Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Spicy Plum Sauce

We ate our fair share of Chinese (well, Chinese-American) takeout when I was growing up. I can fondly remember the lo mein, the mixed steam-fried veggies, the Singapore style vermicelli, the sweet and sour pork, and (my personal favourite) the crispy ginger-garlic beef... all spread out on the table with the requisite egg and spring rolls, with the quintessential fortune cookies for dessert. I can't remember a time when our grease-stained paper bags didn't also contain about 20 packets of assorted sauces, too - from soy to sweet and sour to the oddly named "duck sauce". A few would get used by my parents (I hated the "restaurant style" packets, preferring the plum sauce from the supermarket) and the rest would go into the fridge, slowly creating a mountain that my mom would eventually throw out when it overflowed the drawer.

I think the main reason I wasn't (and still aren't) a fan of most plum (or "duck") sauces is that they are far too sweet and "fake" tasting. I don't know about you, but if I'm eating something labeled as containing a specific ingredient, I want it to actually contain a decent amount of it, and more than that I want it to taste like that ingredient. I happened to catch a glimpse of the back of our current bottle of plum sauce in the fridge and was saddened (yet not surprised) by what I read: "sugar, pumpkin, white vinegar, modified corn starch, plum purée, salt, concentrated lemon juice, garlic (contains soybean oil), red jalapeño pepper, citric acid, acetic acid, caramel colour". Hmmm, okay... so it's sugar-pumpkin sauce, is it?

Then I came across a promising-looking recipe in Put 'em Up! Fruit by Sherri Brooks Vinton that actually used plums, and looked to be a "grown up", more sophisticated blend than the glorified syrup I remembered. Since they were in season (and cheap!) at the farmer's market, I picked up a basket of black plums, then on the weekend I followed it up with a big bag of bright red Flavour Rosa Plumcots for good measure. The recipe only calls for garlic, ginger and the Chinese five spice, but I added onion powder, turmeric, white pepper and extra garlic for a slightly more varied flavour. I also opted for organic coconut sugar over plain brown, and since I ran out of the called for cider vinegar I added white wine vinegar to make up the difference. 

I let it simmer down (I strongly suggest cooking it covered first until the plums soften, otherwise you'll have to add more water than I did), then pureed it and let it cook some more until it was the consistency of ketchup. I canned most of it to give as "end of the year" gifts for the teachers, leaving about 3/4 of a cup in a jar in the fridge to use right away. It was great the day of, but two days later when I used some on eggplant steaks (in place of the hoisin) the flavours had mellowed and blended, and I know that as soon as my family gets ahold of it it will become condiment numero uno, or is that 编号0?!

Five Spice Plum Sauce


Spicy Plum Sauce
Makes 3 cups, 24 (2 tbsp) servings
2 pounds plums, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup white wine vinegar (or rice vinegar)
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup tamari (or soy sauce)
1/4 cup freshly grated ginger
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp Chinese 5-Spice
1/2 tsp turmeric
3/4 cup water
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. 
  2. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the plums have broken down and mixture is thicker, 30-35 minutes. 
  3. Using an immersion blender, purée until smooth.
  4. Return to the heat and simmer 15-20 minutes longer, until "ketchup-thick "
  5. Stores in the refrigerator up to 1 month, the freezer up to 3 months.
  6. If canning, process in a waterbath for 10 minutes.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 29.4
Total Fat: 1.1 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 167.8 mg
Total Carbs: 7.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.6 g
Protein: 0.6 g