Anise pepper

Fiery, piquant flavor with some notes of citrus. Widely used in Chinese cuisine, especially Sechuan, in pork or duck dishes or their spiced salts, or to add spiciness to soups, noodles and rice.

How to identify anise pepper

What we know as anise pepper are the dried berries of a small prickly ash plant, a small tree, the leaves of which have a feather shape. The tree sheds its leaves every year. The branches hold the berries in clusters.

Anise pepper is one of the ingredients of the Chinese omnipresent five spice powder. The piquant aroma of the five spices usually permeates all Chinese food stores and restaurants. It is worth to note that anise pepper does not look particularly berry like because the husks are also part of the spice.

How to use and store

This spice is very important in Chinese, particularly Sichuan, cuisine. The dried or pickled leaves are used in Japanese cooking also.

Sichuan cooks use anise pepper especially to add tanginess and aroma to duck and chicken dishes. It imparts a unique bitter sweet hotness, either in the cooking process or, more commonly, in accompanying sauces where it is frequently combined with ginger, chilies and sesame oil or paste.

Heat the peppercorns in a dry frying pan, grind them and mix with salt. This process will bring out the flavor. Anise pepper will cheer up any weak oriental dish and it makes an excellent spicy condiment at a home-cooking Chinese dinner.

The Japanese shanso spice is produced from the dried leaves of the anise pepper plant. It is only mildly hot and it is a popular additive to soup and noodle dishes. The leaves also make one of the many pickles the Japanese use to flavor rice.

Anise pepper is usually available whole or ground. The dried leaves of the plant – known as shanso spice – or the pickled leaves - known a kinome - are spices used mainly in Japan or Japanese cooking.

It is best to store anise pepper in airtight containers, away from light. As with most spices, ground berries and powder quickly lose flavor and aroma. The best practice is to buy little and often. Ground the berries right before using the powder.

How to grow anise pepper

Several varieties of this plant generally grow wild in temperate regions, especially on hill slopes in China and the Himalayas. In North America, where is cultivated as herbal remedy, it needs little attention.

Cooking with anise pepper

Soy sauce is salty enough, and we do not think it necessary to add more salt. Again, salt is an acquired taste and a matter of personal preference.

Sichuan duck with anise pepper sauce

4 cups Chinese leaves, shredded
1 cup parboiled bean sprouts, cooled
3 cups cooked duck breast, sliced
2 tsp freshly ground anise pepper
2 tsp ginger root, grated
2 tbsp scallions, finely chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame seed oil
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted

  1. Mix the Chinese leaves and bean sprouts in a serving dish.
  2. Arrange the duck slices on top.
  3. Combine anise pepper, ginger root, soy sauce, sesame seed oil, water, vinegar and sugar. Stir energetically until blended.
  4. Add the chopped scallions. Mix well.
  5. Pour the sauce over the duck breast.
  6. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds over the duck and sauce.

Experiment

Make it your recipe. Do not be deterred for lack of an ingredient. You can use romaine or iceberg lettuce instead of Chinese leaves, chicken instead of duck. We had good results with leftover roasted pork, as well.

What about using mushroom stock instead of water? Chicken stock? Vegetable stock? The flavor changes if wine vinegar is used, instead of cider vinegar. A daring cook could try even balsamic vinegar, not a typical Chinese ingredient. We have not tried that one yet, but we know sherry vinegar works well.

xanthoxylum piperitum (rutaceae) - English: anise pepper, Sichuan pepper, Szechuan pepper, fagara, fairchiew spice - French: poivre anise - German: anispfeffer - Italian: pimenta d'anice - Spanish: pimienta anisada - Chinese: faah-jiu - Japanese: kinome, sansho.