If you are tired of boring, overly salty condiments, this plum sauce will upgrade your preserved packets from dull and limp to bright and refreshing. The homemade plum sauce adds a fresh, light flavor to many classic Chinese take-out foods.
While you could eat pre-prepared plum sauce out of a package, you might be surprised at how overly sweet or unnecessarily salty the sauce can be. Lots of preservatives are added to the plum sauce to help it keep longer.
Making your own sauce allows you to control the amounts of added salt and sugar. I store my homemade plum sauce in the refrigerator for a week when necessary, but because of its delicious nature, the plum sauce rarely goes uneaten for that long.
Use this sauce as a dip for egg rolls, drizzled over duck, or as a marinade for meats, and you will love the way it compliments many dishes in Asian cuisine.
What’s In Plum Sauce?
Checkout this list of delicious ingredients:
- Sweet potato
- Lemon juice
- Yellow onion
- Rice wine vinegar
- Soy Sauce
- Lemon zest and black pepper (or Szechuan pepper)
- Red pepper flakes
You can simply use Chinese five-spice if you happen to have it in your pantry.
Obviously, plums lend a lot of flavor to this dish, hence the name, “plum sauce”. Because of the rich flavor profiles of plums, the sauce typically pairs well with gamey meats like pheasant, pork belly, or crispy duck. For this reason, most Americans call it duck sauce. When they experience homemade plum sauce (rather than packaged duck sauce), surprise ensues. Their taste buds are excited to experience a better tasting, fresher version of the sauce.
I love the vibrant taste of plums. You can leave their skin on for this particular recipe because the skin’s texture breaks down during the sauce process, and it smoothly integrates into the other ingredients when you process it in the blender. Plum skins are also full of antioxidants, fiber, and other vitamins and minerals that are healthy for your body.
In the earliest creation of plum sauce, sweet potatoes were pureed into the sauce to lend natural sweetness to the sour plums. Their sweetness differs tremendously from added sugars. Sweet potatoes also add a little more substance and texture to the sauce.
Adding lemon juice to your plum sauce adds complexity by adding acidity. This balances your flavors, keeping the sauce from reading as overly sweet and adds a dimension of playful sourness.
Because plums sauce is not meant to be a dessert sauce, adding yellow onion and other savory ingredients adds a relishing savoriness, helping your sauce pair perfectly with savory meats and fried foods. To enhance the sweetness of your onion, caramelize them before adding your other sauce ingredients. This tames the pungency of the onions allowing them to subtly compliment the other sweet flavors while still adding a bit of zest.
Fresh ginger perks this sauce up with a little brightening, spicy flavor. Ginger is good for you too. It is known for clearing sinuses, helping fight off illness, and calming the senses. Ginger is commonly considered a necessary component in Asian cooking.
Rice Wine Vinegar
Adding even more acidity with rice wine vinegar, makes this plum sauce stand out against heavy flavors. Fried foods especially need some light acidity, so they feel less dense and more pleasurable in your mouth.
Other vinegar such as apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, or red wine vinegar can be added in place of rice wine vinegar. Be sure to add the vinegar in small amounts and taste as you go to avoid making the sauce too sour.
While the sweetness of the sweet potatoes and plums goes a long way, a little added honey gives this sauce the perfect sweetness and consistency. It also helps the sauce to adhere better to other foods.
Many people add brown sugar in place of, or in addition to honey. This is a great substitute because it caramelizes and creates a similar texture to honey. Other sugars can be added instead, such as liquid Splenda, molasses, agave, coconut nectar, or just regular sugar. Make sure all of the sugar dissolves to avoid grainy textures in your plum sauce.
Soy sauce is the perfect ingredient to add a salty flavor and an umami depth to your dish. Soy sauce enhances the savory profile in this plum sauce and awakens the other flavors with its briny, salty flavor.
