At Little Sparrow in Santa Ana, Chef Eric Samaniego's menu feels impossibly light, clean and balanced.
As Orange County tiptoes into becoming a legitimate player in the national food scene, chefs seem tempted to clonk diners over their heads with attention-grabbing concepts and ultra-rich flavors. By comparison, at Little Sparrow in Santa Ana, Chef Eric Samaniego’s menu feels impossibly light, clean and balanced. The benchmark example of this delicate approach is Samaniego’s roasted Pacific cod in saffron broth. The fish is flaky and naturally buttery. It isn’t stewed with squid ink or seasoned with an exotic spice blend – it’s just a beautiful piece of cod, handled with care. The fillet rests on a bed of wilted mustard greens sitting atop a spoonful of tomato jam. The tang of the jam works well, striking a power-chord in an otherwise subtle entrée. Just before plating, Samaniego spoons fragrant saffron broth into the dish. Yellow slowly melts to orange as the broth draws color from the jam. It’s a gradual shift, reminiscent of the sunset.
Which is all just to say: It’s a beautiful dish, and the flavors are refined and well composed. Samaniego isn’t trying to show off – and in his restraint, he offers proof that sometimes a deft touch is the best tool a chef can have.
Saffron and Leek Broth
1 bunch of leeks (washed and chopped)
2 whole shallots
4 garlic cloves
1 bunch of thyme
2 Tbs. whole black pepper
¼ cup of good olive oil
Big pinch of kosher salt
Pinch of saffron
Splash of Spanish sherry vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste
• Add the first seven ingredients to a large stockpot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
• Simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the stock and reserve (should make about 2 gallons).
• In a small pot heat up about 2 cups of the leek stock, add a nice pinch of saffron, a splash of Spanish sherry vinegar, and salt to taste.
• Let the saffron steep for a few minutes, (strain again if desired)
Pour into the dish at the last moment.