A must-have in Chinese cooking, five spice usually comprises star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Szechuan pepper and fennel seeds. It’s thought the blend may have originally been designed to reflect the five elements referred to in Chinese medicine (fire, earth, wood, metal and water), though this may be purely coincidental. Whatever the case, the total effect of this wonder-powder is much more than the sum of its (usually) five parts: sweet and sour, spicy and pungent, and typically dominated by the aniseed qualities of the star anise. The sweet, tangy, slightly bitter zing of five spice goes well with fatty meats such as pork and duck – it’s a key seasoning in char siu (Chinese barbecued pork) and delicious, crispy-skinned Peking duck – and it marries beautifully with honey and soy, so is the perfect way to lift a marinade. It’s also found in Asian cuisines beyond China, including Vietnam, where it is popular in chicken or beef dishes such as pho. Even Western favourites, such as beef casserole, burgers, meatloaf, plum sauce, stewed rhubarb, chutney, muffins and milk puddings, will benefit from a pinch of five spice.
Make your own Chinese five-spice salt with this recipe.
Use five spice in...
Asian dishes such as pork belly; in marinated spare ribs; beef casseroles; meat or vegetable stir-fries; as a spice rub (with salt) for barbecued chicken, beef, duck, pork and seafood; and in noodle soups. Use it sparingly as it can easily overpower other flavours.
Five spice goes with...
Chicken, duck, pork, beef, seafood, Chinese greens, carrots, plums, rhubarb, nuts, tofu, rice, brown sugar, honey, soy, garlic, chilli, salt.