The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 03.07.05


You want rice with that?

"Get thee back! Get thee way back behind me"!

I can almost hear the screaming e-mail that will arrive in my inbox shortly.

One regular reader (and he knows who he is) often chastises me for including suggestions for a staple in recipes he clearly has a dislike for.

I speak of rice, a basis for which humanity has anchored its hungry maw and I say get thee to the stove and put up some grains of the fluffy stuff.

In Tsunami affected areas it turns out that the big wave has had a devastating affect of rice production. Salt left behind has acted as an herbicide and killed off most of the staple that locals rely on. To make matters worse, the salt residue will potentially take years to be flushed out or to dissipate.

While rice in all its forms clearly plays a central role in the daily lives of many, I will promote something here that turns the ordinary into the exquisite.

Saffron is so coveted that even the most prolific of bards used it as a hook.

    I'm just mad about Saffron
    Saffron's mad about me
    I'm just mad about Saffron
    She's just mad about me

    They call me mellow yellow (Quite rightly)
    They call me mellow yellow (Quite rightly)
    They call me mellow yellow... (Donovan)

What is saffron? Saffron is the dried orange-red stigmas of the crocus flower. These threadlike strands are about one inch long, thin and wiry, and very brittle. Why is it so expensive? It takes 70,000 crocus flowers to produce one pound of saffron. One acre will yield only ten pounds of saffron. Each crocus produces only three stigmas and the delicate stigmas can only be picked by hand.

While saffron may be the worlds most expensive spice, one need only to use a very small amount for a recipe that in turn makes it very affordable. Buy quality saffron and beware of fakes that serve only to add color to a dish.

Pure Spanish saffron threads are the best in my opinion.

With apologies to the reader who hates rice I do suggest you serve this recipe with a side of it. However feel free to serve "tatties" or noodles.

Couscous (another column) would be a fine compliment to the dish too.


1-tablespoon vegetable oil
1-pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2-teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
11/2 cups chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups tomato juice
6 whole pitted dates, quartered
2 cups water
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
3 green onions, thinly sliced
Lemon wedges, optional

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4-teaspoon salt and pepper. Add chicken to pan, and sauté 5 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm.

Add onion, 1/8 teaspoon saffron, and garlic to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Stir in reserved chicken, tomato juice and dates; cover. Reduce heat to low and cook 15 minutes. Uncover; cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Combine 1/4-teaspoon salt, 1/8-teaspoon saffron, 2 cups water and rice in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until rice is tender and water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork. Serve the chicken mixture over rice mixture. Garnish with sliced green onions and lemon wedges, if desired.

Makes 6 servings.