The Chinese use five-spice sparingly in long-cooked stews and braises, as a rub for roasted meat and in marinades for grilled meat and poultry. It’s well worth making your own since ready-made brands vary so much in flavour and quality.
The number five has special significance in Chinese culture and cooking. It’s seen in the five basic flavours essential to Chinese food: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and hot, and in the elements of the cosmos which these particular spices are believed to represent: earth, fire, metal, water and wood.
That said, the blend is not always made from five spices – sometimes ginger, cardamom or other spices are added. Commercial blends often contain liquorice and dried tangerine peel. Sichuan pepper is the key ingredient, making it mildly hot and tingly on the tongue, but it is predominately aniseedy, slightly sweet and highly aromatic.
Preheat the oven to 110°C/225°F/Gas ¼. Put all the spices on a baking tray and place in the oven for 3–5 minutes to intensify the flavours. Grind everything to a powder in a clean electric coffee grinder, then sieve to remove any husks or large particles. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
© 2008 Christine McFadden. All rights reserved.