Easy Oriental part 1. Chinese Five spice duck with ginger plum sauce (and a new knife)

Five spice duck with plum sauce (10 of 12)I am lucky enough to have a number of friends who hail from China. One of their number (who shall remain nameless for fear of my causing any embarrassment) went back to her home city to visit a sick relative. Knowing of my love for Oriental cookery, she brought me back a knife. I thought I should celebrate by starting a small series on Chinese inspired dishes.

Despite the photo above, this post is as much about the sauce as the duck. “Plum sauce?” you query in an internal voice of some disdain. “What’s so special about plum sauce?” There is very little special about the average plum sauce poured from a jar or served in an aero-board cup along with your over-chewy take away ribs. What makes this both interesting and very special is any fool can prepare it (yes, I know, I did) at minimal cost and it is probably the best you will ever taste.

As with so many Chinese recipes served here in the West, there seems to not be a standard for plum sauce. In my research for this I came across recipes that contained tomato sauce, nutmeg and even one that had plum sauce as an ingredient. Riddle me that? I am keeping it very simple. To prepare Five Spice Duck with Ginger Plum Sauce for four people, you will need only three ingredients for the sauce.

  • 7 or 8 plums
  • 2cm of root ginger
  • 100 grammes of caster sugar

You will need two for the duck.

  • 4 duck breasts
  • Five spice powder
I could not resist showing you this one. Plums in my new colander. The handles fell off the old one.

I could not resist showing you this one. Plums in my new colander. The handles fell off the old one.

Firstly, quarter the plums. If the stones don’t come out easily, leave them in. They will separate during cooking.

The plums have a fantastic high purple / red colour.

The plums have a fantastic high purple / red colour. Note my new knife.

Chop the ginger nice and fine and add it, with the sugar and a little water, to the plums in a saucepan.

Eldest daughter assisted with the shot. I only have two hands!

Eldest daughter assisted with the shot. I only have two hands! Pouring shot 1. Knife shot 2.

Put this on to a low heat and let everything reduce into a thick sauce. Fish out the stones if you wish.

The rich colours get enhanced in the cooking. The aroma and taste are fantastic too.

The rich colours get enhanced in the cooking. The aroma and taste are fantastic too.

While the sauce is doing its thing, you can attend to the duck. Place the duck breast meat side down on the chopping board. Using a (new) sharp knife, gently cut through the skin and fat on the duck breast. Don’t cut into the meat. Do it like in the photo.

My very sharp, very new knife in action. A present brought back from China by a good friend of mine.

Knife shot 3. My very sharp, very new knife in action. A very welcome present from China.

Next, rub plenty of five spice powder into both sides of the breasts.

This is the gratuitous duck breast shot. (I haven't done one of those in a while).

This is the gratuitous duck breast shot. (I haven’t done one of those in a while).

I did trim some of the excess fat from the sides of the breasts. Do so if necessary.

Don't be afraid of the five spice. Rub lots of it in there.

Don’t be afraid of the five spice. Rub lots of it in there.

The five spice works as a counterbalance for the fattiness of the duck and also for the acidity of the sauce. Don’t be mean with it.  Fry the duck breasts, skin side down, pouring off the fat as you go. When it looks nice and crispy, turn the duck and fry for a couple of minutes. It will look very tasty at this stage.

There is very little that looks more appetising than duck at this stage of the cooking.

There is very little that looks more appetising than duck at this stage of the cooking.

Then place the frying pan in a 200ºC oven for 5 minutes. Let the duck rest for 5 to 10 minutes before carving.

My magnificent new knife made short work of the duck. Nice even, thin slices are best.

My magnificent new knife made short work of the duck. Nice even, thin slices are best.

We had the duck with couscous (sorry, there is nothing Chinese about that). My mum, for she was one of the diners, said that it was the best thing I had ever cooked. The ginger plum sauce was sharp, sweet and warming and worked beautifully with the spiced duck.

The sauce retained its amazing colour. We all had seconds.

The sauce retained its amazing colour. We all had seconds.

Side note on economy: The duck breasts were the same price as chicken breasts in our local supermarket. This was one inexpensive meal. You have no excuses. Try it. 

I have plenty of recipes coming up in this series. Look out for them and for my lovely new knife.

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Latest comments
  • Everything looks good; duck, plums, plate.

    • Thanks Rosemary. That was an expensive plate (not my usual style to go over €5).

  • Oh, nice shiny knife! Lucky you. Those plums look juicy and yummy and I just know your sauce must have been fantastic! The duck looks amazing Conor! Well done!!

    • Thanks Lidia. The sauce really was the star.

  • Looks yummy Conor! Who knew that plum sauce could be so easy? How much water did you use when making the plum sauce? Consider yourself lucky that you can get duck breasts at the store! One cannot find duck, other than whole frozen here at a huge cost! Maybe that is why you can only find it frozen! My best – B

    • Thanks Barb. I would have thrown in enough to stop the sugar burning before the fruit wilted. A couple of tablespoons, in short.

  • I’m sure the sauce did those beautiful duck breasts justice 😉

  • stunning and i can’t wait for the next ones –

    • Thanks. I am enjoying getting back into Chinese cooking. I used to do a lot of it.

  • Yum. Just yum.

  • oh, good knives are magical! I haven’t made duck breast in a while, but your recipe is making me crave it…if only we were so lucky to get the same price as chicken! maybe I can just catch a duck on my run around the lake? 🙂 Love that you made your own plum sauce, I have no doubt that it was much superior to the jarred variety!

