If you want a plum sauce that tastes like it was made with fresh plums, you need to make your own. My plum sauce recipe is merely inspired by but bears little resemblance to the sticky sweet cornstarch thickened Asian plum sauces found in jars. It contains no “plum essence” or dried plums (aka prunes!) or other fruits such as apricots added to distract from the star of the show – the plums.
The last gasp of seasonal plums can still be found at the grocery store, but they won’t be there long. Get them now to have this easy to make showstopping sauce on hand. Once the ingredients are assembled, the sauce is simmered until the plums fall apart and the vegetables are softened. Then it’s pureed. That’s it! Make sure to use a countertop or immersion blender as a food processor just won’t get the sauce as lusciously smooth.
Fresh Asian plum sauce has a sharp, bright taste and can be slathered on just about anything. Really. I use it as more of a barbecue sauce with an Asian flare than anything else. It makes a killer marinade, glaze or sauce with just about any grilled or roasted meat, fish or vegetables (esp sweet potato fries). Use as a sauce for noodles and vegetables or a dip for spring or egg rolls, or dumplings. For a treat use it as a base for a curried vinaigrette over a grain and vegetable salad.
The recipe is forgiving. The taste of the sauce can vary slightly depending on your choice of vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and plums. I prefer rice vinegar, light brown sugar, dark soy sauce and Italian prune plums, but other vinegar, sugar and plum combinations will make a sauce you’ll be proud of. The skins are intentionally left on for the nutrients they offer as well as the color they give to the sauce. I’ve included a range of sugar quantities to add to the sauce depending on how sweet your plums are. Small tart plums often need more sugar than sweet Italian plums.
Five spice powder is made from star anise, cinnamon, pepper, cloves and fennel. A five spice bouquet garni (sachet with cheesecloth) extracts the flavors of the spices to the sauce rather than adding the spices directly. You can also substitute ½ tsp of prepared five spice powder for the bouqet garni.
Make Asian plum sauce and freeze to add a kick to your dishes for months. I prefer freezing food over canning, so I have not included directions on how to can the sauce. Consult your local cooperative extension or a trusted reference guide if you want to preserve it to have on hand in larger quantities for hostess or holiday gifts or you’re fortunate enough to have plum trees in your backyard!
Asian Inspired Fresh Plum Sauce
makes 4 to 4 ½ cups
4 cups pitted and chopped ripe but firm plums; from about 2 pounds of plums. Italian prune plums are preferred but any fresh plums will work.
¾ cup plain (not seasoned) rice vinegar, cider vinegar, OR white vinegar
¾ to 1 cup light brown or coconut palm sugar (if plums are sweet, use less sugar, if they are on the tart side use more sugar)
¾ cup water
½ chopped cup red or sweet onion (such as Vidalia)
¼ cup dark, regular or Tamari soy sauce (Tamari is gluten free)
1 Tbs diced fresh garlic cloves
1 Tbs diced fresh ginger
1 Tbs diced candied ginger
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
¼ tsp dry yellow or brown mustard
1 tsp broken cinnamon pieces
½ tsp whole black peppercorns or ¼ tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
½ tsp whole star anise pieces
½ tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp whole cloves
- Place cinnamon bits, peppercorns, star anise pieces, fennel seeds and cloves in a small piece of cheesecloth. Wrap into a bundle and tie with cotton kitchen twine.
- Mix remaining ingredients in medium 3 quart saucepan. Add cheesecloth bundle.
- Over medium high heat bring sauce to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 35-45 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning. When plums have broken down and onions and garlic are soft, remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
- Remove cheesecloth bundle and discard. Puree plum sauce in blender until smooth.
- Refrigerate for one week or freeze for up to 2 months.