. Place in a large mixing bowl, pour over half the orange paste and stir well. (keep the other half in the fridge and use with herb salsa to serve with oily fish such as salmon or mackerels).
Add the remaining ingredients to the salad, including the rest of olive oil, and toss gently. Taste, add salt and pepper and, if needed some more olive oil and lemon juice.