Five-Spice Brined Ribs and….

I’ve become a big fan of brining (soaking an animal protein in a mixture of salt, sugar, and water before cooking), and this recipe is the result of an experiment in that arena. (You can find an excellent in-depth discussion of the basics of brining in Cook’s Illustrated.)

I have made this recipe with beef short ribs as well as pork ribs – cooking time will vary greatly, so plan on testing at regular intervals; otherwise, this is a great recipe that involves almost no prep time whatsoever. The brine will also work for other proteins – chicken, duck, rabbit, fish…and even tofu! (Count on 1/2 lb of bone-in poultry or 1/4 lb of fish or tofu per person).

Five spice powder is a spice mix found in Chinese cooking that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cuisine: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle.

brine – count on 1 pt (2 c) per lb of ribs

  • 1 c water
  • 1 c peach nectar
  • 1 tsp five spice powder
  • 1 T sugar, preferably brown or raw cane
  • 2 T kosher salt

ingredients:

  • beef shortribs or pork ribs (spareribs, back ribs, or country style) – count on about 1 lb per person

method:

  1. Combine the brine ingredients in a glass baking dish large enough to hold the ribs in one layer, stirring until the crystals are completely dissolved.
  2. Add the ribs to the brine – the liquid should just cover the meat.
  3. Refrigerate for 3-8 h, then remove the ribs from the brine and pat dry.
  4. Preheat the oven to 275F.
  5. Place the ribs on a roasting rack in a pan, and roast until very tender. For pork ribs, this can take as little as 1.5 h; for beef ribs, count on at least 2.5-3 h. Test for doneness: the meat should be sliding off the bones and easily pierced with a knife or skewer. If the meat begins to brown too much, cover with foil and reduce the temperature to 250F.

Five-spice Pork Tenderloin

I was happy to receive a sample of pomegranate juice in the mail from POM Wonderful (Thanks, Ryan!) and managed to keep some of it from being consumed directly from the bottle (our daughter is a huge fan!) Here is a fusion recipe I came up with that uses the juice both as a marinade and a sauce.

The other main flavoring is five spice powder, a spice mix found in Chinese cooking that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cuisine: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle.

Pork tenderloin is a perfect cut of meat to use when you’re in a hurry—it absorbs the flavor or marinades and rubs easily, cooks quickly, is deliciously tender, and looks very elegant when sliced and arranged on a plate. Here I’ve marinated it overnight to really let the flavors sink in, but you could also marinate it as little as 2 hours. If you use sustainably raised pork from a reliable source, you need not worry about cooking it to medium, rather than to well-done.

Makes approximately 6 servings.

ingredients:

  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • 4 oz POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
  • 2 oz dry white wine
  • 2 oz dark soy sauce
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 tsp five spice powder

method:

  1. Combine all ingredients except the pork in a bowl.
  2. Pour the marinade over the pork in a glass dish, and marinate in the refrigerator for up to 24 h.
  3. Preheat the oven to 450ºF (425ºF in a convection oven).
  4. Strain the marinade off the meat into a saucepan, then place the meat on a rack in a roasting pan.
  5. Roast 25-40 m (20 m will yield a medium roast, 40 m will be closer to well done), turning the pan once half way through the roasting process.
  6. While the meat is roasting, bring the marinade to a boil, then let it reduce to about 1/2 c—it will be slightly syrupy.
  7. Let the meat rest for 10 m before slicing on a slight diagonal and serving with the sauce.

variations:

  • The meat can be grilled or broiled, depending on your favorite cooking method.
  • Add pomegranate seeds (called anils) or diced pineapple to the sauce just before serving.

Five-Spice Sweet Potatoes

Got any leftover uncooked sweet potatoes (or yams) from Thanksgiving? Here’s a great recipe based on one from the November 2009 issue of Food &Wine. It gives a Chinese twist to traditional glazed sweet potatoes, so I’m calling it Chinese home cooking, although it should probably be served with a Chinese-inspired western menu, rather than as part of a traditional Chinese one. I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit, reducing the amount of butter and sugar, partially changing the cooking method, and eliminating a walnut toffee called for in the original.

Five spice powder’s claim to fame is that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cooking: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle.

ingredients:

  • 2 lbs orange sweet potatoes or yams (I love the “garnet” variety), peeled (or not) and cut into 2″ chunks
  • 1/4 c packed light brown sugar
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 3/4 tsp five spice powder, lightly toasted
  • dash of grated nutmeg
  • pinch of sea salt

method:

  1. Steam the sweet potatoes for 15-20 m or just until tender. Remove to an oven-proof dish.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  3. While the sweet potatoes steam, combine the sugar, butter, and spices and heat until the butter melts. Simmer on low heat 5 m.
  4. Pour the mixture over the cooked sweet potatoes, toss gently to coat, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary, then bake for about 10 m until tender and glazed.

do ahead:

You can steam the potatoes up to a day in advance – cool and then refrigerate, tightly covered, then bring to room temperature before adding the sugar mixture and baking. Or you can finish the dish, cool and then refrigerate, tightly covered. Reheat at 350F until bubbly, about 15-20 m.

variation:

This also makes a wonderful puree – reduce the amount of sugar and butter to taste, and mash or puree in a food processor until smooth.

