Skip to Content

Saffron Rice

Made with long-grain basmati rice and fragrant saffron threads, saffron rice boasts a vibrant yellow color and a unique and delicious flavor. Cover the rice tightly and let it simmer until all the liquid absorbs, resulting in a fragrant and full-flavored side dish that’s ready in 30 minutes.

Saffron rice in a bowl.

The History of Saffron Rice

Saffron rice is a popular dish with variations found in many cuisines. Originating in modern-day Iran, this vibrant and aromatic rice is a staple of Persian cuisine. The long-grained white rice cooks with saffron, lending a bright yellow hue and unique floral taste.

South Asian versions incorporate fragrant spices such as cinnamon, caraway seeds, and cardamom pods, while Thai recipes may feature turmeric, chiles, and fish sauce. Italy has its own take on the dish with recipes like risotto allo zafferano.

What Kind of Rice to Use for Saffron Rice?

When making the perfect saffron rice, using the proper type of rice is essential! Enter long-grain basmati rice, a fragrant and flavorful variety from the Indian subcontinent. With its slender grains that cook up light and fluffy and don’t clump together, basmati rice is the perfect choice for saffron rice. Each grain remains separate from the others, allowing delicate and distinctive flavors of saffron to shine through in every bite.

Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Basmati Rice: The key to making good rice begins with soaking it in water beforehand; the longer, the better! Soaking results in the long basmati you’ve come to expect. 
  • Spices: Subtly season the rice with kosher salt and green cardamom pods. 
  • Saffron Stems: Bloom the saffron stems before using them in the recipe; this process draws out the fragrance of the saffron. Bloom by gently mixing the stems with a hot liquid, like water or milk. It is best to use real saffron to make the rice, not Saffron powder.
  • Butter: The rice simmers until all the liquid is absorbed, and then the butter is added to steam until it completely absorbs; I prefer using high-quality butter, like Kerrygold, since butter is central to the dish. 

How to Make Saffron Rice

The full recipe with measurements is in the recipe card below.

Step 1: Wash the rice until the water runs clear.

Add the rice to a bowl and cover it with water to soak for at least 30 minutes.

Rice soaking in a mixing bowl.

Step 2: While waiting on the rice, gently break the stems using a spoon or mortar and pestle. Next, add them to a small bowl with boiling water or milk. Stir and let it stand for 5 minutes.

Saffron blooming in a small bowl.

Step 3: Combine the water, cardamom pods, and salt in a saucepan and let it come to a boil over medium heat.

Water boiling with salt and whole cardamom.

Step 4: Add the rice and reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender for 10-15 minutes.

Rice added to the boiling water in a sauce pan.

Step 5: Open the lid and pour the reserved saffron mixture over the rice in a circular motion. Cover and cook on low for 3 minutes.

Saffron mixture poured over the cooked rice.

Step 6: Remove the rice from heat and layer the tabs of butter overtop the rice. Cover with the lid and set it aside to steam for 5 minutes before serving.

Butter infusing with the saffron rice.

Step 7: Use a fork to fluff the rice, and enjoy!

A fork fluffing the rice to serve.

Expert Tips

  • Rinse the rice under cold water until the water runs clear; this helps to remove excess starch and prevent the rice from sticking.
  • Soak the rice in cold water for at least 30 minutes to an hour to soften the rice and reduce the cooking time.
  • While the rice is cooking, I like to wrap the lid with a towel to create even more of a seal.
  • Once the rice cooks, remove the pan from heat and let it rest for 10 minutes with butter; this allows the rice to absorb any remaining liquid and become fluffy.
  • Increase the water ratio by two tablespoons if you’re making rice at a high elevation.

If you enjoy this side dish, try one of these rice recipes!  

Saffron rice with chicken kabobs in the background.

What to Pair with Saffron Rice

While saffron rice is delicious all by itself, it truly shines when you pair it with entrees like grilled or roasted chicken like joojeh kabob, or you could try it with lamb or beef meals like koobideh kabob. If you’re in the mood for seafood, it’s also great with fish. Oh, and don’t forget about fresh Shirazi salad on the side.

Other Tasty Pairings:

What to do with the Leftovers

  • Refrigerate: Store the leftovers in an airtight container for 5-7 days.
  • Freeze: Let the rice cool completely, and transfer it to a freezer-safe container or bag. Saffron rice freezes for 2 months.
  • Thaw: Let the rice defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Reheat: Warm the leftovers in the microwave or stovetop.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is saffron? What is saffron rice?

Saffron comes from the center of a flower; the bright stems are harvested and dried to be used primarily as a seasoning and coloring agent in various recipes, including Saffron Rice.

Rice made with saffron cooks in the style of rice pilaf or Afghani Pulao, marked by fluffy separate grains. The addition of saffron in the rice provides a bright yellow color, subtle aroma, and a distinctive floral taste.

