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Published October 23, 2012, 11:30 PM

Five-spice powder brings yin-yang to diverse dishes

It’s all about harmony and yin-yang. And while that sounds tritely New Age, it really is the key to Chinese cuisine.

By: J.M. Hirsch, AP Food Editor, INFORUM

It’s all about harmony and yin-yang. And while that sounds tritely New Age, it really is the key to Chinese cuisine.

Because as with so much of Asian cooking, the blend of seasonings known as five-spice powder is intended to trigger a sense of balance in the mouth and nose. How? A careful selection of spices that simultaneously hit notes of warm and cool, sweet and bitter, savory and searing.

And that’s what you get with five-spice powder, a mix of fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and Sichuan peppercorns. Like spice blends around the world, the proportions of those ingredients vary by region in China, but some variant of it is used throughout the country.

That robust profile of flavors makes it a natural for roasted and grilled meats. In fact, some argue five-spice powder was the original dry barbecue rub. Five-spice especially likes fatty meat, and often is used with duck (and is combined with soy sauce to give Peking duck its characteristic flavor and color).

Likewise, the sweet-and-spicy notes play well with pork (fried, braised and otherwise), and even is sprinkled on fried peanuts as a snack. But that diversity of flavor also makes this a versatile seasoning. It is equally at home on roasted vegetables and tofu dishes.

Five-Spice Roast Beef Tenderloin

The beef should be rubbed with the spice blend at least an hour before cooking. If you want to get a jump on things (and really let the flavors sink in), do it up to two days in advance, then loosely cover and refrigerate.

Start to finish: 3 hours (15 minutes active)

Servings: 8

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon five-spice powder

1 tablespoon kosher salt

½ tablespoon ground black pepper

Two 2-pound beef tenderloins

2 large yellow onions, chopped

2 large carrots, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 cups beef stock

1 cup red wine

1 tablespoon Wondra instant flour

In a small bowl, mix together the oil, five-spice powder, salt and pepper.

Use paper towels to pat dry the tenderloins, then rub them all over with the spice blend. Set on a plate, cover loosely with plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 2 days.

An hour before you are ready to roast, remove the tenderloins from the refrigerator and let warm slightly at room temperature.

Heat the oven to 375 F.

Lightly coat a roasting pan with cooking spray. Scatter the onions, carrots and garlic in the pan, then set a roasting rack above them. Set the tenderloins on the rack and roast for about 40 minutes, or until the beef reaches 120 F for rare. Remove the rack from the pan, cover the meat with foil, then set aside to rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, set the roasting pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop (you may need to use two burners). Add the stock and wine and bring to simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan. When the liquid has reduced by about half, strain it and discard the solids. Return it to the pan and sprinkle in the Wondra. Heat until thickened.

Slice the beef and serve with the pan sauce.

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