One of my favorite facets of regularly cooking in your home is the possibility for food substitution and experimentation. Often, food substitutes are employed because of allergies or dietary restrictions, and while that’s not the crux of my current discourse, it certainly still applies. My focus today is experimentation for its own sake, the idea of creating something new and delicious completely on your own. Most people assume that creating recipes is a ground-up process, and while that can be true, I think it’s much easier and more fulfilling (especially for the novice) to modify existing preparations and in doing so make them your own.
In an effort to find a new and still healthy way to prepare all the good, inexpensive cod that’s been available lately, I did a little digging and found that using panko instead of standard breadcrumbs can make for a crispier coating while still employing the oven. Mixing the panko with a little olive oil and a few choice spices makes a terrific topping for the fish that gets super-crunchy without burning during cooking (the cod gets done at 400 F after about 20-25 min).
To go with it, I was reminded of my wife’s love of orzo pasta. Recently, I found myself combing a grocery store for saffron. The only bottle I found cost nearly $20 and contained far more of the stuff than I needed. About to give up, I checked the organic spice section and found a large container of ‘organic American saffron’ for less than $3. I found this notion of the organic product being far, far cheaper than the normal confusing until I read the box. Organic American Saffron is not harvested from the standard crocus, but rather form the American safflower plant. I imagine harvesting a huge field of flowers to get three tiny saffron threads would be nearly impossible with organic farming methods. So, created for a completely unrelated reason, I found an extremely cheap saffron substitute. Now, it’s not *quite* as good as normal saffron. The flavor’s not quite as good and it doesn’t make your food quite so yellow, but it costs about $4 for an ounce, instead of over $100. Proper (or ‘Spanish’) organic saffron is also available, for about $200 per oz.
The American stuff is a wonderful addition to pasta and rice (simmer 1 tsp in your cooking water for 5-10 minutes before bringing to a boil and adding your starch) and for the weeknight gourmet it’s more than adequate, espeically considering the price.