How often have you thought of having a light meal of grilled chicken or fish and then changed your mind because you couldn't think of anything quick or special to make it sparkle? Or set out a spread of oriental appetizers, homemade or carryout, and wished you had something more interesting than soy sauce to go with them?

Chinese restaurants accompany many grilled, deep-fried and steamed foods with duck sauce, also called plum sauce. It is often a cloyingly sweet, commercially prepared sauce without a hint of plum flavor. Since a sauce can make or break a grilled dish and a dipping sauce is essential to so many appetizers, a truly delicious, plummy tasting plum sauce, especially one that is easy to prepare, is bound to become a favorite.

The following recipe became and has remained just that since I first read it in a 1969 issue of Gourmet Magazine. I tried it, liked it, modified it and loved it and have been using it in a variety of different ways ever since. It can become a sweet-and-sour sauce with the addition (to your taste) of rice vinegar, or a Singapore-style sweet-and-hot sauce with the addition (to taste) of sambal oelek or red pepper flakes.

It perks up a veal roast, a pork chop or broiled chicken. It enlivens grilled lamb chops or duck breast, pan-fried trout or batter-fried shrimp. It even tastes special on a hamburger. Tossed with hot freshly cooked pasta and a few slices of barbequed pork or chinese lap cheong sausages, plum sauce is a unique experience.

This plum sauce can be made in advance and stored up to a week in the refrigerator (if reheated, it may need to be rethickened with a touch more cornstarch and water). To keep longer, it can be frozen after a slight change in preparation method.

If plum sauce is to be used to nap a grilled meat or fish, serve it warm and rub the meat or fish with a little garlic, ginger, black pepper and sesame oil before grilling. PERFECT PLUM SAUCE (Makes about 2 cups)

1 cup good-quality plum jam or preserves

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups water or chicken stock

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

2 drops red food coloring (optional)

* In a saucepan combine the jam or preserves and the cornstarch and stir until no lumps of cornstarch remain. Add the remaining ingredients and place the pan over moderate heat. Stir constantly until thickened.

To prepare for freezing, mix all ingredients except cornstarch and half a cup of water. When using, mix together the cornstarch and a half cup of water, add to thawed sauce and bring to boil.