    • In all humility, there is no comparison. It’s really simple, as you can see, and very tasty. Do try it.

  • Love your new knife, and your new colander. Really nice looking dish as well. Congratulations on becoming a Finalist for the Best/Food Drink Blog category, very well deserved and I hope you win.

    • Thanks Evan, The colander is a quality piece of kit. Another TK Maax purchase. I don’t want to look like I’m promoting anybody but I love the cookery section in that store.

      The finalising came as a bit of a surprise, given the obvious talent out there. Should be a fun night. My eldest daughter is coming along with me to keep me n order on the night.

  • I’d say you have a blade fetish with all of those knife shots, but then that would be pretty foul of me, and totally underserving for such a beautiful fowl like this. Well done. As always.

    • Thanks Tommy. I managed to slice my fingers with it last week. It’s sharp! Now that was foul.

      • Ouch! Be careful! Or we won’t have any more of those beautiful action shots — or those great dishes.

        • I promise to take care Tommy. Once sliced, twice shy.

          • Okay, as long as you’ve promised.

  • We had a Chinese restaurant near where I grew up that made THE best duck with plum sauce…crispy plum-covered skin! I have never found the equal, but maybe I can make it, thanks to you! One day,I will try.
    (They made a fascinating in-house soup.It was pork based with a variety of ingredients,including crispy opaque ruffly squares.When we asked what it was, they told us it was “a kind of seaweed and very good for you”. Only years later, after inquiring everywhere else did I find that it was actually jellyfish.My mother almost had a heat attack, 20 years later!)

    • Some Oriental ingredients take a bit of getting used to (or not). A guy I knew used to know loved curried whelks in his dim sum mix. we always shared them all, except the whelks.
      Do try this. It is as easy as it looks and well worth it.

  • Chinese cleaver: take a bow ~ you obviously have been inspirational! Lovely simple recipe for both duck and sauce, so dependent on best produce [oh expertly cooked of course 😉 !] ~ just wish our duck breaats were anywhere near the same price as the chicken ones!!

    • They are great value over here at present. Though not as nice as the big, plump ones available in France.

  • Well what can I say but those breasts are indeed beautiful. Rendered and caramelized to perfection. The sweet and sour of the sauce hollers through the last photo. Great color.

    • Thanks Wendy, I enjoyed doing this one. Very simple and very tasty.

  • Another jewel, Conor. I love the short ingredient lists you’ve been doing for a while now, and I love that gratuitous meat shots are back! Makes it more ‘you’ 🙂 Looks like a great knife — especially scoring the duck skin requires a very sharp one. This is a dish I’d enjoy a lot!

    • Thanks Stefan, I have an oxtail dish coming up very soon that will take care of any shortcomings on the gratuitous meat shot end of things.

  • you outdid youself this time. the colors of the sauce and duck in that last photo really caught the eye in the best way possible.

    i have a knife just like yours, so i know what it is like to want to get in there and test it on a fine cut of meat. i mostly use mine on fresh fish (for all the head-lopping and whatnot).

    • Hi Misha, Thanks for the kind comments. I will be featuring the knife in upcoming posts in the series too. It has not get an outing on fish yet. But, that’s only a matter of time.

  • Lovely Conor – an all time favourite of mine. What a superb gift – I can’t imagine how I coped before I invested in a couple of good knives a few years back.

    • Thanks Phil,
      A good set of knives (or a set of good knives) is essential. It’s one of the things that make holiday cooking such a drag. The rental house knives! Don’t know why that popped into my mind.

  • OMG this is beautiful. You break it down so easily. I really want to make this. I don’t experiment with duck often, but I really love it. Thank you for this recipe!

    • Thanks Amanda. It really is a simple dish. Well worth trying.

  • I really enjoy a good plum sauce. And it goes so well with duck. What a beautiful dish you presented. 🙂

  • The humor scattered around your post is priceless! The plum-simmering picture is breathless! Knife and colander in action shots are marvelous!
    You have no idea how much I adore your posts.
    I guess I haven’t told you lately that I love you 🙂

    • Nusrat, you are such a wonderful enthusiast. Every time you comment, you make me smile. Thank you.

  • I’m glad to find a plum sauce recipe that’s simple. I’ve only had it from the jar, and I was not a fan. Syrupy with a weird chemical aftertaste. Looking forward to giving yours a try!

    • The jar will become a distant and distasteful memory. Give it a go.

  • Conor, I always love coming to your site as those little shrimp all lined up looking at me always be a little grin to my face. I can see why you say it is all about the duck sauce! Making your own and you can actually pronounce what is in it is always a good thing. I love the crispy seared fat and your photos are gorgeous. I have a knife just like yours and it just makes you want to cook. Take Care, BAM

    • Thanks BAM, I always trepidate when you visit. Afraid that my Irish Asian I’ll be exposed as fraud. Thanks for the kind words,

  • you are making me drool.

  • Mouth watering

  • Delighted to see you take the spice route Conor. My hatchet (purchased in a Saigon market in ’94) is my most treasured (and used) kitchen utensil. Delicious recipe. Sharp shots complement beautifully.

    • Thanks Nicole, I have a bigger cleaver that I bought in Chinaco on Bride Street (now long gone) about 20 years ago. I love that knife.

  • I have one more bag of wild duck in the freezer that a hunter friend brought me. I might have to adapt this to use them up. The meat is really lean hence the possible need to adapt because this looks perfect to me.

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