I like to think that this sauce is a truly original creation for which I can take credit, though as with all foods, that probably isn’t the case. But because that reality has never stopped anyone else from claiming invention, I’m just going to go ahead and do that here until told otherwise. It’s a good sauce.

Vinegary North Carolina style BBQ sauce is a fine thing in its own right. But adding umeboshi just does something else. An umeboshi is a Japanese pickled plum that is startlingly tangy, deeply sour and just a bit sweet in a way that makes your mouth pucker and water. The result is a lip-smacking sauce, invigorating and layered with dimension. It’s particularly good on a summer day with anything smoked, and even better with leaner mains like chicken and cauliflower.

Relatedly, Taiwan has something similar called suanmei, which is a dried plum that has been cured with salt and sugar. It has a similar flavor and capacity to fill the palate, though it is more concentrated and precise as dried preserves tend to be. I’d bet this sauce would be good using that, too.

*

You’ll need:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ginger, minced
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (gochugaru is great)
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 8-10 umeboshi (or suanmei), roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Neutral oil, like peanut or canola
  1. In oil, sauté the shallot over medium-low heat in a small saucepan until softened but not browned, about 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes and a pinch salt and pepper, and sauté another minute til fragrant.
  3. Add the umeboshi and stir til fragrant, about another 2-3 minutes. They will start sticking to the bottom of the pan; this is OK, just don’t let it burn.
  4. Add the apple cider vinegar. It should sizzle upon contact. Use that to deglaze the bottom of pan and stir vigorously. Bring to a brisk simmer and reduce a bit until slightly thickened, about 5-7 minutes.
  5. Add the ketchup, honey, pinch salt and pepper and keep simmering for another 5 minutes. Taste. If it’s bland (unlikely), add salt. If it’s still too sharp, add more honey—eventually you will get to a point where it tastes really nice, intensely tangy to start and finishing with a pleasant sweetness. Be careful not to add too much sugar, though; you want to be able to taste the umeboshi’s tartness and if there’s too much sugar it’ll just taste like store bought bbq sauce, which would be a shame. Also, feel free to try/mix other sugars like palm sugar or molasses or brown sugar in place of honey here, they will add subtle differences.
  6. When the flavor is where you want it, blend it all together with an immersion blender or in a blender. Bring it back to a simmer and adjust the seasoning if necessary with salt, pepper, or honey. The consistency is up to you, but I like it just slightly thickened, and still a little runny.

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