Duck Sauce | Sauced

A fresh take on the bright orange duck sauce found in to-go bags of Chinese food.


At the start of Sauced almost a year ago, a couple friends asked me to tackle those ubiquitous packets that come in just about every Chinese-American take-out order—hot mustard, duck sauce, sweet and sour, etc.

It's taken me a while, but the new year seems like a good time to make a resolution to fulfill those wishes. For the next few weeks I'll dedicate this column to some of these sauces, starting with everyone's most loved (or hated) dip for over-sized eggrolls, duck sauce.

Unlike a lot of Chinese-American dishes, duck sauce can be traced back to something similar in more traditional Chinese cuisine—plum sauce. While plum sauce's namesake forms its base, somewhere along the line, duck sauce took a turn to incorporate different fruits. Apricot is one of the more widely used these days.

To mix a little old and new, I started my duck sauce with both plums and apricots, along with apple juice to throw in another fruit flavor found in some duck sauces. These were simmered along with rice vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, mustard, and crushed red pepper until the fruit started to break down and the sauce took on that thick, familiar jelly-like quality. I then pureed the whole thing to smooth it out and dug in with—what else—eggrolls.

The flavor was exponentially better than what comes in those packets. While there's a fruitiness somewhere in the sea of sugar in take-out duck sauce, homemade hits on the fruit first and foremost. Rice vinegar then provides a slight tartness, while the ginger, mustard, and red pepper give a contrasting bite.

The overall flavors of this duck sauce will be immediately familiar, but I think this recipe releases a potential in the sauce that all too often falls a bit flat in the standard Chinese-American restaurant.