It is one of the world's most sought-after spices, a delicate wonder so valued that its use shaped the evolution of trade over the course of centuries. Saffron, derived from the crocus sativus flower, is a key culinary ingredient in Spanish cooking. It has a delicate scent with hints of honey and hay, but its most prized quality is its colour, a golden hue that gives Spanish paella its famous yellow tint.
Interested in sampling this historic spice on a culinary holiday in Spain? Look no further than the saffron-infused dishes on the menu at the world-class restaurants located within Paradores' luxury hotels.
The stuff of legends
Cultivated for at least 3,500 years, saffron has been a treasured spice in many cultures and civilizations. Spain's intimate relationship with saffron began with the Islamic Conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in 711 when the invading Moors planted the flower throughout the country.
Since then, saffron has been an important feature of Spanish cuisine, especially in those regions where the culinary traditions still feature heavy Moorish influences. One such example is paella, a dish that is believed to have originated during the Islamic Era, when farmers improved the irrigation systems along Spain's Mediterranean coast, leading to an increase in rice production and the evolution of rice casseroles.
Today, saffron continues to be in high demand, and it is grown almost exclusively in the balmy Mediterranean - including Spain - and certain parts of the Middle East.
Valencian paella, Castilian cod
The lasting legacy of those early casseroles is Valencian paella. The most traditional paellas feature white grain rice, chicken, rabbit, a variety of beans, tomatoes, fresh rosemary, sweet paprika, saffron, salt, olive oil and water. More modern versions include seafood or even a mix of both meat and seafood.
Valencian paella at Parador El Saler
Few places offer a better setting to enjoy Valencian paella than Parador El Saler. Located between the Albufera Lagoon and a fantastic golf course, the hotel offers the very best of the Mediterranean with easy access to the nearby metropolis of Valencia.
The highlight, however, is the Parador's restaurant, which serves delicious paella - made with saffron, of course- as well as numerous other regional dishes, including olla churra, a pork, legume and vegetable stew; and Valencian ice cream, which is made with fruit at the perfect point of ripeness.
For a Castilian treat, visit Parador Manzanares, a charming estate in the heart of Castile-La Mancha. The Parador here features an excellent fried cod with a choricero, almond and saffron sauce which will surely make your mouth water.
Craving a culinary getaway to Spain? Contact Paradores today.