Sour Plum Duck


I always loved to watch my grandmother cook. She is one of the most naturally talented culinarians that I have met. Growing up, she was the chef of the house, always churning out at least four dishes (no less!) and a soup-broth Every. Single. Evening. One seafood dish, one meat dish, one greens, and a miscellaneous/surprise dish. Soup was always something that was simmered for hours on end, until all that remained was the essence of all the ingredients that were melded and blended into that beautifully rich concoction.

I have followed my grandmother in the kitchen since the tender age of 1, where she would carry me in a piggy back sack, and I was allowed to literally watch over her shoulders as she puttered around her tiny kitchen in our flat in Hong Kong. Grandma rarely cooked with a recipe, and if there was a recipe, she viewed it as more of a suggestion rather than a rule. This is one of the dishes my grandma used to cook, labouring over a simmering wok of sauce and meat, ladling the steaming sauce over the duck again and again until the duck was fully cooked. Grandma was disciplined, passionate and dedicated, and that was reflected in her food.

As a teenager, I had taken my grandma’s cooking for granted. I once fed a peckish friend with my grandmother’s leftovers: hastily piled up on a plate, and carelessly nuked in the microwave. All it took was for my friend to take one bite of grandma’s leftovers and she was floored. Eyes widening in disbelief, my friend asked, “This is sooooo good! Do you eat like this every night?!”.

Yes. Yes, I did.

Having moved to a different continent, I haven’t seen my grandma in over 8 years now, but our mutual love for cooking and eating, and each other, remains. Recreating my grandma’s dishes with her “recipes” connects me with her in a very, very special way. Her Sour Plum Duck is one of my favourite dishes, usually made during celebrations or holidays. I hope I’m doing this dish justice. Enjoy!

Photo credit: Lara Matiisen from Next To Wild Photography

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Sour Plum Duck

Yields: 1 medium sized duck


  • 3 Tbsp Chinese ground bean sauce  (Korean Doenjang may be used as alternative)
  • 4 Tbsp Dark soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Chinese Five Spice
  • 2 Tbsp White sugar
  • 2 golf-ball sized Rock Sugar lumps (made from sugar canes)
  • 2 stalks of Green Onions (roughly cut into 3 inch segments)
  • 2 medallion sized Ginger slices
  • 4 cups of water
  • 5 sour plums (aka Chinese Pickled plums; umeboshi may be used as alternative)
  • 1 medium sized whole duck (around 1.8 kg, fresh, if possible)
  • Red peppers and scallions (julienne, for garnish)


The Fun Part

  1. Mix ground bean sauce, soy sauce, five spice and white sugar in a bowl.  Squash the sour plums with a fork and add to the marinade mixture.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large wok over high heat, and saute the ginger slices until fragrant. Add the duck and sear on all sides until golden.
  3. Once the duck is seared on all sides, add the water, marinade, rock sugar, and green onions. The sauce should cover the duck half-way. Put on a gentle simmer for 1 hour or until duck is done. Turn the duck several times over the course of the hour to allow even heating. (For the brave: ladle the simmering sauce over the duck
  4. Garnish duck with julienne peppers and scallions, serve with wilted bok choy (wilted in boiling water that is heated with 2 cloves of squashed garlic, 2 ginger medallions, salt and about 1 tablespoonof oil), mashed mushroom sauce taro*, and jasmine rice.

*I free-handed my mashed taro and won’t be able to provide a precise recipe, but here is the gist of it: cut taro into 1 inch cubes, heat oil in a wok along with 2 ginger medalions, add taro and saute until golden brown. Add mushroom broth, enough to cover the taro, cover with lid, and allow it to simmer. The sauce should thicken around the taro. If the taro is tender, mash the taro and serve, if not, add some more mushroom broth and allow to simmer until the sauce reduces again.



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