Saffron, from the crocus, Crocus sativa, is the most expensive spice in the world, and probably always has been. This is because it is still hand-picked, and each crocus flower produces only 3 stigmas. These have to be dried and allowed to ferment a little before saffron is produced. It is labour-intensive, and it takes 14,000 stigmas to make 1 ounce of saffron spice, which sells at $50 for a quarter of an ounce. This being said, you only need a couple of saffron threads in a dish, so for $10 you can make one dish. Its best to buy it if you holiday in Greece, where it is cultivated, as it’s cheaper there.
The crocus is native to southwest Asia, the wild crocus known as Crocus cartwrightianus, and Crocus sativa was bred from this by choosing croci with unusually large stigmas to cross-pollinate. It is believed that this species may have started in Bronze Age Crete. It was found depicted on frescoes at Knossos by Sir Arthur Evans, and also at Akrotiri and on Thera or Santorini.
The first text which mentions saffron was an Assyrian one, written at the behest of Ashurbinapal. Much later Herodotus and Pliny both recommend saffron from Assyria, and Babylon, believing it the best to treat gastric ailments. Long before, however, the ancient cave artists used saffron based pigments to paint the walls of caves in Iraq. These have been dated and are believed to be around 50,000 years old.
2/3 litres water
250 gr onions whole and stuck at top and bottom with 2 cloves each
250 gr carrots peeled and quartered
12 black peppercorns
3 sprigs thyme
small bunch parsley
3 bay leaves
1 tsp coriander seeds
trimmings of all fish and shells of shellfish used
Fish and seafood
1 kg sea bass (head, bones and skin in stock)
1kg John Dory (head, bones skin in stock
1 kg coley
250 gr prawns (shells in stock)
1 small octopus, Beak removed and discarded, then cut into 2 inch pieces
500 gr squid, backbone removed and used in stock, cut squid into pieces
1 lobster flesh removed from shell, and shell used in stock
3 glasses white wine
1 glass brandy
2 threads saffron
freshly ground black pepper
First clean all the fish and seafood so you have the trimmings for the base of the soup. Put all the ingredients into a large pan and bring to the boil. You can tie the herbs together in a bunch if you want to. Remove any scum, cover and simmer for 2 hours. Check every so often and remove any further scum. If you think it’s really necessary to add more water, do so.
Next strain the liquid and put al the other ingredients into a large pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for a further1½ hours.
And your delicious, but expensive fish soup is ready to serve.