Star Anise

this wasn't an easy one, honestly

Frank belly up, enjoying herself in Star Anise as illustrated by my friend Katya, you can find her on IG Honestly Green

Hello! 

Welcome back everyone!

Some big personal news this week - we won the lottery! £3.40! don’t really know how to invest it properly but if I disappear suddenly you’ll know for a fact that it’s the money that changed me. 

I did a quick sweep for ingredient suggestions for future issues on my Instagram and we have some quite exciting ingredients coming up - saffron, rose water, nori, tahini, capers, cardamom, tamarind paste and so much more. These are all extra on top of original requests and messages from friends asking to look into A, B, C, D…. I am genuinely loving this weekly project and how onboard with it everyone is. Love seeing you guys go out and buy the ingredients and get creative.

So today, I am looking at Star Anise and its history, quick uses, suggestions for recipes and a recipe for a Russian sweet treat - Pryanniki, and as always there will be suggestions for further reading, exploring, viewing pleasure. I couldn't find who suggested Star Anise in my notes, but I have a feeling a lot of us will benefit from knowing how to use it more often and better (myself included, I know nothing about star anise and my jar is full, even though I am sure I bought it 2016). 

ABOUT STAR ANISE 

What is Star Anise? Illicium verum is a medium-sized evergreen tree native to northeast Vietnam and southwest China. A spice commonly called star anise, star anise, star anise seed, Chinese star anise, or badian that closely resembles anise in flavour is obtained from the star-shaped pericarps of the fruit of I. verum which are harvested just before ripening. Star anise oil is a highly fragrant oil used in cooking, perfumery, soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and skin creams (source, as always the Internet)

The Chinese name for Star Anise is 八角, pinyin: bājiǎo and translates as Eight Horns.

What does it taste like? The flavour is very sweet and liquorice-like, similar to aniseed. So if you like liquorice, you will enjoy cooking with Star Anise. 

Star Anise originated in China and is a popular ingredient in Chinese and Vietnamese cooking. It’s also made its way into Malay, Indian, Japanese and Filipino cuisines. Star Anise is one of the ingredients in Five Spice mix, a very popular mix in Chinese Cooking. In India, it’s part of the Garam Masala mix. 

 Star Anise first made its way to the U.K in 1588, where Sir Thomas Cavendish brought back this beautiful, pungent, star-shaped ingredients from the Philippines. 

Star Anise has been around for more than three centuries. In Europe, it’s still mostly confined to cordials, syrups, confectionery and drinks. 

In China, it’s believed to fend off the evil eye and bring good luck in love, money and health. You can also get Star Anise essential oil that helps with emotional balance, enhancing relaxation, improving sleeping patterns and more. 

During the Swine Flu pandemic of 2009, star anise was used in the production of shikimic acid, which is one of the ingredients of Tamiflu. This made the price of Star Anise go up, due to the shortage. 

Personally, the smell of star anise makes my skin crawl. I can’t stand liquorice scent and flavour so using it always makes me worry. But combined with other spices and herbs it’s an excellent companion that elevates dishes.  

QUICK SUGGESTIONS FOR USE:

Savoury

  • Star Anise enhances the flavour of meat so is often used in casseroles and stews. Next time you’re making your favourite stew, experiment and add some Star Anise, see how it’ll change the flavour of your dish. It goes great with chicken, duck and pork. 

  • If you like sweet potatoes, squashes and fennel; the warmness of Star Anise will pair beautifully with the natural sweetness of these vegetables. 

  • This gorgeous Hong Shao Rou (Slow Braised Pork Belly) from my friend Xinyue:  I think this might be a weekend project for me next week. Sounds absolutely divine and it uses EIGHT bits of Star Anise. 

  • My friend Steph infuses her rice for when she has curries with a mix of star anise and pierced cardamom seeds. 

  • If you like fish, try baking your fish in some parchment paper with star anise, soy sauce, sesame oil and slices of lemon and ginger. 

  • I can’t not mention Pho, star anise is one of the star ingredients. A real Pho is a real labour of love, so no shortcuts Vietnamese Pho.

Sweet

  • Star Anise pairs beautifully with plums and other stone fruit, so cook down some fruit, with a pinch of brown sugar and star anise and put it on your morning porridge ( I have developed a SERIOUS porridge obsession in the past week). Or turn that fruit into a sorbet. Easy sorbet formula: How to make sorbet with any fruit.

  • Bake, bake, bake, bake with ground star anise. You can either grind it with a spice grinder or use a pestle and mortar 

  • I know we’re all past the lockdown banana bread stage, but if you do have some ripe bananas lurking around, add a mix of ginger, cinnamon and star anise to your next batch. If you don’t have ripe bananas but do have a hankering for a loaf of banana bread, just bake your bananas for 20 minutes on 220 degrees. Magic. 

