Chicken Anise - Rashied Ali

This is the final cross-post, in a series of 3, about jazz greats viewed from a food prospective. Rashied Ali (1935-2009) was a well-known Avant-garde jazz drummer in his own right, but best known for his work alongside John Coltrane.  Check out more info about Mr. Ali at Music and More.

In 1974 Mr. Ali opened Ali's Alley, a jazz club in Soho.  But being known more for his drum skills rather than his culinary skills, his business partner took charge of cooking at the club.  So the recipe for Chicken Anise was provided to Jazz Cooks by Mr. Ali's wife Patricia.

This is another one of those recipes that seem ho-hum, nothing special ... until you try a forkful.  That little spoonful of five-spice powder jazzes up (no pun intended) the taste big time ... and I don't even like anise much!

Anise, an herb with a taste similar to licorice, is something I don't normally have on hand.  But sitting quietly in the spice drawer was Oriental five-spice powder, a mixture of (wait for it ..) five spices, anise being one.  You might think that, based on the name, the spices in it lean towards the exotic, but two of them besides the anise are cloves and cinnamon.  You can find Oriental five-spice powder shelved amongst the other spices at your local Try-n-Save.

At my first read-through of the recipe, I was wondering why two skillets were necessary -- maybe if the onions and mushrooms were sauteed first then the chicken added, it might save an extra step and result in one less pan to wash.  But I made the executive decision to *gasp* follow the original instructions.

Boy am I'm glad I did!  By sauteing the veggies towards the end of the cooking and then adding them to the chicken, the veggies retain a fresh taste that jumps out at you.  So go ahead and spend a whole extra minute washing an extra pan.  When everyone is licking their plates clean, you will be glad you did.

Chicken Anise
adapted from: Jazz Cooks: Portraits and Recipes of the Greats
serves 4

2 Tbl. vegetable oil, divided
1 chicken, cut up into quarters or eighths
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 Tbl. granulated sugar
1 tsp. Oriental five-spice powder
1 large onion, chopped
8 oz. pkg. fresh mushrooms, sliced
cooked rice, enough for your family

Set a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When hot, add oil, wait 10 seconds, then add chicken, skin-side down.  Cook chicken, without disturbing, for 5 minutes or until browned.

Turn pieces over and brown the other side for an additional 5 minutes.  Reduce heat a tad if grease starts to sputter  all over the stovetop.

Meanwhile, stir together the water, soy sauce ...

... sugar...

... and five-spice powder.  The five-spice will refuse to dissolve, so don't make yourself crazy.

After chicken is browned, pour soy mixture over chicken, then bring to a boil.  Turn the pieces again, cover, then reduce heat to simmer and let chicken cook at a bare simmer (a full boil will toughen chicken).

Meanwhile, if you bought whole mushrooms, now would be a good time to slice 'em up.  Normally I purchase whole mushrooms, but the sliced version was on sale.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. While you are at it, chop up the onion now, too.

After 30 minutes, set a small skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat (let chicken continue to simmer).  When hot, add remaining tablespoon oil, wait 10 seconds, then add onions.

Cook onions, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until onions start to brown a bit.

Top with mushrooms.  

Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes or until mushrooms give up their juices and  reduce.  Since the skillet is small, a mushroom or two might try to escape at first.  Just pop it into your mouth add it back into the skillet.

Oh! Yum!

Add vegetables to chicken and continue to cook, covered, another 5 minutes or until chicken is completely cooked (no pink remains and juices run clear when pierced).

Divide cooked rice among 4 dinner plates.  Place chicken pieces next to rice.  Spoon mushroom sauce over chicken (and rice, too, if you wish.  But not at my house; everyone but me prefers plain rice).   Serve hot.


  1. This does sound like a fantastic dish. It's funny how some instructions seem so unnecessary, but when you follow them, wonderful things happen. :)


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