Just a pinch of saffron turns this pasta with cod into pure gold

Ellie Krieger

THE WASHINGTON POST – One of the most gratifying aspects of cooking, for me, is when I manage to spin a random smattering of ingredients into a memorably delicious meal. These past several weeks, that ability has felt like more of a superpower than ever before. This recipe is one such creation which turned out to be so good it merits a spot in regular rotation. It feels fancy, mainly because of the saffron that gives the sauce its regal golden colour and intoxicating aroma, but it’s really quite practical.

Saffron is a luxury ingredient, sure, with a reputation of being the most expensive spice in the world. But you only need a pinch of it in this dish, a few dollars’ worth, so it’s ultimately a small splurge that adds untold glamour to the otherwise relatively inexpensive ingredients.

Since bringing home an ornate jar with saffron from a trip to the Middle East last year, I have been joyfully experimenting with different ways to use it. With that in mind, plus a cod fillet in the freezer, a beautiful fennel in the fridge and some overripe tomatoes, I felt like I was on to something, flavour-wise. I toyed with the idea of a fish stew, but with the weather heating up, that wasn’t quite hitting the spot. Then I spied a box of linguine in my cupboard, and it all came together.

I got the pot of water going for the pasta, and once it was hot, stirred a few tablespoons of it with the saffron to dissolve the spice so it would disperse more evenly when added to the sauce. I sauteed the fennel in some olive oil (if you don’t have fennel, sweet onion would work, albeit with a different flavour profile), added a little garlic, and then chicken stock. Once the stock cooked down a bit, I added the tomatoes and let them simmer just long enough to lose their shape. In went the saffron, the cod, which I had cut into bite-size pieces (any firm white fish fillet will work) and a splash of lemon juice.

Once the fish turned opaque, I added the cooked linguine to the skillet with the sauce, tossing to marry everything, and garnished it with the fennel fronds. I had expected the dish to be good, but it turned out better than good: It was a glorious, company-worthy dinner my family devoured.

Linguine With Cod in a Saffron Sauce. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Hopefully, in not too-distant a future we can share this pasta in person with friends.


35 minutes

Four servings

This stunning dish feels fancy – mainly because of the saffron, which gives the sauce its regal golden colour and intoxicating aroma – but this pasta is quite easy and practical. Just a pinch of the precious spice, a few dollars’ worth, is all that’s needed to add glamour to the otherwise common ingredients. Feel free to substitute any firm, white fish fillet for the cod.


Generous one pinch saffron

Three tablespoons olive oil, divided

One small fennel bulb, thinly sliced, some fronds reserved for garnish

Three-quarter teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste

Two cloves garlic, minced

One cup chicken stock

12 ounces linguine or other long pasta, such as spaghetti

One pint cherry tomatoes, halved

One pound cod fillet, cut into three-quarter-inch chunks

Two tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Quarter teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Place the saffron into a small bowl. Spoon two tablespoons of the hot water from the pasta pot over the saffron and set aside.

In a large, deep skillet over medium heat, heat two tablespoons of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the fennel and quarter teaspoon of the salt, and cook, stirring, until slightly softened, about three minutes.

Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds more.

Add the stock, increase the heat to high and cook, uncovered, until the stock is reduced by about half, about three minutes. Add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook according to the directions on the package, until al dente. (Reserve half cup of the pasta water before draining it.)

Add the tomatoes to the skillet, reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have softened slightly, about four minutes. Stir in the saffron, along with its soaking water, then add the cod, lemon juice, the remaining half teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Stir gently to combine, then cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until the cod is no longer translucent and flakes easily, about five minutes.

Add the drained pasta to the skillet and, using tongs, toss gently with the sauce to combine. The fish will begin to break up, but try to keep as many chunks intact as possible. Drizzle with the remaining one tablespoon olive oil. Add the reserved pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce, and additional salt and pepper to taste.

Divide across the bowls, garnish with the fennel fronds and serve.

Nutrition | Calories: 310; Total Fat: 12g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Cholesterol: 67mg; Sodium: 383mg; Carbohydrates: 25g; Dietary Fibre: 4g; Sugars: 6g; Protein: 25g.