Chinese-Style Plum Sauce

We have three varieties of plums in our little home orchard that range in flavor from too tart for words to sublimely sweet. Each is perfect in their own way depending on how they are used, and trust me, they will get used.

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The trick is in finding the best way to use each variety. The too tart ones are the most challenging. Though they are actually best in baked goods and preserves where their tartness is a perfect compliment to the sugar used in those recipes, it can be a bit of a task to find other ways to take advantage of this variety. Of course, this would also be the tree that is the most productive. Of course.

It dawned on me one evening that there is a plum based sauce found in Chinese cuisine. No, I’m no expert in this area, but I do know that it is a delicious compliment to various meats and has a flavor I really enjoy. A little internet searching and I had a basic ingredient list that I could now experiment with, along with some new information.

As it turns out, the sauce is also commonly made with apricots, too, either by themselves or with plums mixed in. Either way, the end result is a perfect harmony of sweet, sour, and salty and is incredibly flavorful. We use it in much the same way American barbeque sauce is used, slathering it over pork and chicken most often which is apparently how it is also traditionally used in Chinese cooking, as well. Feel free to experiment to your heart’s content!

Some quick notes before you begin:

Like so many traditional recipes, there will be variations from one region to another, and from one family to another. I put this recipe together based on what I saw as commonalities from other people and adjusted it to my own tastes. I tried to keep this as authentic as possible based on the information I could gather.

Feel free to use whatever variety of plums and/or apricots you have available to you. I used a higher amount of the tart plums because those were what I had an abundance of and that was the flavor profile I was aiming for.

I listed out the main components of Chinese Five Spice powder because this is not a spice I keep on hand, but I do have the individual spices that it is composed of. I listed out both the individual spices and the roughly equivalent amount of the spice mixture. Either way is fine, and you can adjust to your personal tastes.

When cooking down the sauce, you’ll want to aim for a thickness similar to American barbecue sauce or ketchup. Be careful not to let it scorch on the bottom of the pan.

I have kept a jar of this sauce in my refrigerator for over a year and it stayed good the whole time. The acidity from the vinegar and the salt from the soy sauce act as preservatives. You could also preserve this using a water bath canning process to ensure it can be shelf stable.

Speaking of soy sauce, there’s a big difference in what you’ll find at the market. Look for one that is actually the result of fermentation, and not just a bunch of salt in artificially colored and flavored water.

Chinese-Style Plum Sauce Recipe

  • Difficulty: easier than figuring out what to do with a bunch of tart plums
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. plums and/or apricots
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce (get real fermented sauce)
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup packed brown sugar (use the lower amount for sweeter fruit, and the higher for more tart fruit)
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely minced (about 2 to 3 tsp.)
  • 1 Tbsp. packed peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Chinese five spice powder, or the following spices (amounts can be adjusted to your preference):
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
    • 2 whole cloves, ground
    • 1/4 tsp fennel seed, ground
    • 1/2 star anise pod, ground
    • pinch of red pepper flakes, or to taste

Directions

Stir together all the ingredients in a sauce pot and set on the stove with the heat set to high. Once the mixture starts to bubble, bring the heat down to maintain a low simmer and cook until the fruit is soft. Be sure to stir frequently to keep the mixture from burning on the bottom of the pot.

Use a blender to puree the fruit mixture until smooth, carefully as it will still be hot. Return the pureed mix back to the pot and continue to simmer until thickened, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. This is meant to be an easily spreadable sauce, much like American barbeque or steak sauce. Remember that it will continue to thicken after it cools.

One of my favorite ways to use this sauce is to mix in a little olive oil and spread it over chicken or pork, then roast or barbeque the pieces. It has a nice combination of sweet, salty, and sour that blends so well the savory flavors of the meat. Often there will be juices that form in the bottom of the pan that are perfect for spooning over a side of rice. Enjoy!

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