Saffron Rice is a fragrant side dish of tender flavorful Basmati rice cooked in chicken broth and butter with a vibrant yellow color from saffron threads.
There are many versions of Saffron Rice from around the world, with ingredients and cooking techniques varying from culture to culture and even region to region. This Saffron Rice recipe is simple and universal so it can be served alongside dishes from any cuisine, from Middle Eastern to Spanish to Asian to American. The fragrant savory rice is just as beautiful as it is delicious with natural bright yellow coloring that will look stunning on any dinner table.
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About our Saffron Rice Recipe
No matter where it is from, the basics of Saffron Rice are white rice, saffron threads, and broth or stock. Some recipes use vegetable broth, but this recipe gets extra flavor from using chicken broth. If you want this dish to be vegetarian, you can always swap the chicken broth for mushroom stock or vegetable stock. We prefer using stock concentrate versus liquid broth because it has way more rich flavor.
The key to bringing out the savory saffron flavors and bright color is to bloom the saffron threads in hot water or broth before adding it to the rice. The best way to do this is to take ½ cup of the broth or water you are using to cook the rice and then add the saffron water along with the soaked saffron. So, if you are using 3 cups of liquid total, ½ cup of the liquid would be saffron water or broth.
This delicious and easy Saffron Rice is similar to our Persian Yellow Rice recipe, but with far less ingredients. Because we don’t use any other spices or seasonings, besides salt and pepper, the aromatic saffron flavors are the star. We don’t use onions or garlic, so there’s almost no prep work besides blooming the saffron and rinsing the rice. Start to finish, this gorgeous, flavorful side dish is on the table in less than an hour.
Saffron Rice Ingredients
- Saffron: Of course saffron is the star of this rice dish! It provides a bright golden color and delicious, aromatic flavor. You only need a little bit to get a lot of flavor and color.
- Basmati Rice: Basmati rice is a long-grain white rice that cooks up fluffy and tender very easily without turning mushy. The best substitute is jasmine rice, and definitely don’t use brown rice.
- Chicken Broth: We like Better than Bouillon concentrated broth because it has such a rich flavor you can’t get with liquid broth. Sometimes we add an extra teaspoon for even more richness. You can use veggie broth to make this dish vegetarian.
How to Make Saffron Rice
Time needed: 40 minutes.
- Prep the Broth
Bring chicken broth to a simmer in a large pot. Once hot, steep saffron in ½ cup of hot broth.
- Toast the Rice
Pour the remaining broth in a separate bowl. Melt butter in the pot over medium high heat. Add rice and salt, and stir constantly until the rice becomes opaque. Do not brown.
- Cook the Rice
Add broth and saffron-infused broth back to the pot and stir well. Cover, turn heat down to low, and cook for about 20 minutes. Do not the remove lid while cooking until at least 18 minutes.
- Rest and Serve
Once broth is absorbed, turn off heat and let rice sit covered for up to 10 minutes. Remove lid and fluff the rice to serve.
Cooking Saffron Rice Tips & Tricks
- Store your Saffron Properly
- Since it is the most expensive spice, and it’s not used in a lot of recipes, you are gonna want to store saffron threads properly. Like most spices, saffron threads won’t go bad or spoil, but they will start losing flavor after they are opened. Keep saffron threads in an airtight container, preferably a glass jar with a metal lid because plastic is porous and allows in air over time. Store in a cool, dry, dark place for about 6 months or freeze up to 2 years.
- Use the Correct Rice
- Normally when we are making a rice dish, it doesn’t matter what type of rice you use. However, for this rice you want to use Basmati rice or jasmine rice because they are long-grain rice that is slightly fragrant. Long-grain rice will give you light and fluffy rice and allow the beautiful color and flavor of saffron to get all the way into the grains of rice. If you use medium grain rice or brown rice, the texture and flavor will not be the same at all.
