XO sauce is probably Hong Kong’s best favorite sauce, just like apple is Hong Kong’s favorite fruit. This addictively delicious sauce is a recent invention created in the 80s. “XO” in the name refers to fine XO (extra-old) cognac, not as an ingredient, but rather as a connotation of the luxurious and exquisity of the sauce, which uses dried scallop, dried shrimp, cured ham, which can be rather pricey. All the dried ingredients result in a mega umami bomb. As the sauce is so flavorful, a spoonful of it on top of rice or noodles can magically transform the dish.
In Hong Kong, many restaurants make their own version to sell or gift to customers. In US, the sauce can usually be found at Asian grocery stores. Lee Kum Kee, for example, makes one. The price tag certainly is the XO cognac of liquors. That said, many people like to make their own, as the quality of ingredients makes a huge difference in this sauce. It’s time consuming, but not difficult, mostly just chopping (much easier if you have a food processor) and not something you will likely screwed up so badly as to be inedible. Make a big batch, as they last very well, and have a few extra jars to share.
This sauce has some kick to it, but it is not a hot sauce, so go easy on the chili pepper.
– Oil: Use neutral oil such as grapeseed oil or vegetable oil. Do not use olive oil, even mild ones, as it will turn solid in refrigeration.
– Dried scallop, salted fish and dried shrimp can be purchased at Asian grocery stores. One place you can order them online is TS Emporium.
– Ham: traditionally Jinhua ham from China is used. It’s not so easy to find in the US, and some that are labeled as such certainly don’t taste like the real stuff. Basically it’s cured ham with a dark red hue from the long aging. Jamon Iberico is the best substitution, but it’s also super expensive. Use aged serrano or prosciutto instead.
– Chinese salted dried radish 菜脯 – this ingredient was listed in a recipe given by a friend over 15 years ago. I haven’t seen it in other versions, but it does give a different type of crunch and sweetness to the sauce, so we have kept it over the years. This is a very inexpensive ingredient. : )
– The quantity here makes one medium sized jar, but with the prep time it’s advisable to make a larger batch by multiplying the quantity. The proportion of ingredients are flexible. Feel free to adjust to your liking.
* 100g Dried scallop
* 50g Dried shrimp
* 50g Jinhua ham
* 20g Salted Fish
* 30g shallot
* 30g garlic
* 20g salted dried radish
* 2-4 red chili pepper
* Neutral cooking oil, eg Grapeseed oil
* 2 Tbsp Shaoxing Chinese cooking wine
* 2 Tbsp sugar
* 1-2 Tbsp soy sauce
* 1 tsp oyster sauce
1. Soak the dried scallop and shrimp overnight in cold water.
2. Tear the scallop into tiny shreds, finely dice the shrimp and ham. (Or pulse them in food processor) Reserve the water you soak scallop in.
3. Remove the bone and skin of the salted fish, and mince the meat finely.
4. Mince the shallot, garlic, radish and chili pepper.
5. In a wok, heat 2 Tbsp of oil on medium heat. Add in the shredded scallop, diced shrimp, and fish. On low heat (about 200F/90C), stir and cook for 6 minutes. Add ham and cook for two more minutes till everything is golden brown and aromatic. Remove.
6. To the same wok, add garlic, shallot, radish and chili pepper. Stir and cook on low heat for about 5 minutes, till they are a golden brown.
7. Add the ingredients in 5 back into the wok.
8. Add cooking wine and sugar. Add 2 Tbsp of the scallop soaking water. Add 1 Tbsp of soy sauce and oyster sauce.
9. Add more oil to cover the ingredients if needed. Continue to stir and cook for another 10-20 minutes, on very low heat.
10. Do a final taste and adjust seasoning. The sauce should be a rich dark brown by now.
11. Turn off heat, let cool, and put into jars. Make sure the oil covers the sauce. They can be kept refrigerated or frozen.