Chinese plum sauce

Young ginger is in season during spring and summer in Australia so it’s time to concoct the yearly batch of plum sauce. It goes well with most meats purchased at a Chinese barbeque shop; char sui, crispy roast pork, roast duck, pipa duck etc. I’m toying with the idea of using this plum sauce in Peking style duck wraps instead of the usual hoisin so might test that out on friends sometime.

Young ginger, chilli and garlic is prepped.

Young ginger, chilli and garlic is prepped.

A distant relative owns a Chinese barbeque shop in New Zealand and he claimed that the plum sauce provided gratis isn’t made of plum at all. “No one uses real plums. Too expensive!” he declared. I wonder if it’s the same story in Australia. I never eat the commercial stuff anyway. Why bother when the homemade version has actual flavour and texture?

Whole baked duck served with a sauce melding together roasting juices and plum sauce is a familiar meal of my childhood. When I lived on the other side of the world, I cooked it a few times to bring my family closer to me. In spirit, if not in body. Being an old school kinda gal, I made the plum sauce myself. It was the only way to recreate the dish perfectly.

My friend Suz once watched when I made a batch of plum sauce and the amount of sugar I used made her eyes widen in horror. She insisted that we use less sugar for the portion that she was taking home. Trust me when I say that I don’t have a sweet tooth but it needs a certain amount to taste right. Despite all the sugar, this is actually less sweet than the plum sauce you can purchase. Even Suz conceded later on that her jar wasn’t as good. It’s all about moderation. I don’t really consume much soft drink but given the choice, I always go for the full sugar variety. Diet drinks always seem to leave the mouth with a strange lack of aftertaste.

The plums used are a salted Chinese plum. You’ll find them brined in jars at Asian supermarkets. Look out for the larger fruit for an optimum plum flesh to stone ratio. The sauce keeps easily for at least 12 months, if sealed tightly in a jar and kept in a cool, dark place. Place in the fridge if you want but I don’t tend to do that until I open a fresh jar.

Considering how low-fi and simple the recipe is, the end result is pretty damn cool.

Plum sauce with ginger and chilli shreds.

Cut everything very fine. Tiny shreds of young ginger and chilli should float in the sauce. The plum should remain the hero.

Chinese plum sauce

Feeds: It’s a condiment so a little goes a long way.
Start cooking: The sauce needs to mellow out for a week before eating.


  • 750 grams x Chinese salted plums (weight in jars, undrained)
  • 1200 – 1600 grams x white sugar (yes, that’s over a kilo of sugar. Do not be afraid.)
  • 100 grams x young ginger
  • 3 x garlic cloves
  • 2 x large chillis (red or green)


  1. Drain the salted plums and place in a large bowl. Cover the plums completely with hot water (can be boiling but the hottest water out of the tap is fine) and leave for two hours. This will mute the saltiness of the plums.
  2. Clean four empty glass jars that can hold approximately 400ml and dry thoroughly. Used honey or jam jars would be perfect here.
  3. Once the two hours are up, drain the plums in a colander for an hour.
  4. In the meantime, prep the remaining ingredients. Lightly scrape the young ginger so the thin skin is removed. Taking your time, finely julienne the ginger into 1mm strips. You want fine strands floating within the sauce. Set aside.
  5. Finely mince the three cloves of garlic. I don’t recommend increasing the amount of garlic as too much stifles the plum which is meant to be the star of the show. Set aside.
  6. De-seed the chillis and finely julienne into 1mm strips. Set aside.
  7. After draining, divide the plums into the clean jars evenly. Each jar will be less than half full of fruit.
  8. Using a pair of chopsticks, pound into each jar in turn until the plums are reduced to mush. The plum stones will be rolling around. Keep them, as they add interesting texture.
  9. Pour in 200 grams of sugar into each jar and using the chopsticks, gently mix together. Add a further 100 grams of sugar and repeat. Do this with each jar in turn.
  10. Now taste the sauce. It should be slightly briney and sweet from the sugar. If still quite tart, then add another 50-100 grams of sugar into each jar, stirring until amalgamated. I know it feels like a lot of sugar but the sweetness will ease once the rest of the ingredients are added.
  11. Once you’re happy with the taste of the sauce, divide the rest of the ingredients amongst each jar and fold through.
  12. Carefully wipe down the rims of each jar with a dry paper towel and seal tightly.
  13. Leave the jars in a cool dark place for one week before using. This time will allow the flavours to meld. Note that colour of the sauce will darken slightly over time.
  14. Serve as a condiment alongside Chinese barbeque meats. This is not meant to be slathered over like tomato sauce but eaten sparingly.