Drinks 

  • Masala Chai wouldn't be what it is without Star Anise, so go wild and make your own. And please, please, please, please don’t call it Masala Chai Tea. Chai = Tea 

  • You can also infuse your coffees and milk with a mix of spices. Milk infused with Cinnamon and Star Anise is a gorgeous combination. If you’re into drinking hot milk. 

  • Mulled Wine. That’s it, that’s the suggestion. 

  • I LOVE Vietnamese Iced Coffee and here’s a spiced variation that I am buzzing to try out now.

 Other 

  • My neighbour Lauren swears by making her own five-spice mix and then using it to pimp up their dinners. She also sent me this great recipe which is loved by her family and friends: Asian Turkey and Carrot Burgers.

  • If a recipe calls for cinnamon, try adding or subbing it with Star Anise. Even though they’re different in terms of flavour, they work well together or as substitutes for one another. 

  • Potpourri. If you’re into that and it’s 1985.

Even more recipes to use up Star Anise: 

RECIPE OF THE WEEK:

Mocha Pryaniki with Cinnamon Glaze 

Makes 20 chubby ones 

This is one of my childhood favourites. It’s a sweet treat that you normally have with a cup of tea when you have guests round. I never tried to make them before as you can easily buy them in shops. Traditionally they’re made with honey and ginger (hence the spice). If you like German Lebkuchen then you will like pryaniki, they’re similar in texture. Making my own turned out fairly easy - you just need to get the dough consistency right so that it doesn’t stick. 

Ingredients: 

  • 200ml milk 

  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee 

  • 2 star anise

  • 1 cinnamon stick 

  • 100g plain flour 

  • 220g dark brown sugar 

  • 35g vegetable oil (or any other neutral oil) 

  • 1 egg yolk 

  • 50g cocoa powder

  • 250g flour (you might need less or more, depending on how your flour hydrates). Weigh out 250 in a separate boll and go from there

  • 15g baking powder

  • Pinch of bicarb soda

  • Pinch of salt 

For the glaze: 

  • 120g icing sugar 

  • 1 egg white 

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

Method: 

  1. In a small saucepan mix milk, coffee, star anise and cinnamon. Bring it to a light simmer and simmer for 5 minutes, giving the milk time to infuse. 

  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the sugar and 100g flour. 

  3. Once the milk is ready, sieve it through into the bowl with flour and sugar. Mix well with a whisk. leave to cool. 

  4. Heat up the oven to 200C. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper. 

  5. Now add the oil, the yolk, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarb and salt to the bowl, mix well. 

  6. Bit by bit start adding flour to your mixture, use a whisk or a non-stick spatula. You’re looking for a sticky but manageable dough. You might not use up all 250 grams and need a little extra. 

  7. Once the dough is ready, dust a clean kitchen surface with some flour and start rolling out the dough. I like mine quite thick and chunky so roughly 1.5 cm in height. Then use a cookie cutter (mine was 7cm diameter) or a glass to cut out the pryaniki. Flour the edges of the cutter to make sure it doesn't stick. 

  8. Put pryaniki on the tray and bake for 12-14 minutes. They won’t spread too much so you can pack quite a few on the tray. 

  9. Reroll the offcuts and repeat the process. You’ll probably have enough for 3 round of rolling. 

  10. Once the pryaniki are ready, take them out of the oven and leave to cool on a cooling rack. Let them cool completely before glazing. 

  11. Prepare your glazing station: use a cooling rack, put parchment paper underneath. 

  12. To make the glaze: mix together the icing sugar, egg white and cinnamon. Dip each pryanik into the mixture and leave to dry on the cooling rack. I used my hands, some people prefer brushing the glaze on. Dipping works so much better and gives you good coverage. You might need to make more glaze, to cover all of them. Just mix together the same ingredients one more time. 

  13. Leave the glaze to set. Enjoy! 

Pryanniki get better on the second day, the flavour develops more intensely. Make sure you keep them in an airtight container and they’ll keep for up to a week. 

WHERE TO BUY

Literally, any and every supermarket sells Star Anise. You won’t struggle to add it to your weekly shop. You can also support your local Chinese Market and buy it there. You will get more product for your buck for sure. If you’re looking to invest into few ingredients at once: Sous Chef, always Sous Chef. 

Who to follow: The Woks of Life 

Cookbooks to explore: My Vietnamese Kitchen, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper , The Chinese Medicine Cookbook 

How to use Star Anise to get glowing skin

This issue has definitely been an education for me. I’ll up my game using star anise in baking and cooking. I hope you found it useful too! Comments and feedback as always, are welcome. Have a great week and share your Star Anise infused creations!

Anya xx 

Coming up next week: Ghee, with the queen of making and using Ghee - Sohini of Smoke and Lime