As with so much of Asian cooking, five-spice powder is intended to trigger a sense of balance in the mouth and nose, simultaneously hitting notes of warm and cool, sweet and bitter, savory and searing. Its a mix of fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and Sichuan peppercorns.
That robust profile of flavors makes it a natural for roasted and grilled meats. Five-spice especially likes fatty meat, and often is used with duck (combined with soy sauce for Peking duck).
Likewise, the sweet-and-spicy notes play well with pork, and even is sprinkled on fried peanuts as a snack. But that diversity of flavor also makes this a versatile seasoning, equally at home on roasted vegetables and tofu dishes.
So what should you do with it?
Rub it on steak tips, then refrigerate them for a day or so. Toss them on the grill and pair with beer.
Blend it with kosher salt, then sprinkle it on hot buttered popcorn.
Substitute it for the seasonings in your favorite meat-based chili.
Blend with salt, then rub under and over the skin of a whole chicken for roasting.
Mix into the batter of fried (or even baked fried) chicken.
Blend with olive oil, then toss with shrimp for grilling.