Rice (or berenj in Iranian) is all important in Iran. There are specialist shops where you buy nothing but rice. Sometimes, they will also sell rock salt which is what any self-respecting Iranian cook would use when cooking rice. In one shop in Bandar-e Anzali, the capital of caviar, they had a huge pile of rock salt right next to the bags of rice while in another shop outside Rasht, in Gilan Province where most of the Iranian rice is grown, they also had bags of peanuts. I think it was in that shop that I overheard a woman ask about the age of the rice she was buying. I had never before heard anyone discuss ageing rice. Well, people in Iran do and according to them, rice is supposed to be stored for a year before it can be used. Something about it cooking better when it is older as this study explains.
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, mainly because it takes about 150 croci to produce 1 gram of saffron. Each flower has 3 red stigmas (or stamens) that are attached to the plant by yellow styles. Normally, when you buy Spanish or Moroccan saffron you see some of the yellow styles mixed in with the saffron but not in Iran where they are kept separate, and even sold separately. I bought some of the cheaper yellow styles because I was intrigued, and they smelled almost as strong as the stamens. However, when I used some, I found that they had hardly any flavour. Also, they barely coloured my milk pudding. Not sure what I will do with my remaining stash. Perhaps mix it with the pure saffron? I guess it is not such a good idea!
Last Saturday was my final day as a chef in a museum. My residency consisted of four days working in the museum proper and one day at home when we arranged to have a group of twenty, including my great friend Arabella Boxer, visit my kitchen the way they would an artist’s studio for them to see where I work and for me to explain how I write and test my recipes, the equipment I use, the books I refer to and the ingredients I need. I enjoyed showing them around and explaining how I work in the space I had created for that purpose. And I hope they enjoyed their visit despite the lack of chairs for everyone but really the most exciting time of my residency was the time I spent in the museum. I loved arranging my ingredients and utensils in the room where Lord Leighton worked and seeing the juxtaposition of my domestic elements with Lord Leighton’s art.
I spent the whole morning re-organising my kitchen cupboards. I don’t particularly like doing housework but the lovely shop near me, Chiki Chic, have recently received new jars which I liked. Also, last Thursday was my first day as chef-in-residence at Leighton House and my first session was all about Middle Eastern ingredients. So, both the new jars and the need for a nice presentation were good incentives for re-organizing my spices, ingredients, etc., weeding them out and putting those that were still in plastic bags into glass jars — in the process I found that I had enough saffron to fill a 250 g jar! It took a long time and the exercise wasn’t totally efficient. The small jars don’t stack properly as I thought they would.