I bought my first piece of kitchen equipment when I was 18 years old. It was a hand-hammered wok. Since then, I’ve taught myself to make dumplings, fried rice, wontons, and, more recently, egg rolls. There was just one missing piece in the puzzle to reclaim my Chinese takeout ritual from childhood: duck sauce.
I’ve lost count of how many times I reached for a jar in the grocery store only to read the label, mutter a few words, shake my head, and realize I just couldn’t go through with it. The ingredient list was too daunting, including corn syrup, sugar, caramel color, D&C yellow #6, and D&C red #40.
I admit it, I used to hoard those little packets of duck sauce that come with Chinese food. Then one day, I read the ingredients, and life as I'd known was changed forever. Having mastered many of my Chinese takeout favorites at home, it was finally time to try my hand at making homemade duck sauce.
After a few passes trying to make my own duck sauce, using dried apricots (there’s actually apricots and peaches on the ingredient label of those little packets), I was ready to wave my white flag. None of them achieved that translucent, orange jelly that pervaded my dreams.
That’s when the light bulb went off. My thoughts wandered from jelly to jam and I remembered the homemade apricot jam I’d made last summer. One lone, unopened jar was lingering in the cabinet. I always struggle with opening the last jar of any of my jams, not wanting to close the door between seasons for good. Alas, this was just the special occasion I’d been waiting for.
My apricot jam had half of the crucial ingredients: apricots and sugar. All I needed was one more ingredient to hack my own homemade version to complete my DIY Chinese Takeout dreams at home: some acid to get things going. White vinegar would’ve been my preference, but the red wine vinegar I had available worked like a charm.
No more wrestling with myself mentally at the supermarket, at least not over duck sauce.
Note: My resulting duck sauce was a little chunky, but I didn't mind the texture. If you use an apricot jam with a chunkier consistency and prefer a smooth duck sauce, just give it a whizz in a mini-chopper. —Jennifer Perillo
Jennifer Perillo is the Consulting Food Editor at Working Mother magazine, and a regular a contributor to Relish Magazine and FoodNetwork.com. She shares stories about food, family and life at her blog In Jennie's Kitchen and in her debut cookbook, Homemade with Love: Simple Scratch Cooking from In Jennie's Kitchen (Running Press 2013).