Sunday, January 24, 2010

South of France Chicken Saffron Soup recipe

I'm just mad about Saffron

Here is a recipe for a splendidly simple and delicious chicken and vegetable soup that offers of the warming flavors from one of our favorite regions in Europe, the South of France. 

Most prominently, the soup is made with saffron.  We love the flavor, aroma and color of Saffron.  Not surprisingly, we are also passionate about some of the most famous dishes that feature this spice, the Spanish Paella, Rissotto Milanese (Italian) and the famous French Bouillabaisse. 

Saffron is the dried stigmas from a small purple crocus called Crocus sativus.  Each flower produces only 3 stigmas.  The stigmas must be hand picked and dried.  It is because of this labor intensive process that saffron is the world's most expensive spice, almost $400.00 per ounce.   But do not worry, a little saffron goes a long way.  The jar of saffron in the above photo costs $11.29 at   It contains .02824 ounces of saffron, or about 2 tablespoons (this recipe calls for 1 tablespoon so the ingredient cost is under $6.00).  It takes over 14,000 of these stigmas to make up an ounce of saffron -- that is a whole lot of crocus! 

This satisfying chicken and vegetable soup is made with a delicious nod to the traditional bouillabaisse from the south of France.  Oh, how we love spending days lunching and lounging at our favorite beach club, Nioulargo (click on the name to enjoy the scene) and then heading to Chez Camille, for bouillabaisse made in the time honored traditional fashion.  Click on the soup name to learn about this famous beach restaurant and a little about the process of making this traditional dish (and to hear a handsome voice speaking French).

Do not worry, Splendid ones, this soup recipe offers the pleasures of a bouillabaisse, but it is much easier to make.   Also, it is made with chicken instead of fish.

Beyond being joyfully drenched in a saffrony broth, this soup provides a great excuse to indulge in aioli. Aioli is a garlicky mayonnaise from that region which is very easy to make and is delicious on everything. We like to keep a tub in the refrigerator to add to sandwiches or dollop on salads for a delicious burst of garlic and green olive oil flavor.  You may want to indulge in a bottle of cold Rosé wine with this dish, no need to wait for summer!  The Pernod and fennel root round out the classic bouillabaisse flavor profile.

serves 4
5 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 boneless-skinless chicken breasts, sprinkled with salt, pepper and thyme leaves.
1 red onion, chopped (for easier chopping, with a sharp knife, halve the onion, then cut through the onion layers, cutting through the arches to the desired thickness.  Then cut the other way, again, being mindful of the size of pieces you desire)

1 cup chopped celery (about 4 stalks)
(for quicker chopping, with a sharp knife, run the blade down the length of the stalk, making 3 or 4 "streamers" depending upon your desired size.   Next, cut width-wise to desired size).   For a minced vegetable, use these techniques and then chop the pile, left to right, right to left until it is the desired size.

1/2 cup chopped fennel root
2 cups coarsley chopped ripe tomatoes (about 2 medium tomatoes)
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup white wine
3/4 cup Pernod (or Pastis)
10 sprigs fresh thyme
6 baby red potatoes, cut in ½ and thickly sliced (optional)

Place saffron threads in medium sauce pan over medium high heat, stir around until you smell the fragrance, then pour in chicken stock (this allows the saffron flavor to infuse the broth).
Allow the seasoned chicken to sit at room temperature for up to an hour.
Drizzle olive oil into the pan and heat over medium high heat.
Cut the chicken into 1 inch chunks.
Put chunks in heated oil.  Cook until lightly browned.
Remove chicken from pan and cover to keep warm.
Toss potatoes into remaining oil/fat, allow to become golden brown and remove from heat (store in oven if possible).  The potatoes can be omitted, or if another starch is desired, cooked pasta, cous cous or rice would be nice.

Reduce heat to medium, add chopped onion, celery, and fennel root, cook until just translucent.
Add tomatoes and garlic to vegetables.  Cook until the tomatoes are just soft.

Add saffron infused stock, Pernod, wine and the thyme sprigs.
Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for 1/2 hour.  After about 25 minutes, add the chicken and allow it to warm.

Set the table with soup bowls and spoons. The potatoes can be put in the soup bowl with the soup ladled over them.

Serve with a large bowl of aioli (click on the name to go to the recipe -- this can be made the day before) to dollop on top!
Pour the rosé, et, bon appetite!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the recipe for aioli! I always make hollandaise sauce, but this looks as if it will taste as good, and be healthier because it uses olive oil, instead of the butter which hollandaise requires.

Emily Heston said...

Enjoy! I love aioli. I just added a little after thought to the aioli. When I was making aioli the other night - it didn't emulsify! What a disaster! I turned to Julia and she gave me the cure. The key is to start slow -- very slowly dribble in the olive oil. But, if, by chance, you get hasty, as I did, recovery is possible!

French-Kissed said...

Hi Emily,

How fortunate I feel today to have found your comment and discovered your blog. Thanks for stopping by and introducing yourself. I can see I have much to explore here and have thoroughly enjoyed my first visit--I must return later to get up to speed--I can see there are fabulous things to be explored here at Splendid Market. Sounds like you may have an SB connection as I saw you mentioned DRI. I'll be back for all the wonderful flowers, food and other delights.


splendid market said...

Hello Jermaine -- thank you for visiting. A Surgeon friend who lives in Seattle is very active in DRI. What a great organization!

Alan in Leith said...

A whole tablespoon of saffron sounds WAY too much unless you are making industrial-sized portions! Saffron is supposed to be subtle, too much and it will make the soup taste bitter. I would suggest no more than a good pinch in this recipe.