Sour Plum Duck

Chinese New Year is in two weeks, and in preparation, we have many New Year’s recipes to share with you. Some of these are reader requests, while others are tried-and-true family favorites. We’re starting with a bang––one of my favorite dishes, Chinese Sour Plum Duck.

My dad used to occasionally surprise us with a meal of sour plum duck when we were young. He first made it one year on Chinese New Year’s day, and from then on, we’d beg him to make it even if it wasn’t a holiday!

This is just my guess, but I think the term “duck sauce” originated in China because of this dish. You can eat it with anything from fried rice to egg rolls, and the bright orange duck sauce you get in packets from Chinese takeout restaurants is obviously made with no duck at all. This sweet-and-sour topping looks suspiciously like plum sauce, the star ingredient in a traditional Chinese duck dish. Do you get it now?

Those who have fond recollections of your favorite meals would be wise to delve deeply into those memories and give some serious thought to the subject, as the effort is sometimes well rewarded. As an added bonus, make sure to put it off if you have family members who can share recipes and/or stories. Now is the time to pick their brains and record their ideas, no matter how imperfect they may seem.

Just in time for Chinese New Year, here is a recipe for a traditional dish: sour plum duck. I really hope you enjoy it!


  • 1 whole 2.25 kg of duck
  • 6 pickled plums
  • 5 thinly sliced shallots (about ½ cup)
  • 3 large thinly sliced onions (about 4 cups)
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 3-4 pieces of dried orange or tangerine peel
  • 1½ cups of plum sauce
  • 1½ cups of low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1½ tablespoons of canola oil


  1. Take out the duck’s giblet packet, give it a good rinsing inside and out, and then drain the water. The duck giblets can be thrown away or added to the stew. Use a paper towel to dry the duck. Mix salt, white pepper, and ginger in a small bowl. Work the spice mixture into the duck’s skin and cavities. For the next 30 minutes, let the ingredients marinate.
  2. Canola oil for frying: heat 1 1/2 tablespoons in a large Dutch oven (or other oven-safe pot with a lid) over medium heat. After the duck has been seared on both sides and has achieved a golden brown color, place it on a serving dish. Turn the oven temperature up to 375 degrees. Add garlic, shallots, and onions to the same pot where the duck was seared. Sauté for three to five minutes or until tender.
  3. The pickled plums should be smashed with your hands or a fork before being added to the pot. It’s best to remove the pits from the plums before using them, but you can always just add them and pick them out before serving. Plum sauce, chicken stock, dried citrus peels, and vinegar should be combined and stirred in. Stirring constantly, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. When it reaches a simmer, take it off the stove.
  4. Coat the duck inside as thoroughly as possible with the onion mixture and then spoon one cup into the duck cavity. Lightly coat the duck with some of the sauce and set it aside. Spread the remaining onion mixture across the bottom of the pot and carefully set the duck on top (breast side down). Put the pot in the oven with the lid on for 60 minutes at 350 degrees.
  5. Remove the pot from the oven and, using a large roasting fork, carefully lift the duck so that the onions and liquid can be poured out of the cavity. Carefully turn the duck over so the breast is now facing up. There should be a good amount of liquid in the pan; if it seems dry, feel free to add some chicken stock.
  6. Duck can be cooked for 30 minutes to an hour with the lid on, depending on how tender you like it. After 30 minutes, test the duck for doneness and add more stock if the sauce is drying out. When the meat is tender enough, cover it and let it cook for another 15 minutes. If the sauce has disappeared, add more chicken stock. Reheat the pot on the stovetop, and carefully move the duck to a serving platter or cutting board.
  7. Toss the tangerine peels and plum pits and stir the sauce. The sauce should have caramelized into a stunning onion marmalade if everything went according to plan. If the sauce is too watery, reduce it over high heat, and if it is too dry, deglaze the pan with some chicken stock.
  8. Serve the duck with a side of sauce and some onions.
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