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  • Writer's pictureElise

Virtual Cook Book Club: April's Spice is Chinese 5-Spice!

We've made our cook book club virtual! We may not be able to meet in person and cook for one another, but that doesn't mean we can't create together. Each month we will highlight a different spice or seasoning. Kits will include this spice, a recipe that highlights it, a little history on the spice or recipe, and some best practices. I'll post the recipes and information here as well, so let's get cooking! Oh, and we are changing some things. The kit has undergone an upgraded appearance. And be on the look out for some changes to the lineup as with the projected improvements to the pandemic status towards late Spring/early Summer will hopefully allow us to include some in-person meetings in addition to the spices and recipes.


This month is a double recipe month with the versatile seasoning known as Chinese 5-Spice. For those of you that think April and Easter equals ham and all the goodies that appear in Easter baskets, we have a unique take on a glazed ham. For those of you that don't believe in Easter and/or don't eat ham for religious or health reasons, we have a delicious chicken breast and green bean dish that will dance across your tongue. Your choice. Or do them both. But let's get right to it.

Background & Best Practices for Chinese 5-Spice

Primarily adapted from

No one knows the exact origin of the 5-Spice powder, and indeed the makeup of the powder differs between makers, but sources agree that it likely dates to sometime in the 4th century BCE as a result of the search for a "wonder powder." The five spices represent the five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami (savory).

As mentioned, different makers have different ingredients, but the most common usually are Star anise, Cloves, Specific varieties of ground cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorn, and Fennel seed. Depending on the brand or creator, you might find additions (or swaps) like ginger root, licorice, nutmeg, cumin, cardamom, dried orange peel, cassia, turmeric, and galangal.

5-Spice powder works well as a rub on poultry and seafood as well as helping to keep the richness of "fattier" meats, such as pork, duck, and the like, from overtaking the other flavors. It is also is an awesome addition to nuts or root vegetables. If you want to try making your own, there are any number of recipes online including on MasterClass. Otherwise, your local Asian grocer will have a number of varieties available to try. You'll just have to compare.


Main Event #1

Citrus-Spice Glazed Ham

As Adapted from Taste of Home for use by the Brown Deer Library Cook Book Club

Prep: 10 min. ● Bake: 2 1/2 - 3 hr. ● Total: 2 3/4 - 3 1/4 hr. ● Serves: 12


  • 1 fully cooked bone-in ham (7-9 lbs)

  • Glaze

    • 1/2 cup orange juice, divided

    • 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

    • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar

    • 1 tablespoon honey

    • 4 teaspoons cornstarch

    • 2 medium oranges, peeled and sectioned

    • 1 can (20 ounces) unsweetened pineapple tidbits, drained


  1. Preheat oven to 325°. Place ham on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Cover and bake until a thermometer reads 130°, 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

  2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup orange juice and Chinese five-spice powder; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, until thickened, 1-2 minutes. Stir in brown sugar and honey. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and remaining orange juice until smooth; stir into brown sugar mixture. Return to a boil, stirring constantly; cook and stir until thickened, 1-2 minutes.

  3. Remove ham from oven. Brush with half of the glaze. Bake ham, uncovered, until a thermometer reads 140°, 15-20 minutes. Just before serving, stir fruit into remaining glaze; heat through. Serve with ham.

Main Event #2

Five-Spice Chicken Breasts with Sesame-Orange Beans

As Adapted from Cooking Light for use by the Brown Deer Library Cook Book Club

Active: 20 min. ● Total: 20 min. ● Serves: 4 (1 breast & about 1/2 cup green bean mixture)


  • 2 Tbsp canola oil, divided

  • 4 (6-oz.) skinless, boneless chicken breasts

  • 2 tsp five-spice powder

  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

  • 3/4 cup thinly-sliced red onion

  • 1 1/2 tsp grated orange rind

  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

  • 1 (12-oz.) pkg. haricots verts (French green beans)

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce

  • 1/2 cup orange sections

  • 4 tsp toasted sesame oil


  1. Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in an oven-safe skillet over medium-high. Sprinkle chicken with five-spice powder and salt. Add chicken to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until done. Remove from pan. Let stand 5 minutes. Cut across the grain into slices.

  2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil to pan. Add onion; sauté 4 to 5 minutes or until browned. Add orange rind and garlic; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add haricots verts; cook 4 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp-tender. Stir in soy sauce. Top with orange sections, and drizzle with sesame oil. Serve with chicken.

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