Jammy, Juicy Plum Recipes in Asian Cooking and Other Tips

Jammy, Juicy Plum Recipes in Asian Cooking and Other Tips

Get your fingers sticky with sweet and tart plum recipes, from what works best in Asian plum sauces to how to ripen them quickly for maximum juiciness

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of plums? Perhaps it zipped straight to the shriveled, dried, sticky sweet European plums that you snack on in the middle of the day. Or the immensely sour and salty Chinese Wu Mei dried plums used in traditional Chinese medicine. These humble stone fruits range from the beautiful sunset red and orange Alderman plum to deep mystic purple Damon plum – some are better for cooking, while others, well, just enjoy them fresh! Explore the 19 plus varieties of plum in terms of uses and taste below, and juice up your palate for this sweet and tart fruit.

Noteworthy Plum Varieties

Plums are literally grown all around the world, except for Antarctica. The varieties commonly available in Asia often have Sino-Japanese origins, such as the firm and meaty dark purple Friar plum and the thick-skinned and very sweet Amber Jewel Plum (which is actually a plum/apricot hybrid). Got a sweet tooth? Light-orange with a tinge of red, Mirabelle plums or cherry plums from Lorraine, France are well-known for being the sweetest in the world. Love unwinding after a long day with a glass of sweet Umeshu? This fruit wine is usually made with Ume (Japanese plums from the Prunus mume tree), that are pickled while green.

One rare variety is the European Greengage, which is greenish-yellow in color and has honey-sweet flesh. They are notoriously difficult to grow due to their finicky nature, and many farmers have opted to grow other common varieties, making them harder to find in the process.

How to Pick the Best Plums

Make now: Red Plum Lamb Leg

In their harvested, ready-to-eat state, plums don’t change colors all that much, unlike bananas or mangoes. So how do you pick a great plum and ensure their sweet juiciness? For immediate consumption, you want to find a plum that feels heavy in your hand, with a little bit of softness on the blossom end (opposite side from the stem). It should have a slight give in your hand (especially if you want to consume it within a few hours). Do note that green and yellow plums remain firm even at their peak ripeness. Dark-colored plums that are on the firm side will ripen over 2-3 days or you can place them with apples or bananas to quicken the process. Fruits like bananas and apples release high amounts of ethylene, which will help your plums ripen faster.

Make These Asian Plum Recipes

Plums are not often the star of Asian dishes, but they add a nice tang to Teochew Style Steamed Pomfret or a sweet finish to the classic Lunar New Year Yu Sheng. Plums used directly in Asian cuisine are often pickled in salty sweet solutions to give it that savory sour-ish taste that makes you scrounge up your face in the first few seconds of tasting one. They have become immensely popular over the years, and have transited from being a cooking ingredient to a fruity wine-coloured jam that goes perfect with you tiao (Chinese fried dough sticks). Suan Mei Tang (sour prune drink) or lime juice with sour plum is also a refreshingly sweet drink that can be made with these preserved plums.

Make now: You Tiao with Red Plum Jam

Plum sauce is another savory sweet Asian creation that goes so well with duck, like in One-Pan Roast Duck with Plums, as well as fried spring rolls, dumplings and stir-fries. They are easily made by stewing fresh plums with vinegar, sugar and spices to give it that rounded, umami flavor – allowing you to avoid the store-bought preservatives.

Here, we've got four super plummy recipes for you, from a low-carb tender lamb with blistered plums, to a pan-seared mushroom with a fistful of red, jammy plums and a oozing fruity plum pancake for a big morning meal. 

In savory dishes, plums pair well with earthy red meats like duck and lamb, mixed with spices for an extra kick and slow-cooked for hours for that melt-in-your-mouth flavors. It’s also great in slaws to give them your cabbage and carrots an extra sweet-sour tang.

For western-style desserts, plums work great in tarts, cobblers, crumbles, cakes and ice cream. The sweet tartness of plums balances out the rich creaminess of the butter and cream in your bakes, giving you an delicious aftertaste that is not as sour as lemons or limes. If your plums are a little overripe, simply transform them into a nice, gooey plum jam by simmering them with sugar!

Storing Plums

If you are keeping your plums whole and not turning them into jams, sauces or pickles, then they should be stored at room temperature until they are ripe. Once ripened, you can put them in the fridge for about 3-5 days before they start getting overly soft.

Freezing plums are another option if you plan to puree them into your smoothie or make your jams later on in the year. Only freeze plums that are the ripeness you want, as they won’t ripen further after thawing. Slice them up and remove the pits, and then space them out for convenient retrieval after being frozen (you don’t want an entire chunk of prune slices coming out each time!). Properly frozen plums will last you a good half a year. 

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