Pickled Beets

Beets…. Not the first vegetable that comes to mind when you think about Chinese food? I’ve never seen beets (called tang luobo, “sugar turnip”) served in a Chinese restaurant or in a Chinese home, but their sweetness is a great foil to the pickling process and five spice powder, so I thought I’d try it. And I thought they were great!

Five spice powder’s claim to fame is that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cooking: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle.

ingredients:

  • 3-4 small beets, tops reserved for some other dish
  • 1 T sea salt dissolved in 2 T water
  • 1 tsp brown or raw cane sugar
  • 2-3 T rice wine vinegar
  • 1 pinch of five-spice powder

method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (or use any temperature between 300 & 400 if your oven is on for another purpose).
  2. Wash the beets well, then pat dry and cut off the root end. Wrap loosely in foil, place in a baking pan, and roast until a sharp knife enters easily to the center, approximately 1-1.5 h if the oven is at 350. Be careful not to pierce the bottom of the foil, or the beet sugar will burn onto your pan if you need to continue to bake.
  3. Let the beets cool, then slip off the skins and refrigerate until cool.
  4. Cut into thin slices, then into strips, or use a mandolin to julienne the beets.
  5. Toss the beets with the salted water and allow to rest at room temperature for 30-60 m.
  6. Rinse in cool water and drain well, then add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
  7. Adjust the seasoning – you may need to add a bit of salt – and chill until serving time.

do ahead:

You can do steps 1-2 any time up to 1 week in advance – plan to roast the beets when you have something else to bake or roast, and you’ll save yourself time and do a nice thing for Mother Earth!

The completed dish will last up to a week in the refrigerator.

Five Spice Peanuts

These peanuts make a wonderful accompaniment for cocktail hour and a great snack any time! I’ve tweaked a recipe for pecans to use more common Chinese ingredients, peanuts and five spice powder. But I’ve left in the butter – not very Chinese, but it really helps glue the spices to the nuts, and everything’s better with butter (or so they told us in culinary school)!

Five spice powder’s claim to fame is that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cooking: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle.

This recipe will make a big bowlful, enough to serve 12 as an hors d’oeuvre.

ingredients:

  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp five spice powder
  • 1.5 tsp sea salt, or to taste
  • 3 c raw, skinless peanuts

method:

  1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, then add the sugar, five spice powder, and salt. Stir gently over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, but do not allow the mixture to caramelize.
  3. Pour the spice mixture over the nuts, mix thoroughly, then spread in a single layer on a sheet pan.
  4. Bake until crisp and golden, approximately 5-10 m, but check on them frequently because sugar can easily burn.
  5. Remove from the oven, cool slightly until you are able to separate the nuts with your hands. If you let them cool completely on the pan, you may have to pry them off with a spatula.
  6. Store in a tightly covered container away from light – these will last approximately 1 week in the pantry (if you don’t eat them all before that!)

Steamed Pork with Five-Spice Rice Powder

This is a delicious dish that can be quickly assembled if you use Cream of Rice cereal or the rice powder sold in Asian markets. Or you can make the rice powder from scratch – it’s not difficult, but will take an extra step (see note below). You can then let the dish steam while you prepare some other dishes to accompany it.

Five spice powder’s claim to fame is that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cooking: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle. If you’re in a hurry and can’t find the ready-made mixture, you can substitute ground anise seed.

ingredients:

  • 12 oz pork, sliced 1/8″ thick across the grain: You can use pork butt, belly, or shoulder, but stay away from the overly lean cuts or the meat will be tough when steamed.
  • 1/2 c Cream of Rice cereal
  • 1/4 tsp five-spice powder

marinade:

garnish:

  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

method:

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl, add the meat slices and marinate for 30 m.
  2. In a dry wok or skillet, toast the rice cereal and spice powder until light brown and fragrant, then set it aside to cool.
  3. Drain the meat, reserving the marinade, then coat each slice with the rice mixture and arrange, overlapping, on a heatproof plate.
  4. Sprinkle the remaining powder over the top of the dish, drizzle with the reserved marinade, and steam ove medium heat for an hour or until the meat is meltingly tender.
  5. Garnish with scallion and a drizzle of sesame oil, and serve.

note:

To make the rice powder from scratch, toast a mixture of 1/4 c glutinous rice and 1/4 c medium-grain rice in a dry skillet until lightly browned, adding the five-spice toward the end of the toasting. Use a food processor, spice grinder, or coffee grinder to grind it finely. This mixture can be made in larger batches and kept in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.

variations:

You can substitute other meats for the pork:

  • spare ribs – across the bone or left whole;
  • beef slices – you may want to add 1-2 T of oil to the marinade if the beef is lean;
  • chicken – traditionally, the pieces of chicken are cut into pieces, bones and all, but you could use whole pieces or cut them off the bone and cut into large (2×1″) chunks. Reduce steaming time to 30 m.

You can also make the dish spicy by adding ground red pepper (cayenne) to taste.

do ahead:

This dish can be steamed ahead of time and refrigerated, covered, for 2-3 days or frozen, tightly covered for 2-3 months. To serve, steam it until heated through – no thawing required, although you should be sure your plate can withstand the temperature change.