Monday, June 13, 2011
My parents never held back on indulging us with good food and my brother and I were often showered with restaurant level cooking at home. Late dad would wag his finger at my request for a swimming class but would never bat an eyelid lugging home things like pomfret, jumbo king prawns, various dried seafood from his trusted suppliers and dried shiitake mushrooms from Japan. Hardly ever eating out, their food philosophy was to cook the best at home with grade A ingredients. Having said that, XO sauce was never eaten in our home-cooked meals. At Chinese restaurants I would come across meat, seafood, tofu or noodles stir fried with the condiment but was never really curious about it, all the while thinking it's some frou-frou concoction Chinese chefs came up with to market as their restaurant's signature creation. In fact (don't laugh), up till recently, I thought the sauce contains the actual aged XO cognac it's named after.
You can stop laughing now, as I try to recover from my lack of Chinese food knowledge. A recent foray in Hong Kong wrapping Cantonese zongzi laced with this 'caviar of the Orient' and watching a contestant in Australia's My Kitchen Rules making the sauce within an hour nudged me forward to roll up my sleeves, Google the recipe and start chopping. Of course I'd be lying if I omit to tell you I was even more convinced when I found this recipe by Tony Tan from one of my favorite sources, tried and tested by Trissa and pointed out by Ellie (miss your post so much!).
Like most Asian recipes with more than five ingredients calling for 'finely chopped', I was mildly annoyed at the amount of prep it took to put together the mise en place for a (rather) puny jar of sauce. Twenty minutes into frying up the ingredients later though, I quickly changed my mind, blessed the geniuses who came up with this formula and cursed at myself for not doubling the recipe, 'finely chopped' be damned. As the sauce slowly thickens, as you inhale that head spinning umami fragrance and as you silently will the sauce to cook pronto so you could toss it into some piping hot egg noodles to be slurped with your chopsticks, you will finally understand why the sauce is named such, given so much fuss and made in-house at any Chinese restaurants worth their salt.
I dare say my version, thanks to Gourmet Traveller AU no less, goes neck in neck with Dorothy's authentic homemade recipe. While it seems formidable covered in fiery looking chili oil and all, the spiciness doesn't get in the way. Just be sure to remove the seeds from the red and dried chilies and you'll be all set. By the time this is written, half of the bottled gem already disappeared into my 10 wrapped rice dumplings (which I will ramble about next time, hopefully not to your detriment) and a few plates of egg noodles between Vijay and I over the weekend. A jar of condiment never goes by at this speed in our house, so don't say I didn't warn you.
Adapted barely from Tony Tan's recipe in the Australian Gourmet Traveller November 2009 Issue.
Yields about 2 cups.
Prep time 30 minutes, cook time 40 minutes.
Note: Changes made - I added ginger and sake to the original recipe for more flavor. You may use regular sugar or palm sugar; I used brown sugar for flavor and a darker colored sauce. For a halal version, replace the prosciutto/parma ham with raw salty beef bacon and the alcohol with a dash of vinegar. You’ll need to begin this recipe a day ahead for best results. To roast the shrimp paste, wrap in aluminum foil and fry over medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Dried shrimp roe is available from Asian grocers. You may swap belacan with salted fish or dried octopus, which I reckon are more common in a Chinese pantry. While one cup of oil may seem likely to give you a coronary, don't be tempted to reduce it for this amount of ingredients less you want a burnt, dry sauce.
- 25 grams dried scallops
- 75 grams dried prawns
- 250 milliliters (1 cup) vegetable oil, or just enough to cover all the ingredients
- 75 grams garlic (about 20 cloves), finely chopped
- 2 inches ginger, finely minced
- 75 grams red shallots (about 6), finely chopped
- 50 grams jamón ibérico, parma ham or prosciutto, finely shredded
- 25 grams fresh long red chilies (about 6), seeded and finely chopped
- 15 grams dried long red chilies, seeded, soaked and finely chopped
- 7 grams dried birdseye chilies, finely chopped
- 5 grams roasted shrimp paste (belacan; see note)
- 2 tablespoons dried shrimp roe, crumbled (see note; optional)
- 15 grams light brown sugar, or to taste
- 250 milliliters (1 cup) tepid water
- pinch of salt or to taste
- 2 tablespoons sake or Shaoxing wine (optional)
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.
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.
Add prosciutto, fresh chilies and dried chilies, 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.
Remove from heat, strain and reserve all the oil. Transfer solids to a sterile jar, then pour in enough reserved oil to cover. Makes about 2 cups. XO sauce will keep refrigerated in a sealed container for 1 month (good luck with that).
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