Arguably the most alluring of all spices to the eye and palate, star anise has an unforgettable liquorice aroma and a complexity of flavour that lends itself to a surprising array of savoury and sweet dishes. This native of China and Vietnam is best known in Asian cuisines, though in recent years it has been "discovered" by chefs and home cooks the world over.
Star anise is the husk and seeds of the fruit from a small evergreen tree in the magnolia family Illicium verum, even today grown almost exclusively in southern China, Vietnam and Japan (and not to be confused with the toxic Japanese star anise Illicium anisatum). The husk, with its hard russet-coloured pods arranged in a distinctive star shape and each containing a seed, is picked before it can ripen and is then dried. The husk is sold whole or ground, seeds included.
Like juniper berries and aniseed, star anise teams particularly well with meats such as pork, as its freshness cuts though fats. But its flavour is much more nuanced, with a strong aniseed effect balanced by a spicy warmth and subtle sweet and herbal notes. A generous pinch can add a whole new dimension to otherwise humdrum dishes, such as rice pudding or noodle soup.
Use star anise in ...
curries, braised beef, chicken casserole, slow-cooked lamb, crispy-skin chicken, oxtail soup; rubs for roast pork belly, pork or duck; Asian noodle soup, beef or seafood pho; rice dishes, marbled eggs, stock, vinaigrette, chutney for Christmas ham, apple pie, poached pears, fruit compote, rice pudding, spice cake or gingerbread. Try to buy whole star anise rather than pre-ground: the stars can be added directly to the pot when cooking, or ground as required. Use sparingly. Stored in sealed jars in a cool dark place, the stars will keep for a year or so.
Star anise goes with ...
pork, duck, beef, chicken, fish, seafood, potato, pumpkin, lemon, lime, orange, tomato, onion, garlic, ginger, apple, stone fruits, rice, noodles, coconut milk, cream, cloves, cinnamon, chillies, bay or makrut lime leaves, tamarind, soy, palm sugar, eggs, red wine, tea.