Duck & Honey Plum Sauce {+ why cauliflower pizzas are wrong}

bill granger duck plum

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“Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath” – Michael Caine

Two hours I spent this week experimenting with cauliflower pizza bases. Two hours of my life I shall never get back. I knew it was a bad idea. The first time I saw the recipe I archived it in the “That Sounds Revolting” file in my brain (the mental equivalent of the B1N file that 80% of my son’s “artwork” gets filed to).  It fell squarely into the same category as courgette spaghetti and kidney bean brownies: frankenstein food items dreamed up to pander to whatever the ‘on trend’ diet fad is that year.

If you don’t want to eat pasta, just eat something else surely? Do you really need to create an alternative (lesser) vehicle for delivering tomato or carbonara sauce to your stomach when there are approximately 89 million other possible non-pasta food items you could eat that night? And kidney bean brownies? I can’t even find the words. (But while we are on the subject has anybody else noticed that most of these ‘healthy’ brownies use about 45 tons of medjool dates to bind/sweeten them? That is a bucket load of fructose – dried dates being around 80% sugar – which while being very low on the glycemic index we’ve all been obsessed with, might actually be really quite bad for us). 

Don’t get me wrong – I am all for ingenious ways to bump up the nutrient quotient of already delicious foodstuffs and have spent many a happy hour fiddling around in the kitchen adding wholegrains to baking recipes, making up nut milks for cereals or sneaking some stealth vegetables in here and there. I do, however, have one critical criterion – it must taste as good as or better than the original. Because otherwise, what is the point when you can just eat something else? We live in a world overrun with food stores and thus food options. Blitzing together cauliflower, almonds and eggs and calling it pizza? I don’t think so pal.

And yet I kept seeing recipes for cauliflower pizza. I was falling over them. What if this was a THING?  zOMG FOMO! Maybe this wasn’t just a faux-healthy way of shovelling melted cheese into my mouth (because we all see the irony there, right?). It might actually taste good and then it would be a win-win situation. Pizza with added hidden veg and a good way to bring down the weekly wheat intake. Suddenly I had convinced myself it would be good. So confident was I of certain success that I made it for my son’s tea with no backup option in place. My hubris will be particularly apparent to those of you who know that cauliflower is my son’s sworn nemesis: the vegetable Joker to his three foot high Batman.

(I read somewhere that cauliflower breaks the unwritten agreement that small children have with vegetables. It is white. And white foods should taste of precisely nothing. Cauliflower takes this toddler trust and tramples all over it).

Because I would definitely be writing this brilliant revolutionary food discovery up here, I made not one but two versions – a sort of Pizza-Off recipe experiment – one that blended the basic blitzed cauliflower, almond and egg mix with oats and the other with buckwheat flour. I am not going to say whose recipes they are as I only tried them once and the results could well be down to user error (except they weren’t).  What I will say is that the one with oats was particularly grim – a soggy base redolent of musky cauliflower, which just disintegrated under the weight of the topping. My son wolfed down the first slice, giving me initial cause for optimism, until I realised he was just absolutely starving as I’d taken ages conducting my so-called experiment. Two more slices were dutifully eaten but only after he had masterfully removed all the topping from the base and made me agreed, quite solemnly, that we would only ever have ‘normal’ pizza again.

And that, you see, is the thing – the first slice is actually OK. My husband unwittingly swiped a piece off the counter, oblivious, and declared it perfectly edible. He even went as far as “quite nice”. But then it creeps up on you. That sulphurous cauliflower twang, which by the third slice is overwhelming (and I write this as somebody who really likes cauliflower).  This is not actually surprising when you know that cauliflower, like its cruciferous friends broccoli and cabbage, becomes more sulphurous the more it is chopped or pureed. The blast in the food processor required to render the cauliflower to crumb for this pizza brings out this flavour really intensely. There is a reason that most cauliflower soups are laden with cream…

The recipe with buckwheat flour is better – it creates something more like a real crispy pizza base (I think this is a function both of the buckwheat flour and the fact it uses only the white of the egg) but the problem here is that the natural earthiness of the buckwheat really doesn’t do that farmyard cauliflower tone any favours at all.  Indeed, my husband declared that this one tasted even more cauliflower-like than the first, despite containing less than half the amount of the offending vegetable. {There are photographs of these crimes against pizza on my Instagram feed. I cannot bring myself to reproduce them here}

What has this got to do with duck and plum sauce? Absolutely nothing, that’s what. But if I save just one of your unsuspecting children from cauliflower pizza and just one of your kitchens (and clothes) from the permeating odour of cauliflower then I will feel that my work here is done. As for us, we are sticking to proper pizza. Yes, we can eat it less often than we probably could a cauliflower buckwheat version but I’ll take that trade-off for a long fermented sourdough-like crispy base made with good old wheat flour. And in the meantime if we want to eat cauliflower and melted cheese we might try this thing I saw on the internet. You may have heard of it. It’s called cauliflower cheese.

