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‘40 Spices’ Category

  1. Spice 1 – Star Anise – ox tail stew

    January 16, 2014 by sarah

    So here is the first recipe in a series of forty on spices. This time we are looking at star anise, that pretty star shaped spice with a hidden powerful punch.

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    Star anise, or Chinese anise, is the star shaped dried fruit (and seeds contained within) of an evergreen tree (Illicium verum, part of the Magnolia family) native to Vietnam and Southwest China, so it is not surprising that it is widely used in the cooking from these countries. It imparts a deep and warming licorice flavour to dishes, like the Vietnamese soup Pho,  and is an essential ingredient in Chinese 5 spice mix. But perhaps more surprisingly, it is the flavouring in several liquors such as Sambucca and Pastis and even, until relatively recently, used to manufacture antivirals such as Tamiflu!

    I like to use the spice whole, partly because it is so pretty and partly because it is easier to control the flavour level and pick out the bits after. You can buy ground star anise but be very careful with how much you add to a recipe as it is very pungent and will easily overpower any other flavours in the dish. I like to add a star or two to poaching fruit such as plums or pears and I add it my mulled cider recipe (but not to my mulled wine – I like to taste the wine).

    Ox Tail Stew with Star Anise

    Recipe from ‘River Cottage Everyday’ by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with a few of my own additions. Serves 4. Tastes even better on the second day, like most curries. Although it contains spices other than the star anise, the later is the star of the show and the predominate flavour but not over powering.

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    1kg oxtails, cut into thick slices (get the butcher to do it so you don’t chop off a finger trying)
    1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
    2 medium onions, finely sliced
    4″ cinnamon stick
    3 star anise
    2 bay leaves
    1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
    thumb sized bit ginger, finely grated
    up to 1L of good quality beef stock
    couple of squares of dark chocolate (70% cocoa minimum)
    salt to taste or a splash of soy sauce
     
    Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based casserole and brown the meat all over, doing it in several lots so as not to overcrowd the pan and end up stewing up. Remove the meat to a plate and turn the heat down to low and add the onions and a sprinkle of salt. Cook until soft and translucent.
    Return the meat to the pan and add all the other ingredients and enough beef stock to just cover the meat.
    Bring to a slow simmer and then let is cook very gently for about 3 hours. If easier, you can do this in a low oven (120 C) or a slow cooker.
    After this cooking time, remove the meat from the sauce with a slotted spoon and pick out the whole spices and bay leaves. Leave to cool so the fat rises and you can skim it off with a slotted spoon and some paper towel. Reheat the sauce and boil until slightly thickened. You can either add the meat back in as it is or remove from the bones with a couple of forks (may be a good idea to do this for ‘fussies’). Stir in the chocolate.
    When you want to serve, heat through thoroughly and serve with mash. It was even better the second day.
     
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  2. Spice Up Your Life – Masala Chai

    January 1, 2014 by sarah

    Here is my first new project for 2014; 40 spices in 40 recipes in two years. This was inspired by the spices seen (and smelt) in Morocco; the lines of market stalls piled high with multi-coloured powders, roots and barks, the pungent spiciness tickling the nose. If you have ever seen inside my ‘flavour additive’ cupboard you will know that spices and the like feature frequently in my cooking. But in this series of blogs I want to take my use of spices to new places so each recipe will highlight one spice, though the recipe may contain other spices and flavour additives the ‘main’ spice will be the predominant flavour. Also, I want to discover new spices and unusual ways of using familiar ones, so look out for traditionally sweet spices in savoury dishes and visa versa.

    What is it about spices? Any flavour additive (a term of my invention) turns a basic dish into something extra-ordinary, something special. Think of the sensations of eating a warmly spiced curry; the burning feeling in the mouth that is exciting and somewhat shocking, dangerous even. But then subtleties of a delicately spiced Christmas biscuit or the richness of vanilla in ice cream.

    So first we need to know what we are using i.e. what is a spice? Well it turns out not to be an easy question to answer. The fountain of all knowledge that is Wikipedia (wink, wink – they like to think they are the bible but some of the information is flawed so take it with a pinch of salt) says a spice is ‘a dried seed, fruit, root, bark or vegetable substance primarily used for flavouring, colouring or preserving food’. So a dried part of a plant other than the leaves because the leaves are herbs. Ok, I think I’ve got it. But what about fresh spices like ginger root or garlic, they don’t HAVE to be dried do they? If they aren’t spices (or herbs) then what are they in a culinary sense? Ginger can be fresh or dried but both forms taste and act differently. Looks from a whiz around the internet that things like ginger, garlic, horseradish and capers are considered vegetable or flavourings rather than spices. Ok, we will stick to dried forms then.

    So we come to our first recipe. I am not going to call this one of the official recipes of the project, because as the name implies, it contains several different spices and not one over-riding flavour. This recipe is adapted from a packet of ‘Chocolate Chai’ I bought in a Whittards shop and had been languishing in the back of the cupboard for a year until I made a pot a few weeks ago and discovered how delicious it was. The bought version was based on coco kernels which look and taste exactly like coco nibs (available from health food shops) so feel free to substitute them for the black tea. It made a fantastic mildly spicy and faintly chocolaty drink.

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    Masala Chai

    You can add or substitute in really any spice you like, typically things like coriander, fennel, black pepper, star anise.
    3 cups loose black tea (about 100g)
    36 green cardamon
    1 teaspoon pink pepper corns
    2 teaspoons cloves
    4″ piece of cinnamon broken into small shards
    8 pieces of candied stem ginger in sugar, finely cut up
     
    Mix all the ingredients together and then store in a kilner jar or other similar jars for gift giving. I bought some empty tea bags with drawstrings which can be filled and then used like regular tea bags.
     
    Brewing Instructions
    tea for one
    200ml of water
    100ml of milk (preferrably whole milk)
    1 tablespoon of Chai Mix placed into a tea bag
    Sugar or honey to tasteBring the water to a boil and add the teabag. Turn off the heat and let steep for about 5 minutes. Add the milk, turn on the flame and reheat until hot. Remove from heat, discard teabag, sweeten to taste, enjoy!
     
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