I had the great good fortune to be allowed to pick some Santa Rosa plums from a mature tree this past summer. I wrote about that experience in an early post: Scavenger. I made a lot of red plum jam, which just might be my favorite jam of all time, and I made some Chinese plum sauce. The sauce turned into an experiment because I was disappointed in the original recipe, but after working with it, I came up with a sauce I love and have used it as a barbecue sauce for chicken with delicious results. This week, I decided to try it with pork, and I might just have created my new favorite dish: Glazed Roast Pork with Chinese Plum Sauce. Dennis really enjoyed this juicy, flavorful pork roast. I asked him if the recipe should go on the blog, and he mumbled “yes” with his mouth full.
Now, I realize that now is not the time to be making plum sauce from scratch because plums are not in season. But I am going to give you the recipe below so that you can make your own plum sauce when plums are in season. In the meantime, if you want to make this dish, or if you are not a canner, you can buy Chinese plum sauce. If there are no stores near you which carry it, you can actually order it online from Amazon. And if you happen to have some homemade plum jam on hand, I’m sure you could concoct some Chinese plum sauce using your jam as the base and adding soy sauce, onions, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and Chinese five spice powder.
But first, the recipe for the roast. You might want to try it without the plum sauce, or you might want to try it with another sauce for glazing or dipping. Sweet and sour sauce with pineapple would be good, or a sauce made with orange marmalade would be delicious too, with a little soy sauce, red pepper flake, ginger and five spice powder mixed in. Any of these sauces would be excellent with the rub and braising liquid. Think about the Chinese flavors you enjoy and get creative with your sauce. But I do recommend the plum sauce. It is sensational.
Glazed Roast Pork with Chinese Plum Sauce
1 jar Chinese plum sauce for glaze and dipping (see recipe below)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon dry mustard powder
½ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
2-3 lbs. boneless pork tenderloin or sirloin tip roast
Olive, vegetable, peanut, or safflower oil
Braising liquid (see note):
12 oz. ginger ale or lemon-lime soda (or any slightly sweet liquid will do—see my notes on braising liquids in my pulled pork post)
¼ teaspoon of dried ginger or three thin slices of fresh ginger root
¼ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
Mix rub ingredients thoroughly. Pat meat dry with paper towel; oil meat. Sprinkle all sides of meat with rub; pat into meat. Wrap meat in plastic wrap, store in refrigerator to marinate 2-8 hours. Bring meat out to warm up to room temperature about 20 minutes before searing.
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Heat 2 tablespoons of preferred oil in heavy Dutch oven. On high heat, sear meat on all sides. Reduce heat. Add ginger ale (follow the link if you want to make your own homemade ginger ale, and if you use homemade ginger ale, you won’t need to add any ginger to the braising liquid), dried ginger or fresh ginger, and five spice powder slowly to the pan. (Note: Because pork tenderloins and sirloin roasts are typically very lean and have no fat on the outside to keep the meat moist, they can’t be roasted in an open oven without drying out, thus the braising liquid is needed to keep the meat moist and tender. This is not a recipe for a piece of meat that still has a thick rind of fat on it. That piece of meat should be open-roasted on a rack.) Bring braising liquid to boil, loosening all the brown bits on the bottom of the Dutch oven with a wooden spoon. Cover with lid and cook in oven for 30 min. per pound or until internal temperature registers 160-165 degrees. (I recommend checking the temperature with a probe type meat thermometer after 45 min. with a two-pound roast.)
Remove lid from Dutch oven. Spread ¼ cup Chinese plum sauce over top of meat. Turn broiler to high, broil for about 5 minutes or until glaze is bubbly and caramelized.
Remove meat from Dutch oven to carving board. Let rest, loosely covered with foil, about 20 minutes. Carve in ½ inch slices, arrange on platter. Drizzle with braising liquid from pan. Serve with additional Chinese plum sauce for dipping. Alternatively, you could slightly thicken the pan juices: stir a teaspoon of cornstarch in a ¼ cup of water, add that to the au jus, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, for a glaze and sauce. The pan juices are wonderfully flavorful, so whatever you do, don’t waste them!
I served this glazed pork roast with stir-fried vegetables (carrots, celery, red peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, garlic), tossed at the end with a glaze made of ½ teaspoon cornstarch mixed into 1 tablespoon of water and ¼ cup of the au jus from the pork. I put a dollop of Chinese plum sauce on the plate as well, for dipping.
I also cooked some rice for Dennis, but the pork and vegetables were enough for me. We had leftovers, so I put the sliced meat in a zipper-top bag and poured the leftover braising liquid over them. The meat was even better the next day after soaking 24 hrs. in that braising liquid. Never before have I had roast pork be better the next day!
