I have already explained to you in detail how to grow saffron, in fact this extraordinary spice can be easily obtained in Italy and if desired the bulbs can be planted in the garden of the house.
After picking the flowers to make a good risotto, it is not enough to pick the flowers, but you have to go through the drying process which is a very important step. How the stigmas are dried largely depends on the quality of the spice, so watch carefully this time and it’s worth stopping by for some good advice.
I put at your disposal the experience of the saffron farm of Brianza di Vallescuria to explain how to dry the pistils (which should more correctly be called stigmas) even at home, highlighting the best drying techniques. The Orto Da Coltivare also talks about how to dry aromatic herbs, but saffron requires special care
The adequate times to dry the stigmas do not have a pre-packaged recipe and therefore there is no way to give them always valid times: it all depends on several factors and it is something that is learned by doing . However, I try to give some useful tips to get the best possible aroma from your saffron crop.
Before drying: harvest and peel
Before explaining the methods and methods of drying, it is worth taking a step back and talking about the harvesting of saffron. because the time of harvest also influences the final aroma of the product and care must be taken. The right time to harvest is easy to recognize: as soon as the flower comes out of the ground, it must be picked. Check out this beautiful collection of crocus flower pictures, all the flowers you see can be collected. Saffron will do best if the flowers are picked before they bloom, this requires checking the garden every morning during the flowering period. When opening, the flower is hit by sunlight and can bend and become dirty with soil.
The flower is composed of petals (purple), anthers (yellow) and stigmas (red), the latter being the part of interest and to be separated from the rest. The flowers open by separating the three delicate and fine red threads. Only the stigmas dry up, the rest of the flower is useless. These two phases are better explained in the article on harvesting and peeling saffron, which I suggest you read before this one.
Methods of drying saffron
There are many ways to dry saffron stigmas, from hot coals to a dryer. Below we quickly review the main techniques, I also explain what in my opinion is the best way to maximize the quality of the final product.
This method should be avoided from the outset for two reasons:
- Climate . Saffron is harvested in the fall, usually between October and November. This is not the best time to dry off in the sun, as the days are usually humid, cloudy and possibly rainy.
- Quality . Some components responsible for the aroma and nutritional properties of the spice are thermolabile and photosensitive, it is better to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun for a better quality result.
Stove or drying pan
Traditionally, saffron was dried using fire as a source of heat, it was a real art that was transmitted from father to son in peasant families, especially in areas where the cultivation was historically more widespread, such as the plain of Navelli in Abruzzo. the region of San Gavino Monreale in Sardinia.
When you want to use the fire, it is recommended not to use the distant flame, which is too irregular in the combustion, but to dry the stigmas placed on the grids to put them near the embers. The choice of firewood is also important, because of its combustion characteristics, beech can be optimal.
The time taken by the embers is not estimable, because it has a very variable heat. It is a very difficult method to apply correctly, because the temperatures are not controllable and although it contains all the charm of the peasant experience, I do not recommend it.
Drying in a ventilated oven
A good domestic drying technique is the ventilated oven, suitable for those growing in the garden but also interesting for professional productions.
The system is very simple, just place the stigmas on parchment paper and cook them at the minimum temperature allowed by the device (normally 50 degrees). The important thing is to leave a hole open for the humidity to escape, if the oven does not have a rim, it is enough to put something that obstructs the opening of the door leaving a few centimeters of air.
You have to be careful with the time because in the oven the saffron can be ready in about twenty minutes, but also in an hour or more. The exact time depends on the number of stigmas, the characteristics of the kiln and the weather of the day. If you don’t check often, you risk over-roasting the saffron in the oven and the stigmas could burn.
The dryer is a great tool, because it allows you to heat the water contained in the stigmas so that it evaporates, without it being necessary to cook them. That’s why I think it’s the best method to dry saffron while preserving the aroma, without risking burning the precious spice. The choice of dryer is very important, in addition to good control in the definition of time.
Which dryer to choose
On the market there are many models of dryers, saffron is delicate, so it requires a dryer that dries evenly.
The best model I have experimented with in this regard is the Biosec from Tauro dryers. This product is great because it has horizontal stroke and airflow that dries all trays equally. Vertical dryers, on the other hand, are more irregular and you risk toasting some of the saffron.
The best program for Taurus users is T3 or 40 degrees, but sometimes P3, which is designed for herbs, is also very good. The time is very variable and is usually between two and four hours, you should check it periodically. In the next paragraph, I explain better how to assess when the stigmas are dry.
There are two Biosec models suitable for those who want to dry saffron. For home use the Biosec Domus B5 is suitable, while if you grow it for professional purposes you should choose a model with steel decks and interiors, as per MOCA regulations, so the recommended choice is the Biosec Deluxe B6.
How to know when the stigmas are dry
When drying, whether in the oven or in the dryer, it is often necessary to check when the saffron will be ready. Here are the characteristics of dry stigmas in the right place:
- Color . The dried stigmas are red, maybe not as shiny as the fresh ones, but not too brown either. If you see them brown or very dark, you have toasted the saffron.
- Rigidity . By drying our red cables lose their softness and become more rigid, but without exaggerating. The ready stigmas should not break or, worse, become powdery to the touch, although they are obviously not moist and soft to the touch.
A thing : if we put the stigmas to dry on parchment paper we can check if when we move the stigmas on the paper we hear them crackle: in this case the saffron is ready or almost ready, because it is only when it is rigid that the stigmas move they produce noise.
How long does it take to dry saffron?
Many people ask me for more details on the time, unfortunately I have to repeat myself: it is not possible to say a priori how long the saffron will take to dry. Which method did you choose? There are many variables involved:
- If the stigmas are harvested on a damp or even rainy day, they will take longer.
- The very fleshy stigmas, generally those found at the start of the harvest, take longer to dry than the small stigmas, at the end of the harvest or from small bulbs.
- If the room in which it is dried is humid and cold, the time required will be longer.
- The longer the stigmas dry together, the longer it takes.
So if I don’t tell you a definite time, like “it takes 3 hours to dry”, it’s not that I don’t do it because of professional secrecy, but precisely because each bakery has its time. It remains only to review what was written in the previous paragraph and learn to recognize dried saffron and often check the grids during the process.
Use Dried Stigmas
Once dry, the stigmas can be used after at least a month and not before. Indeed, some components responsible for the aroma degrade over time, developing the appropriate bitterness. If used too young, it will be too sweet and its flavor will be too grassy. For more security, it is better to wait until the saffron of the year is consumed, as at Christmas and perhaps even on December 31st.
To cook with saffron in the stigmas simply soak them in a little hot water for an hour, then use the liquid and the stigmas directly in the recipe.