I think of Mirin as a sugary sake that adds sweetness and acidity to Asian cuisine. It cooks down like wine, pulling flavor molecules forward in the other ingredients and bringing out their best taste. The balance of acidity and sweetness in Mirin ties all of the ingredients together, making them more composed in the sauce.
Lemon zest and black pepper (or Szechuan pepper)
If you want to create a more authentic plum sauce, you can find Szechuan peppers in an Asian grocery store or order them from Whole Foods. They are so delicious, mildly spicy, and unique. If you don’t have access to this ingredient, black pepper or black peppercorns (toasted and ground) combined with lemon zest will give a similar, earthy, mild spice to your plum sauce.
Anise tastes a bit like licorice. It sweetens broths and adds a unique flavor to sweet treats.
Fennel is similar in flavor to anise, but with a more savory quality. I toasted whole fennel seeds and ground them. If you have fennel powder, that will work just as well.
Plums taste amazing when they are covered in cinnamon, so it is no wonder that they taste so delicious together in Asian cuisine. If you have leftover plums after making this sauce, you may want to toss them in the oven, covered in cinnamon and cloves, and roast them to perfection for a warm and delicious dessert to compliment your plum sauce.
Strong, spicy ingredients like cloves should be used lightly. Taste as you add this ingredient to avoid overpowering the other, more delicate spices. I love the bold, assertive power of cloves, especially as a surprise element in sauces like this savory and sweet plum sauce.
Red Pepper Flakes
I add red pepper flakes to my Chinese five-spice mixture, (technically making it a six-spice mixture.). A little extra spice makes this sauce even better.
For spice lovers, added peppers can transform this sauce into something you pour over pulled pork or heavy meats to add spice and sweetness. Try adding cayenne and chili powder or peppers to your sauce for a little added heat.
If you are aiming to eat plum sauce at its freshest, follow the cooking instructions below. When the plum sauce has cooled, store it in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one week or freeze for up to one month. If you want a longer-lasting plum sauce, you may need to add preservatives (This often alters the taste). For advice on how to best preserve your plum sauce check out this seasoned advice page.
As previously mentioned, the plum sauce adds tangy, tasty flavor to many fried foods like egg rolls, spring rolls, wontons, and crab rangoon. You can also use it as a marinade for chicken or duck. The sweet sauce will caramelize nicely on a grill or in a cast-iron pan.
If you add just a little plum sauce to vinegar, olive oil, and salt, you can create a very nice salad dressing. Just imagine tangy-sweet plum vinaigrette over arugula, prosciutto, walnuts, and mandarin oranges. That sounds like the perfect starter to me.
Plum sake would pair perfectly with plum sauce. Your taste buds will feel reminiscent as the plummy taste surfaces repeatedly in your meal. Baked plums on vanilla ice cream or this warm plum tart will bring the meal to a perfect close.
I also love pairing plum sauce with wines that include plums as a taste note. You will find plums mentioned often in merlots and cabernets.
Plums also marry well with oranges, so orange wine, orange in your salad vinaigrette, or adding orange zest to the plum sauce makes for a delicious and satisfying treat.
- tasteless or mild cooking oil
- 3 plums
- 1/4 of a large orange sweet potato
- 1/2 small onion
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 nob of fresh ginger
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 TBSP of rice wine vinegar
- 4 TBSP honey
- 1/8 cup soy sauce
- 1 TBSP mirin
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1/4 tsp anise
- 1/4 tsp fennel
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp cloves
- 1/8 tsp pepper
- a pinch of red pepper
- salt (to taste)
- In a saucepan, heat the mild cooking oil to medium-low heat over the stove burner. Once the oil is hot, add onions, plums, and sweet potatoes. When these ingredients have cooked for about 3 minutes, add garlic and ginger. Cook for another 3 minutes.
- Add remaining ingredients and allow to cook for 4 more minutes.
- Turn off stove eye. Remove ingredients from the heat and pour them into a blender. (Be careful to cover the blender well to prevent burning yourself.) Blend until sauce reaches desired consistency and serve immediately with your favorite fried food or crispy duck.