This saffron cream sauce recipe is part of my “quarantine kitchen” series… which I’m noticing is completely full of rich, delicious comfort foods. (I guess that makes sense, right?) Anyway, it should come as no surprise that I’m sharing another of my favorite recipes for those days when you just need to lose yourself in a luscious warm bowl of creamy calories.
My absolute favorite way to eat this is on gnocchi, like my simple vegan potato gnocchi. (Obviously they’re no longer vegan once you pour this over them!) It also goes well with scallops, most kinds of fish, and various pastas. I love its rich creaminess and complex yet subtle flavor. It’s definitely not going to overpower anything, yet it’s hearty and flavorful.
Notes on This Recipe:
Saffron: I use a pretty generous pinch of saffron for this recipe. Yes, it’s a lot, but it’s absolutely worth it. The amount you should use depends not only on your taste, but also the quality and freshness of your saffron. The better it is, the less you need to use.
Garlic and onions: you might think that garlic and onions are too strong to fit in a saffron cream sauce. Since these are cooked gently at the beginning of the process, their final flavor ends up being mild and delicate. Instead of overpowering the saffron and cream, they play a supporting role and fill out the flavor.
Wine: I like to use a Sauvignon blanc to add some delicate citrusy and stone fruit notes to the sauce. Feel free to experiment and figure out what you like best, though! Use a decent wine that you’d be happy to drink, because its flavor is noticeable in the final sauce.
Making a roux: don’t worry if this sounds intimidating! A roux is just a sauce base that’s made by frying flour in fat. It’s an easy way of thickening sauces without spending forever reducing them, or adding the nasty slimy texture of cornstarch. (My hatred for cornstarch as a thickener even prompted me to come up with a honey teriyaki sauce without cornstarch!)
Because the flavors in this sauce are delicate and mild, don’t overpower it by pairing it with anything too strong. It’s fantastic on most fish, pasta, or scallop dishes, for example. I definitely wouldn’t use it with lamb or anything bright and citrusy, because those flavors are so strong that they’d compete with (and overwhelm) this sauce.
Prepare the saffron. Make sure you crumble it up before adding it to a bit of very warm water. Alternatively, use a mortar and pestle to crush it. The idea is to get it into small pieces, then allow the water to help extract the flavor and fragrance. Later, you’ll add this water to the sauce.
Make a roux. This roux is unusual because it has bits of onion and garlic in it, since those cook in the butter. This doesn’t hurt anything, but keep it in mind when you see that your roux is a bit lumpy! Gustavo thought I had somehow ruined mine until I explained, so it’s worth noting that you can expect to see lumps.
As you add the flour to the butter in the pan, whisk constantly. It will seize up a bit at first, and that’s fine and normal. Just keep whisking and cooking until it relaxes and starts simmering. You’ll then cook it for just a couple minutes until you can see the garlic specks getting toasty and the whole thing taking on a slightly golden hue.
Finish the sauce. Once your roux is golden and the garlic is toasty, pour in the milk in a thin stream. Whisk constantly as you add it. Again, the mixture will seize up, more dramatically this time. And again, don’t worry, just keep whisking! Add the saffron water and white wine, still whisking. And finally, pull the pan off the heat and stir in the cream. You’ll end up with a rich, luscious sauce perfect for smothering just about any dish. If you want it thinner, though, you can stir in a little more milk at this point.
Make sure you taste your sauce so you can add more salt if necessary. (I like to whisk a bit of chili powder into mine too, but that’s optional!) If the sauce tastes a little dull or muted, it’s probably because it needs more salt! Once you have enough, the flavors pop. The sauce becomes so good you’ll want to just eat it with a spoon!
Looking for something to do with this saffron cream sauce? Try pouring it over my vegan potato gnocchi!
Saffron Cream Sauce
- pinch of saffron
- 2 tablespoons very warm water
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ¼ cup finely minced onions
- ½ teaspoon Himalayan salt
- 2 cloves finely minced garlic
- ¼ cup flour
- ¾ cup milk
- ¼ cup white wine
- ⅔ cup cream
- pinch chili powder
- Prepare the saffron and make a roux. Put the warm water in a small bowl and crumble the saffron into it. Set aside to infuse. Meanwhile, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the onions and salt, and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking until just fragrant, 20 to 30 seconds. Whisking constantly, add the flour to make a roux. Cook over medium heat until you can see the garlic bits in the roux getting toasty and the whole thing developing a golden hue, about 3 minutes.
- Finish the sauce. When your roux is lightly golden, add the milk in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Next, add the white wine and the saffron-infused water. Keep whisking; the sauce will thicken and smooth. Once it does, remove it from the heat and stir in the cream. Taste and adjust salt if necessary, and whisk in chili powder (optional). If the texture is too rich, stir in a bit more milk, a little at a time.
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