With its distinctive flavours of star anise, fennel, cassia, Sichuan pepper and cloves, Chinese five-spice is the perfect foil for fatty meats such as duck or pork. It will often include a few more spices such as coriander, ginger, cardamom or dried orange peel. According to Barbara Tropp in The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking - a book highly regarded as a definitive guide on the nuances of Chinese cuisine - five-spice was based on the proper yin-yang balance of flavours and meant to exemplify the five tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty. You can try using five-spice powder as a dry rub or in a marinade for meat, poultry or fish. It also goes very nicely with tofu, as in the below recipe.
- 900 gm silken tofu
- 100 gm plain flour (2/3 cup)
- 50 gm cornflour (1/3 cup)
- 1 tbsp finely ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp Chinese five-spice powder
- For deep-frying: vegetable oil
- To serve: boiled rice
- 1 kg eggplant (about 3)
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 5 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tbsp finely grated ginger
- 80 ml light soy sauce (1/3 cup)
- 2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
- 2 tbsp golden caster sugar
- ½ tsp sesame oil
- 1For braised eggplant, halve eggplant crossways then cut lengthways into thick wedges. Heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil in a large saucepan, add eggplant and cook over high heat for 5 minutes or until golden, add garlic and ginger, reduce heat to medium and sauté for 2 minutes or until fragrant, add remaining ingredients and 1 cup water and bring to the boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 40 minutes or until tender.
- 2Cut silken tofu crossways into 1cm slices. Combine flours with pepper, salt and five-spice powder. Heat 6cm oil in a deep frying pan or saucepan to 180C, dust tofu in flour mixture, add to oil and deep-fry for 2 minutes or until golden, drain on an absorbent paper-lined plate and repeat with remaining tofu.
- 3To serve, spoon eggplant among bowls, top with tofu and serve immediately with rice passed separately.