XO sauce is considered the emperor of all sauces in Hong Kong. It was once a prestigious condiment confined to gourmet seafood restaurants. This sauce was developed in the 80’s mainly for Cantonese cooking. All the while, I thought the sauce contains XO cognac, until i discovered otherwise when recently reading the recipe 😳 Although the sauce does not contains cognac, it was named after the liquor, to make it sound prestigious and exclusive.
This sauce is made from dried scallops, dried shrimps, garlic, ginger, Chinese ham, crushed dried red chili and oil. It requires a lot of preparations and it annoyed me a wee bit, having to finely chopped all the ingredients. But knowing that it only cost a fraction of the cost for the homemade version, it doesn’t really matter. No pain, No gain! The sauce has to be cooked for up to an hour and a half. As the sauce slowly thickens, it results in an intensely layered and robust paste. It is addictive, I can’t wait to toss it into some piping hot egg noodles 🙂
Just a reminder for those who are attempting to make this at home, make sure you clear all your laundry unless you want to smell like dried shrimp and remember to open up all the windows. I did not do the latter and I have to endure the ‘wonderful’ smell of dried shrimps that lingered on for a few days. Boo!
Homemade XO Sauce
(adapted from here)
25 g dried scallops
75 g dried prawns
250 ml (1 cup) vegetable oil, or just enough to cover all the ingredients
75 g garlic (about 20 cloves), finely chopped
2 inches ginger, finely minced
75 g red shallots (about 6), finely chopped
50 g jamón ibérico, parma ham or prosciutto, finely shredded (I used bacon)
25 g fresh long red chilies (about 6), seeded and finely chopped
15 g dried long red chilies, seeded, soaked and finely chopped
7 g dried birdseye chilies, finely chopped
5 g roasted shrimp paste, belacan (I did not use)
15 g light brown sugar, or to taste
250 ml (1 cup) tepid water
pinch of salt or to taste
2 tbsp sake or Shaoxing wine (optional)
1. Soak dried scallops and dried prawns separately in 125 milliliters warm water each until plump, preferably overnight. Drain scallops (reserve the soaking water), tear them into fine shreds, pat dry on absorbent paper and set aside. Drain prawns (reserve water), chop them finely and set aside.
2. Heat half the oil in a wok or large saucepan over medium-high heat, add scallops and deep-fry until very crisp, about 1-2 minutes. Drain well and pour the hot oil into the remaining half set aside earlier. Wipe out wok with absorbent paper, return all the oil into it and bring up to medium heat. Add garlic, shallots, ginger and dried prawns and stir continuously until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes.
3. Add bacon, fresh chillies and dried chillies, fry for a few seconds (be careful and reduce heat if necessary, it may burn easily). Add
shrimp paste, fried scallops and reserved scallop and prawn water and stir continuously for a few more seconds. Add remaining ingredients and a pinch of salt (watch the amount as many ingredients are already salty and sauce will reduce). Stir occasionally until fragrant and water has completely evaporated, about 20-30 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, strain and reserve all the oil. Transfer into a jar and pour enough reserved oil to cover. Keep sealed in refrigerator.
It is great as a dipping sauce or used in cooking to enhance the flavour of fish, meats, vegetables, and otherwise bland foods such as tofu or noodles. Store the sauce in a jar and it can be given away as a gift. I’m sure the ones on the receiving end will be impressed 🙂