What to Pair with Saffron Rice
The subtle floral, aromatic flavors of this Saffron Rice go so well with rustic, meaty dishes like Leg of Lamb or Beef Rump Roast. It’s also popular to serve this rice as a base for saucy comfort food like Indian Lamb Curry or Spanish Beef Stew. If you are making a vegetarian Saffron Rice, try it with Chana Masala or simple Roasted Vegetables. Traditional Saffron Rice dishes are garnished with toppings like toasted pine nuts or pistachios, fresh chopped parsley, green onions, and warmed golden raisins.
How to Store
- Serve: This rice can be kept at room temperature for about 2 hours before it needs to be refrigerated. But you will want to keep re-fluff it occasionally with a serving spoon if you plan on serving it past 30 minutes or so, just to keep it from drying out.
- Store: Store Saffron Rice in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. You can add a little bit of chicken broth when you reheat it if it’s too dry.
- Freeze: Once it’s cooled, transfer rice to a freezer safe bag and squeeze out as much air as possible. Store laying flat in the freezer for up to 6 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating, adding broth if needed.
Alternative Cooking Methods
Slow Cooker Saffron Rice
Bloom the saffron threads in ½ cup of hot broth. Add all the ingredients to the slow cooker and cover with the lid. Cook rice on low for 2-3 hours on low until tender. Fluff rice with a fork before serving.
Instant Pot Saffron Rice
Soak the saffron like usual in a ½ cup of hot broth or water. Turn Instant Pot on the saute feature and melt the butter. Toast the rice and turn off the device. Stir in the saffron water, seasonings, and 2 cups of broth. Secure lid and seal the valve then cook on high pressure for 4 minutes. Use the natural release and carefully remove the lid and fluff the rice.
FAQs for Saffron Rice
Saffron has grassy or hay-like notes, but it is also lightly floral and sweet. The floral grass aroma is pungent before it is cooked, but cooking it tones that down and makes it more savory. Saffron Rice has a buttery, subtle floral earthy flavor that tastes delicious and is totally unique.
Saffron is labor intensive to harvest because the threads are picked by hand. Also, the plant itself is finicky to grow and affects the flavor and quality if it’s not grown under the right conditions. Both of these factors make saffron the most expensive spice by weight. You have to take care to buy good quality pure saffron threads because low quality (aka cheap) saffron is often adulterated with similar spices. The nice thing is you only need a pinch of saffron to get all that flavor and, if stored right, it can last years so it’s worth the investment.
- 3 cups chicken broth , divided
- 3/4 teaspoon saffron threads
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups uncooked Basmati rice , rinsed well until clear
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Add chicken broth to a large pot and bring to a simmer.
- Steep the saffron in ½ cup boiling water or chicken broth.
- Reserve the rest of the liquid in a bowl.
- To the pot add the butter on medium-high heat.
- Stir in the rice and salt.
- Cook, stirring constantly, until the rice begins to absorb the butter and becomes opaque,
- Note: Do not allow the rice to brown.
- Pour the remaining chicken broth along with the saffron-infused broth and stir.
- Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for 18-20 minutes, or until all of the liquid is absorbed.
- Turn off heat, let sit for 5-10 minutes before opening the cover.
- Indian Saffron Rice: Traditional seasonings used in Indian Saffron Rice are cardamom, cinnamon, mace, cloves, caraway seeds, and bay leaf. Toast the spices in butter before adding the rice for a deeper flavor.
- Persian Saffron Rice: For a classic Persian flavor combo, use pine nuts, raisins, coriander, cinnamon, and cumin. If feeling bold, you can add rose water for an authentic Persian taste, but keep in mind a very, very little rose water goes a long way.
- Spanish Saffron Rice: Start with finely diced red bell pepper and yellow onions, sauteed in butter until tender. Remove from the pan, toast the rice in more butter, then return the onion mixture along with garlic and coriander and cook as normal.
- Vegan: Make Vegan Saffron Rice by using vegetable stock and swapping the butter for any cooking oil. We recommend coconut oil or olive oil because it adds more flavor.