Kitchen assistant
My kitchen photography assistant

So, yeah, duck and plum sauce.  We ended up eating this after the debacle of the pizza experiment.  It was sort of a backwards dinner decision driven by having a load of decaying plums in the fruit bowl and neither the time nor the inclination to turn them into a pudding. The tartness of plum sauce, as the Chinese well know, goes brilliantly with the richer (i.e. fattier) meats such as pork belly and duck so it was a good excuse to give duck an all too rare outing in our kitchen.

I think a lot of people are put off duck because of the fat, which is a shame as it is waaaay more interesting than chicken and is also really rather good for you. Even Gwyneth eats duck.  Duck is rich in B vitamins, selenium and, in particular, iron (containing up to three times as much as chicken). Although it does contain a good layer of weather-protecting fat, it actually has a similar fat profile to chicken (high in monounsaturated and polyunsatured fat) and a lot of this renders off during cooking anyway. And you don’t have to eat the crispy skin if you really don’t want to.

Plums are good for you too. But then that was probably obvious with them being a fresh fruit and all. Plus, they are in season right now and here in England we grow loads of them so eat them up while they are here. You might even have a plum tree in your very own garden. (When I was a kid my parents paid us to collect up all the fallen plums from the lawn. This was extremely high-risk employment as it basically meant going head to head with an army of wasps. Our remuneration? £1.50. Not even minimum wage. Amazingly, this didn’t put me off plums for life).

Plum tree
This is my friend’s plum tree in Sweden. Pretty, innit?

This recipe is from Bill Granger’s Everyday Asian which is, if you ask me, a very handy book to have around if you like Asian food. Sure, it blithely attempts to cover a vast region and is not, therefore, the most authentic tome on any cuisine but it is full of simple, quick and delicious things that are perfectly acceptable for most of us Westerners who probably wouldn’t know authentic Cantonese or Vietnamese food if it clawed us in the face with a steamed chicken foot. You can easily get this duck creation on the table in 30 minutes start to finish, provided you’ve remembered to get the duck out of the fridge to get up to room temperature before cooking.


Duck & Honey Plum Sauce
Serves: 2
adapted from [url href=”″ target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”]Everyday Asian[/url] by Bill Granger
  • 2 duck breasts (approx 175g), with skin on
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 4 plums, halved and stoned
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp julienned ginger (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • half cinnamon stick*
  • 1 star anise
  • juice of half a lime
  1. Score the duck breast skins at approximately 2cm intervals and rub with salt, pepper and five spice powder.
  2. Heat a frying pan over a high heat and once really hot add the duck breasts, skin side down, and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and let the duck cook for a further 8 minutes. The fat will render into the pan. There will be a lot of it. Do not be alarmed.
  4. Flip the duck over and cook for a further 6 minutes on low and then remove to a plate, cover loosely with foil and leave to rest.
  5. Pour off the excess fat, leaving about 1tbsp in the pan, and fry the ginger for 2 minutes over a low heat.
  6. Add the plums (cut side down) along with the remaining ingredients. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the plums have softened and the sauce has reduced slightly. Taste and add more honey if needed.
  7. Slice the duck breasts and serve with the sauce.
Warning: this is not like hoisin sauce (which is often called plum sauce for reasons that escape me as it isn’t made with plums). It is a far more ‘sweet and sour’ concoction that definitely verges toward the sour – that being the point to cut through the richness of the duck. Do add a bit more honey if you want to sweeten it further (or if the plums you have are quite sharp). And be aware that plums, like apricots, get more sour as they cook – I have no idea why this is, probably something to do with science – so don’t be tempted to hold back on the honey as you will be left with something really rather like nail polish remover. [br][br]The method/timings for cooking the duck are utterly foolproof and I use them whenever I cook duck whether or not I am doing this recipe. I don’t know why it works but it does. If your duck breasts are slightly larger (200g+) add one minute (but no more) to the cooking time once you have flipped them over. Even if you don’t intend to eat the skin leave it on for cooking or else the duck will dry out horribly.


  • We ate this with brown rice and some stir-fried tatsoi. There is no picture as I was terribly cross after the pizza incident and forgot. On reflection, I think that the Asian greens are a little too mustardy for this as the plum sauce is already quite sour. Bill suggests rice and a simple cucumber salad and I think he might just be onto something.
  • This sauce would also work well with pork belly. Nigel Slater has a very similar version in Tender Vol 2 (along with a recipe for a fantastic Chinese roast pork dish) if you happen to have that, which produces more of a sticky sauce. The recipe below is really just plums softened down a bit rather than a ‘sauce’ but it is a bit quicker to put together than Nigel’s version.

Kitchen Song of the Day: Falling (Duke Dumont Remix) – Haim


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2 thoughts on “Duck & Honey Plum Sauce {+ why cauliflower pizzas are wrong}”

  1. kate, i have been splitting my sides! i was going to venture into cookies makes chickpeas albeit with tonnes of reluctance and you have convinced me otherwise. i am not a cauliflower pizza taker. see, i love cauliflower – with cheese, stir fried, even steamed with a bite. and i would bake the whole in a heart beat but really, pizza?!?! we are on the same page my friend.

    p.s. the plum tree is gorgeous. x

  2. I have seen those cauliflower pizza base recipies too (Guardian weekend?) and thought they sounded like it was worth a go. Thanks for testing them out for this lazy bones. Think I will stick with real pizza.

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