The easiest and best way to enhance the taste of your food is to add some flavorful spices. Not the ones that have been sitting on the shelf of the grocery store or your cupboard for years, but whole fresh spices purchased in bulk, for far less than you would pay for jarred ones. It only takes moments to mix a few spices together, and about 2-4 minutes to toast and grind.
Here I wanted to improve the typical 5-spice blend (fennel, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper) and give it more depth. My plan was not to add the spices to my stir-fry sauce, but to get them to coat the meat directly as it browned and then cooked separately in a cast iron skillet. I added 1-2 tablespoons of high heat rice bran oil to the pan, and once the fat began to release from the chicken (half breast and half thigh pieces), I added three tablespoons of our 10-spice and continued cooking.
This technique also speeds up completion time since the meat doesn’t have to be done in small batches as in a wok. I then use the wok for my vegetables, to thicken the sauce, if desired, and to combine all the ingredients together while finishing the dish before serving.
Combine all the whole spices (everything but the cinnamon and ginger) and toast in a cast iron or non-stick skillet. You may chose to break up the star anise into smaller pieces to make grinding easier. I do not; instead I just shake the grinder as it’s running to make sure all the pieces are incorporated.
I use medium-high heat with my cast iron and remove the spices immediately after they begin to release their fragrance and the seeds start to brown. If you are using non-stick skillet, toast at a lower temperature but do watch for burning. It only takes a few minutes. Don’t leave the stove, and move the spices around to toast evenly.
Pour all spices into a grinder along with the cinnamon and ginger and grind until a fairly uniform consistency. Pour into a jar or container with a good lid. Store what is not used in a cool cupboard.
Our recipe is a modification of a Barbara Tropp spice blend from her China Moon Cookbook.