Star anise is native to Northern China and Vietnam. As a result, it shows up in a lot of Chinese and Vietnamese dishes; however, it has many more applications beyond those two food cultures. It is intensely aromatic and when used correctly can impart a profound sweetness and licorice-like flavor to sweet and savory dishes. The key is knowing how to get the most from it and avoiding any serious mistakes. Below are some tips that can help you to accomplish both of those goals.
Do use star anise in moderation.
It is a pungent spice that can completely outshine all other flavors in a dish.
Do take advantage of star anise’s versatility.
In addition to being an excellent seasoning for various Asian braised dishes and soups, it can be used in European beverages like mulled wine and cider. Ground star anise is also a great addition to baked goods like gingerbread and pumpkin pie. Tomato is one ingredient popular in the west that pairs well with star anise.
Do grind star anise yourself.
Star anise is often used whole but it can be ground for certain applications. For example, ground star anise is an important part of Chinese five spice powder. Note that like many other spices, it does start losing its flavor shortly after you grind it. Your best bet for ensuring that it retains some flavor when you are ready to use it is to buy it whole and then grind it immediately before use. You can grind the star anise seeds and pods together since both are flavorful.
Do learn how to tell when star anise is fresh.
You should be able to smell the intense licorice aroma the second you break off one of a pod’s points.
Do remove star anise pods before serving a meal containing them.
The pods are often used whole in braised dishes and should be removed before serving it. Likewise, you should remove them before eating if you used them as a garnish. Like bay leaves and cloves, they are potential choking hazards. In addition, they remain very hard after cooking, which means that biting down on one could result in a broken tooth.
Do use star anise with fattier meats.
Like other herbs and spices with the licorice note, star anise goes particularly well with high-fat meats including pork as well as goose, and duck. Chinese five spice powder — in which star anise plays a starring role — is often used in dishes containing these meats. Its flavor cuts through their fattiness.
Don’t store star anise in places with a lot of light, moisture, or heat.
Like most other spices, star anise needs a dry spot that is dark and cool for its aroma and flavor to last as long as possible. Whole star anise can last as long as two years if it is stored properly; ground star anise can last for about a year under the right conditions.
Don’t cook star anise for too long.
In addition to being careful about how much you add to your food, you should also be careful about your timing. Star anise will continue to infuse its flavor into a dish as it cooks, so you may have to remove the pods from the dish before it finishes cooking if you have added it early in the cooking process.