How much saffron for saffron rice?

While saffron can be expensive, a little goes a long way. As a rule of thumb, I use ½ teaspoon of saffron for every cup of rice.

Can I make this recipe in the Instant Pot?

1. Rinse the rice until the water runs clear, then add the rice to a bowl and cover it with water to soak for at least 30 minutes.
2. While waiting on the rice, gently break the stems using a spoon or mortar and pestle. Next, add them to a small bowl with boiling water or milk. Stir and let it stand for 5 minutes.
3. Add rice, water, cardamom pods, and salt to an Instant Pot. Secure the lid and cook on manual high pressure for 5 minutes. Let the Instant Pot release naturally for 10 minutes before a quick release.
4. Open the lid and pour the saffron mixture over the rice in a circular motion.
5. Secure the lid, and cook on manual high pressure for another minute.
6. Layer the tabs of butter overtop the rice. Cover with the lid, but do not seal. Let the rice stand until the butter infuses with the rice. Use a fork, lightly fluff the rice and serve.

Does saffron rice have gluten?

Our Saffron Rice Recipe consists of basmati rice, saffron stems, water, and butter, making it naturally gluten-free. However, some pre-packaged Saffron Rice mixes may contain gluten.

Is saffron rice healthy?

Rice is a healthy staple that offers many nutrients, including folate. And saffron is more than just a fragrant spice- it’s also a powerful source of antioxidants that can benefit your health.

What does saffron rice taste like?

This rice recipe has a distinct flavor that is hard to describe; it is delicate and slightly sweet. The saffron threads impart an earthy aroma, and the melted butter infuses into the rice, giving it a rich flavor and a silky, smooth texture.

More Mediterranean Recipes:

Your Feedback is Valuable

Did you try this recipe? Consider leaving a ⭐️ rating and comment below. And for more healthy international recipes for everyday cooking, sign up to have recipes emailed right to you.

Saffron rice in a bowl.

Saffron Rice

Tressa Jamil
Made with long-grain basmati rice and fragrant saffron threads, saffron rice boasts a vibrant yellow color with a unique and delicious flavor.
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Course Main Course
Cuisine Persian
Servings 6 Servings
Calories 266 kcal
Ingredients
  
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2-3 green cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon saffron stems
  • 2 tablespoon boiling water or milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut into tabs
Instructions
 
  • Wash the rice until the water runs clear.
  • Add the rice to a bowl and cover it with water to soak for at least 30 minutes.
  • While waiting on the rice, gently break the stems using a spoon or mortar and pestle. Next, add them to a small bowl with boiling water or milk. Stir and let it stand for 5 minutes.
  • Combine the water, cardamom pods, and salt in a saucepan and let it come to a boil over medium heat.
  • Add the rice and reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender for 10-15 minutes.
  • Open the lid and pour the reserved saffron mixture over the rice in a circular motion. Cover and cook on low for 3 minutes.
  • Remove the rice from heat and layer the tabs of butter overtop the rice. Cover with the lid and set it aside to steam for 5 minutes before serving. Use a fork to fluff the rice, and enjoy!
Notes
Expert Tips:
  • Rinse the rice under cold water until the water runs clear; this helps to remove excess starch and prevent the rice from sticking.
  • Soak the rice in cold water for at least 30 minutes to an hour to soften the rice and reduce the cooking time.
  • While the rice is cooking, I like to wrap the lid with a towel to create even more of a seal.
  • Once the rice cooks, remove the pan from heat and let it rest for 10 minutes with butter; this allows the rice to absorb any remaining liquid and become fluffy.
  • Increase the water ratio by two tablespoons if you’re making rice at a high elevation.
Nutrition Disclosure:
  • The nutritional information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for professional advice.
Nutrition
Serving: 1 Serving | Calories: 266 kcal | Carbohydrates: 47 g | Protein: 4 g | Fat: 6 g | Saturated Fat: 4 g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 15 mg | Sodium: 376 mg | Potassium: 5 mg | Calcium: 1 mg
Did you make this recipe? Let me know how it turned out for you! Leave a comment below and follow @thejamilghar or tag #thejamilghar on Instagram!
5 from 3 votes (2 ratings without comment)
Recipe Rating




Kat

Tuesday 6th of February 2024

Lovely recipe for saffron rice! Will definitely be making again - and despite turning the heat off a bit early, the saffron and butter still steamed through the rice beautifully. Thanks for the lovely recipe!

Tressa Jamil

Tuesday 6th of February 2024

I'm glad you enjoyed the saffron rice recipe! Thank you for the kind feedback and for taking the time to comment. And heck yeah, to the rice steaming anyway - I am happy it turned out.