Saffron, zaffran, no matter the name you use, it really should be called “luxury in a jar.” Known for being the world’s most expensive spice, saffron’s deep orange “threads” are the three hand-plucked stigmas laboriously harvested from a specific crocus flower that famously costs up to thousands per pound.
The spice, in its whole or ground form, is a bedrock of haute cuisine in and around the cradle of civilization for its signature honey and floral flavors, and it’s especially popular in the Indian subcontinent.
Michel Carbonneau, the general manager of Naples’ critically lauded 21 Spices by Chef Asif, points out that the restaurant is unique, as one of the few places in town to focus on Indian cuisine. This gives the staff a special opportunity to introduce patrons to dishes and drinks they won’t find anywhere else and with ingredients they may not often encounter.
With more than 30 years of experience in hospitality including a culinary degree, Carbonneau appreciates how flavorful Indian cuisine is and directs the bar program to reflect that. He got the idea for the Zaffran, one of his latest creations that he crowns with a nest of burnt sienna threads, when he tasted a saffron-infused gin from Gabriel Boudier, a French distillery that dates back to 1874.
While Carbonneau makes his own simple syrup and bitters, he recommends the suggested products for use at home.
1.5 ounces Gabriel Boudier Saffron Gin
3 to 4 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
Splash of Leopold Bros. Maraschino Liqueur
Splash of saffron simple syrup, such as Royal Rose Organic Syrups
A couple drops of cardamom bitters, such as Fee Brothers
Edible flowers and saffron threads, for garnish
- Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes.
- Add wet ingredients and shake vigorously.
- Dip rim of a hurricane or highball glass in some extra simple syrup. Press on edible flowers.
- Pour cocktail and ice into prepared glass. Float a few edible flowers and saffron threads on top (use saffron sparingly, as it can overpower the drink).
- Mix lightly with a spoon and serve.
Cheers! We have always saluted 21 Spices for its ongoing support of the community, from participating in the NaplesNEXT Ideas Festival to donating countless auction lots to local nonprofits to hosting fundraisers for The Mahaan Aasha Foundation on-site. This year, however, the restaurant pulled a special feat when we most needed a dose of positivity and optimism, serving 5,400 free meals to those in need at the height of the pandemic.
Photography by Brian Tietz