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The Delicious Appreciations of Pick Yin

Not exactly predictable.
Has enough brains for codes
(but can be completely clueless on other more important matters).
Likes her Joe (and her man?) black, her chocolate dark and her food spicy.
“Quam bene vivas refert, non quam diu.” — Seneca

Total Posts   191      Last Updated   23 November 2015 12:00 PM (GMT +8)

Monday, June 13, 2011

XO Sauce

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.
XO Sauce
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).

16 Comments on XO Sauce

i so enjoy having choices of condiments, especially when they're homemade. saving fast/mad consumption, how long would this last in the fridge before going rancid?

Posted by Anonymous Lan, at Feb 2, 2012, 11:22:00 AM  

Lan: The sauce will keep at least a month in the fridge. Unless you make a full quart, I doubt it'll last that long. I need to make another batch already.

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 2, 2012, 11:22:00 AM  

I can't believe you've actually made this! I am so bookmarking this. I just bought some awesome XO sauce from Taiwan and couldn't stop eating it with plain white rice! Will try out this recipe asap.

Posted by Anonymous shirley@kokken69, at Feb 2, 2012, 11:22:00 AM  

Right, right? It's so addictive. Great for weekday-2-minute dinners. How much was yours from Taiwan? I never bought any off the shelves before so I don't know how expensive they can be.

Actually I made this to put into my bakchangs. At first I thought of using store-bought sauce but then I thought - this is ridiculous, I'm already going into the trouble of making bakchangs, why not the XO sauce as well? At least when we make it we know our ingredients are real ya?

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 2, 2012, 11:22:00 AM  

Great clicks .... the sauce looks tasty and the colour is so vibrant...
Wonder if it will be the same if I substitute jamon with beef rashers?

Posted by Anonymous Lisa H., at Feb 2, 2012, 11:23:00 AM  

Lisa: I like my sauce a bit on the dark side and really with lots of minyak cili, like the ones my bakchang teacher made in HK. Beef rashers as in beef bacon right? I mentioned in the halal recipe option that this would be a good substitution. Make some!

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 2, 2012, 11:23:00 AM  

how come I missed that part... time to check my eyesight :(
Thank you... will try soon

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 2, 2012, 11:23:00 AM  

i for one am a lover of condiments, yes i agree food should taste good as it is, but condiments gives extra depth. Having tasted this, i know i'd love to have a jar at my disposal anytime...

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous, at Feb 2, 2012, 11:24:00 AM  

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Posted by Anonymous Aarthi, at Feb 2, 2012, 11:24:00 AM  

Hi, I just came over from Shirley's site. Thanks for sharing this yummy homemade XO sauce. I would definitely love to try it one of these days.

Posted by Anonymous anncoo, at Feb 2, 2012, 11:25:00 AM  

anncoo: The sauce is easy to make from scratch, hope you'll like it once you get around to trying it!

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 2, 2012, 11:25:00 AM  

I am very curious with this XO sauce as I have also seen it elsewhere. Strangely I have never seen it at home. I would love to try making this. Thank you for sharing the recipe.

Posted by Anonymous Jun, at Feb 2, 2012, 11:25:00 AM  

Jun: XO sauce is a very Hong Kong thing, even in Malaysia and Singapore it is not widely consumed (not to mention quite expensive). It's very addictive though, I suggest doubling the recipe otherwise your jar will be gone very soon!

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 2, 2012, 11:25:00 AM  

Hi Pick Yin, I came across your XO Sauce recipe recently. Can't wait to try it out soon. The egg noodle in the picture looks yummy. May I ask what brand of noodle do you use? Thank you!

Posted by Blogger Hazel, at Dec 13, 2013, 2:12:00 PM  

Hazel: Unfortunately I can no longer find this noodle stocked at the local supermarket. The product is from China, sigh... :D

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Dec 13, 2013, 2:24:00 PM  

I always want to make this myself, thank you for posting. This XO sauce looks awesome.

Posted by Anonymous Judy, at Dec 13, 2014, 1:08:00 AM  

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