Star anise is one of those ingredients that are just as cool to look at as it is to enjoy in the dish you are making. This seed pod from an evergreen tree is slightly more bitter than the “regular” anise used in candies, but still has that unmistakable aroma of licorice. Liquors such as sambuca, ouzo or absinthe use star anise as one ingredients in production.
The whole star-shaped pod is usually thrown in big pots of stock for noodle dishes and then removed before serving. Ground star anise is used on rubs for heartier meats such as pork or beef. A little goes a long way – so be sure to try it out in a few recipes before experimenting on your own.
Having never used star anise before, we made a popular Vietnamese Noodle Stew called “pho” using our crock pot. The recipe asked for a lot of other ingredients and after stewing for several hours, the strong licorice flavor of the star anise was cooked out. A mellow, smokey, sweet taste remained. We halved the amount of star anise pods required, which was a good thing. Any more, and it the flavor would have been too much.
You can get star anise in any spice shop. If you head to the bulk section, you can get only what you need. Be sure to store it an air-tight container or two freezer-quality resealable bags to ensure the licorice aroma doesn’t escape. If you can’t find star anise, regular anise seed can work. Just substitute 1/2 teaspoon of regular anise seed for every pod of star anise required in the recipe.
I love dishes that make you say, “Wow – this tastes wonderful, and there’s something in here that I can’t put my finger on…” Star anise is one of those “mysterious ingredients” that impart a flavor that is truly unique.