Food & Drink: On the shelf: Chinese five spice powder

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CONTINUING our series designed to offer ways of using up those ingredients you bought for a special dish which have been left in the cupboard ever since, we turn to Chinese five spice powder. You may have bought it after watching a television programme on Chinese cooking.

If there is one smell among many which define a Chinese food store it is surely five spice powder. One sniff of it and this unique, heady aroma is attacking your nose like snuff. The Chinese know as it is 'five fragrance powder' which is more apt, since its essential feature is its overpowering scent. Its earliest uses were medical rather than culinary. Five is a lucky number, symbolising the healthfulness of the mixture.

Five spice powder is usually the combination of ground star anise, fennel seeds, sichuan peppers, cloves and cinnamon (or cassia bark) though the anise flavour is sometimes provided by ground liquorice root and the heat by ginger powder. It is often used as an ingredient in a marinade for small pieces of beef, pork or chicken (along with chopped garlic, rice vinegar, soy sauce, cornflour) before frying or roasting. It is also an ideal ingredient for a barbecue marinade. And it is used in 'red-cooking', a process in which small pieces of blanched meat (especially pork) are casseroled with water, a generous helping of dark soy sauce, sugar, ginger and five spice powder for 1 1/2 hours. Halfway through the cooking, remove fat from the surface, adding some rice wine or dry sherry.

This use of five spice powder, invented by the Parisian chef Alain Senderens, produces a syrup which has moved the goalposts for fruit salads for all time. Ideally you would go to the trouble and expense of obtaining a real vanilla pod, although you could use a good quality essence.

EXOTIC FRUIT SALAD

Serves 8

For the syrup:

1 3/4 pints /1 litre water

3oz /150g sugar

1 teaspoon five spice powder

1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise

1 stem lemongrass

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

5 coriander seeds

1 clove

zest of 2 limes

zest of 2 oranges

Put ingredients together in large saucepan and bring to boil. Turn off heat, and leave syrup to infuse until cold. Chill. Strain though a cloth (or clean J-cloth) and reserve in container in the fridge.

For the fruit salad: Mix a combination of half a pineapple, cubed, two mangoes, diced, 6 Kiwi fruit, sliced, the pulp (and seeds) of 12 passion fruit, orange and lime segments (cut away from their membranes) and other fruit to choice. Cover with the syrup and chill for at least one hour.

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