The classic Chinese seasoning known as five-spice powder is probably the stuff of antiquity. Blessed with the mystic cosmological designation of five—a scheme the Chinese used over and over in their culture to designate propitiously harmonious aspects of a complete whole—it is comprised of flavors that gather in a sultry union. Orange, cassia (cinnamon), anise, Szechwan peppercorn, and clove are the usual congregants in the mix, a mélange that was probably designed to preserve or mask as well as to flavor foods.

Unfortunately, there is little cosmic or culinary harmony to most commercial blends of five-spice. Cheaply and poorly made for the most part, they usually contribute little but a strident cinnamony taste.

Enter the do-it-yourself blend! Complex though it might seem if you have never before roasted and ground your own spices, it is actually very easy. In addition to perfuming your home evocatively for several hours, no more than 15 minutes of simple work will endow your cupboard with a novel, versatile spice.

So why ten-spice instead of five? I can’t say, except to suggest that the result is doubly good.

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Ingredients

Whole Spices

  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 10 star anise, broken into points
  • 2 tablespoons Szechwan peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • ¾ teaspoon whole cloves
  • ¾ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • teaspoons black peppercorns

Ground Spices

  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric

Method

  1. Toast the whole spices together in a small dry skillet over low heat, stirring and adjusting the heat so that the spices toast without burning. Stir until the spices are fully fragrant and the fennel seeds and lighter-colored spices are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ground spices.
  2. Using a spice grinder or a clean coffee grinder, grind the mixture finely. Store in a tightly covered jar.
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