A Star Anise for Effort

Thursday, January 21, 2010

-You could eat this straight. But then again, there's a lot things you could do but shouldn't.-

I had just made beef stew with lemongrass and star anise, a recipe from Andrea Nguyen’s cookbook Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, a stellar and informative book that’s made Vietnamese cooking more accessible to me. As such a few of her recipes have become my own and are now a regular part of my everyday repertoire – simple for me but often seemingly fanciful for guests as if I had spent the day scrounging through Little Saigon.

Now for the most part I try to pick out the bay leaves, lemongrass stalks and star anise, but in the thick stew it’s easy for a few points of the anise to become lost within a sea of savory juices.

I’m usually good at warning people about things like chunks of galangal and so on, but every so often I forget due to being lost in fragrant bliss or because I’m wolfing down the food like some meat-starved barbarian (Andrea, you know what I’m talking about with that stew). Thus, once in a while a guest bites into something inedible and has to spit it out. I apologize, we laugh, the meal continues.

Anywhose, midway through a meal with BF…

Me: Oh! I forgot. I wasn’t able to fish out all of the star anise points, so if you come across something really crunchy just spit it out. They’re inedible.

BF: They are?

Me: Yes.

BF: Huh…

Me: What? …Oh, no. You didn’t?

BF: *stare*

Me: You ate one!?

BF: I thought it was a little woody. *he says this with complete nonchalance before taking another spoonful*

Me: How!?

BF: Well, it was softened up after simmering for a few hours. It was just a little tough to chew.

Me: My old roommate once ate two bay leaves by accident, let me tell you, he was not a happy camper afterwards.

BF: I’ll be fine.

Me: Yeah. Well, get back to me in a few hours.

The ending of this story is predictable, and kind of funny.


  1. Ok...so I'm just curious (and clueless!) What happens if you eat star anise or a bay leaf?

  2. Julie - Painful tummy and painful toilet time.

  3. I had a feeling...Thanks Garrett!

  4. To those who e-mailed me this took place a few months ago. Sadly I am still unable to cook in my new place.

  5. Oh dear! Sounds like what a lot of people on our trip were going through. I sometimes grind the seeds with other spices for a rub or something and haven't had any problems that way.

  6. I've started tying my spices into a ball with a piece of cheesecloth since my husband had a similar unfortunate experience...

  7. Does "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen" include a recipe for bún?

  8. Annomymous - Don't know. I lost my copy in the fire. Waiting for the replacement copy I ordered.

  9. I left star anise in a fish dish I made and my fiance bit into it which he did not appreciate.

    Star Anise has become one of my favourites I add it to all sorts of casseroles, stews to enhance meat flavours Heston Blumenthal showed in his In Search Of Perfection series that adding star anise to caramelised onions react to make new compounds which enhance meat flavours.


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