The Spice of Life: Five Spice Powder

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Five spice powder is a great spice blend to have handy, it’s amazing how just a teaspoon or so worked into a recipe completely changes the complexion of a meal. Five spice powder is more than the sum of its parts. Blended together the aromatic, somewhat floral spices become a small tight orchestra of flavours. Familiar yet exotic, the intoxicating aroma and flavour is sometimes hard to place, like a favourite character actor that you recognize but can’t name; whoever he is, he’s killing it.

This classic spice blend is used most often in Chinese cooking and recipes from the Middle and Far East, and often associated with duck and other fatty meats like goose and pork, but it is also good as a rub on oily fish and is great in rich, spiced cakes. There are a number of variations on the blend, but the most common five spice powders blend star anise, fennel seed, cloves, Sichuan pepper (also known as Chinese Coriander) and cinnamon. Other spices sometimes used, in addition to or in lieu of some of the aforementioned are licorice root, ginger, turmeric, allspice berries or nutmeg.

 

Not all commercial blends are the same

Not all commercial blends are the sam

 

Making your own blend is straightforward, and mixing up a small fresh batch ensures you don’t end up with too much hanging around in your pantry, which defeats the purpose of making it fresh. Mix equal amounts, let’s say a teaspoon each of star anise, fennel, Sichuan peppercorns, cloves and a small stick of cinnamon (or a teaspoon of ground cinnamon). Place the spices in a cast iron pan and toast over medium heat for a few minutes until the spices become fragrant. Remove from heat, let cool and blend in a spice blender or coffee mill to a fine powder. Store in a small jar.

Next time you are pondering dinner and staring blankly at some chicken drumsticks, why not reach for the Five Spice and give it a go? Here’s a simple recipe that comes together in no time and is sure to be a favourite. The aroma coming from your kitchen while it bakes will be incredible. Bonus; it’s great the next day too, or perfect for a picnic.

Five Spice Chicken

Serves two

1 large chicken breast

1 chicken leg

2 cloves garlic, minced.

¾ teaspoon five spice powder

1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce

½ teaspoon Sriracha sauce or similar

1 teaspoon seasoned rice vinegar

1 teaspoon mushroom soy sauce

1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

1 teaspoon maple syrup or brown sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 onion

Preheat oven to 425 F. Cut the chicken breast in half and the cut the leg to separate the drumstick and the thigh. Poke the chicken all over with a fork and set aside. In a bowl large enough to hold the cut-up chicken mix together all the other ingredients except the onion. Place chicken in the bowl and vigorously rub mixture all over the chicken pieces and under the skin. Place in refrigerator to marinate for at least an hour and up to overnight.

Cut the onion into eight wedges and arrange in a lightly oiled baking dish. Place the chicken on top of the onion and place in 425 F oven for 30-40 minutes or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 F. Baste with juices a few times throughout the cooking to get a nice, deep glaze.

 

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