Last October former Canberrans, now Melburnians, John and Kerry Viksne toured Iran. In the ancient Persian city of Isfahan, they were taken to a saffron shop which sold a high-grade spice. Their guide said dried saffron stigmas, in sealed containers, could be taken into Australia under our quarantine laws.
Their travels reignited my passion for saffron. In March 1995 I purchased saffron corms from Tas-Saff, started by Terry and Nicky Noonan who pioneered the saffron industry in Autralia on their property overlooking Glaziers Bay in the Huon Valley, Tasmania. The corms I purchased were planted in a pot and they rotted.
Terry Noonan explained saffron (Crocus sativus) corms do not like pots and they hate potting mix. Their native environment is poor soil, sun all day and cold winters, they are frost hardy. In a Kitchen Garden column (Food & Wine, May 27, 1998) In Australia, harvesting takes place early each morning in April and May. The three-pronged stigmas are individually plucked and it takes 140 flowers to produce one gram of henna-hued dried stigma filaments. You can order saffron and corms online from the multi-award winning Tas-Saff.
At Essential Ingredient in Kingston, saffron from Spain is kept in a locked cabinet. Small jars of saffron threads are $17.99 for two grams and saffron powder is $11.99 for one gram.
Christine McMillan from Windview Farm in Bungendore said after the "summer from hell" they were not sure what would survive from their current crop.
"We are fostering a small amount of corms which are left and hope they will multiply over the next few years."
She dug some corms in December, the usual month for dividing the corms and replanting in January, but they had not multiplied.
In a Kitchen Garden column (Food & Wine, May 27, 1998) I published a recipe from Loukie Werle's book Saffron, Garlic & Olives (Simon & Schuster). This week I made it again, with variations. My choice of fish, from Narooma Seafoods at Southside Farmers Sunday Market was kingfish.
The only wine in the pantry was pinot noir so I picked bunches of small grapes from my muscat vine, washed them, placed them in a sieve and, no mortar and pestle, pressed the grapes with a wooden spoon. That resulted in a pseudo verjuice of a pinkish hue and the skins and seeds went into the compost. The possum had eaten all four parsley plants to the ground so I used homegrown fronds of fennel. The fish was delicious and the liquid was fragrant and yellowish. The original recipe follows.
Lots of entries in our giveaway to name the surprise tomato plant laden with cherry-sized fruit in my garden. The winner was John Morey of Farrer who called it boncompo - "bold, vigorous and healthy hence the 'bon' and as it has come from the birthplace of many fine plants, compost, the addition of compo." I delivered the two books to Morey's porch with three of the tomatoes.
He replied that he immediately tasted a boncompo and found it "pleasantly sweet with an unusual tang which developed into a lingering aftertaste". He is drying the seed of one tomato for next year's planting. A horticultural adventure.
Fish fillets poached in wine with saffron
1/2 tsp saffron threads
2 tbsp hot water
250ml dry white wine
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 thick fish fillets or cutlets, such as gemfish, snapper or blue-eye cod
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large lemon, peeled and cut into wafer-thin slices
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Place saffron in a small bowl and cover with two tablespoons hot water. Stand at room temperature for at least 20 minutes, preferably one hour. In a deep frying pan that will accommodate the fish in one layer, combine wine, water, garlic, oil and the saffron and its soaking liquid, and bring to the boil. Boil for one minute only - this will allow the oil and liquid to emulsify. Season fish to taste. Lower heat so liquid barely shivers on the surface, without bubbles breaking. Lower fish gently into liquid, distribute lemon slices on top and cover pan with a lid or foil. Cook over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness. The fish should be opaque at its thickest point, and the flesh flake easily. Serve immediately on heated plates. Scatter with parsley and spoon a little of the sauce over each portion. Side dish: roasted potatoes or couscous.