Now, for the Chinese plum sauce. There are lots of recipes for plum sauce out there, but this is the only one I have tried, and I love it so much I will never make another. I have altered it to suit my tastes and make it my own. This recipe calls for whole spices tied into a spice bag and cooked down with the plums. It would be possible to substitute Chinese five spice powder for the whole spices. I would start with a teaspoon of five spice powder and then taste, adding more until I liked what I had. This is what I did with the sweetness and salt levels when I made my sauce. I worked with it until I got that tart-sweet, slightly salty, spicy, plummy goodness that is great Chinese plum sauce. Use your taste buds as you are cooking! That’s what they’re for.
A word about the plums. I think the type of plum you use is all-important. Some recipes call for black plums, and others use Italian prune plums. Both of these are sweet plums, and given my experience making jam with both of them, I don’t think they would make the best sauce. I think red plums, like Santa Rosas, with their tart-sweet flavor profile, make the best sauce. Santa Rosas have red skins and reddish-yellow flesh, and they make a bright red jam. When you use red or Santa Rosa plums to make this sauce, you’ll get a deep burgundy color that is absolutely beautiful, not to mention delicious as well.
Homemade Chinese Plum Sauce:
(Makes about 4 pints of sauce, enough to can or freeze for later!)
4 lbs. red plums, pitted and chopped
½ cup pitted prunes, chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
¼ cup peeled, chopped fresh ginger root
½ cup rice vinegar (must be at least 4% acidity)
3-6 tablespoons dark soy sauce (or more to taste) *see note
1 ½-2 cups packed brown sugar (or more to taste) *see note
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste) *see note
1 cinnamon stick, broken in pieces
2 star anise
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
Pitting plums isn’t a lot of fun, but it must be done. (If you are working with plums that aren’t freestones, you will have a lot of pits with flesh left on them. Consider saving these for making plum vinegar.) Once the plums are pitted, they can be chopped coarsely in a food processor. The onion, garlic, ginger, and pitted prunes can also be chopped in the food processor.
Tie the spices into a spice bag or several layers of cheesecloth. Place the spice bag, the chopped plums and other ingredients into a large, non-reactive pan (stainless steel or porcelain/enamel-coated or glass). Note: Start with the lesser amounts of soy sauce, brown sugar, and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook on medium heat until mixture comes to a boil, stirring to prevent sticking. Reduce heat and simmer until onions and plums are soft, about 30 minutes.
Remove the spice bag. Puree the sauce in a blender or food processor (watch out for spitting steam—use a towel over the vent) in as many batches as necessary. Don’t overload your blender or food processor. You will just make a mess, waste your sauce, and possibly burn yourself. Pour the sauce back into the pan and simmer, stirring to prevent sticking. Taste the sauce and add more brown sugar, more soy sauce, or more red pepper flake if desired. More rice vinegar can also be added if desired, and at this point, if you want to taste the sweet spices more, you can put the spice bag back in or add some Chinese five spice powder if you wish (start with a ¼ teaspoon and work up until you like the flavor). Your sauce should be tart-sweet, slightly salty with the soy, and spicy but not hot. You should be able to taste the sweet spices and feel just a bit of heat on your tongue from the red pepper flakes as well. I added enough soy sauce and brown sugar to equal the larger amounts given in the recipe, and an extra pinch of red pepper flake, and I added some Chinese five spice powder, about 1/4 teaspoon as well, until the sauce tasted right to me.
Cook the sauce until it thickens slightly. It won’t be as thick as jam, but almost. A good consistency is that of canned tomato sauce.
At this point the sauce is ready to use. You should have about 4 pints of the stuff but you might have less, depending on how much you cooked it down. The sauce can be frozen in plastic containers or zip top bags or freezer safe jars, but I like to can mine in half-pint jars in a water-bath canner. I’ll use half of the jar, typically, for one dish, and the other half for another dish in a week or so. (It’s excellent on grilled chicken as a glaze.) The sauce keeps well in the fridge even after being opened.
To can the sauce, clean jars should be sterilized for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath first, then filled with boiling sauce to within a ¼ inch of the tops, capped with hot flats and rings, and processed in the boiling water bath for 5 minutes, or longer if you live at altitudes above 1000 ft. Consult an altitude chart for correct processing times for your altitude.
As with most good things, Chinese plum sauce requires some time and effort, but the work involved is well worth it, in my opinion. I’m looking forward to making more this summer.