Posted by: acooksca | 04/03/2009

Saffron Rice Custards

There are three foods that are linked in my mind with Spain. Saffron is one, introduced in my childhood home by my saffron-custard-1amother cooking from the Time Life Cookbook series of the 1960’s. Her favorite Spanish recipe was the national dish, Paella.

Some years later, traveling through Spain and sampling Paellas, I realized that they were all made with medium grain rice. Unlike the long grain rice we promote in the U.S., medium grain has a plump texture that can stand up to long cooking and the wealth of ingredients that typifies Paella. Medium Grain rice is another necessary Spanish product.

The third is eggs. Some of the best eggs I ever tasted were plain boiled and served in an unassuming tavern in Rhonda, Spain. The yolks were a vivid orange color, the “whites” a creamy ivory. They were served room temperature, simply quartered, with a hand-whipped mayonnaise on the side. These eggs had such a startlingly rich flavor that the next day I was back leaning on the bar at tapas time for boiled eggs and fino sherry.

Here is a simple recipe of these three ingredients (oh what the heck… let’s add a little cheese.) These savory custards could be a starter course served with a few slices of Spanish chorizo or Serrano ham. They would be just as welcome accompanying a stew of chicken with olives and paprika. If you make such a stew try to find the smoky Spanish paprika… it is earthy and special.

For Six Individual Custards

1 cup medium grain rice
Large pinch of saffron threads, or ½  tsp. saffron powder (see Cook’s Note)
2 cups water, lightly salted
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1  cup whole milk
¼ cup freshly grated aged Manchego Cheese (or substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano. If 
    using a milder cheeses, such as the rosemary Manchego above, increase to ½ cup)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper or a pinch of cayenne pepper

Place the rice, saffron and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook without disturbing for 15 minutes. Turn the heat off, do not remove the lid, and let rice finish for 15 minutes. Cool the rice in a large bowl until it is no longer too hot to touch. Preheat the oven to 325.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the rice and stir well. Coat six half cup ramekins, custard cups or cappuccino sized cups well with soft butter or spray oil. Ladle the custard into each cup, filling about ¾ of the way. Place cups in a water bath (a pan with water half way up the sides of the cups), bring to a simmer on top of the stove, then set the pan in the oven.

Bake the custards until a knife comes out clean when inserted (about 35-40 minutes, depending on the depth of your ramekin.) Allow custards to cool at least 10 minutes. Run a knife around the inside edges to loosen the custards. Invert the cups to tip out the custards. They can be served warm, chilled or briefly reheated in a microwave.

Cook’s Note: Saffron powder fades as soon as it is ground so the flavor is not as intense. Also, other ingredients, such as Turmeric, are sometimes blended into a powder to stretch it. I recommend using whole saffron threads.

Originally published in Farmstead Cheese News by Karen Bolla, edited for A Cook’s California (A Cook’s CA)  by Karen Bolla.

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