My first XO sauce was a gift from Taiwan. Three little jars with shrimp, scallops, and assorted seafood flavors looked very expensive. I opened the first jar, sniffed, and immediately liked its complex flavor. The sauce went into a variety of stir-fries and I was gone in the blink of an eye!

Every time I come across a culinary phenomenon, I tend to think it’s impossible to reproduce it at home. In many cases I was proven wrong. XO sauce is among them. The documentary series The Mind of a Chef (Season 1, Episode 5: Rotten; with David Chang) initiated my search for XO origins and recipes.

For the first time, XO sauce is mentioned in Hong Kong in 1980s. It is similar to the Fujian paste-like sauce Shacha (sounds ‘sa-cha’ or ‘sa-te’, depending on dialect). The XO sauce flavors are based on dry scallops, dry shrimp, and famous dry-cured Jinhua ham, which is often compared to the famous Spanish jamon. In addition to full of umami “aged” seafood and ham, the list of ingredients includes vegetable oil, chili peppers, garlic, and shallots. To prepare the paste, all finely chopped ingredients are caramelized in oil in a certain order, and then combined together.

Every XO component contributes to the rich, concentrated flavor. It explains why the sauce is given the name associated with high quality, prestige, and luxury. Today XO sauces have become more common. Many Asian restaurants all over the world create their signature XO sauces.

When choosing a commercial XO, read the label. They are different.

Amoy Extra Hot Abalone XO sauce: rapeseed oil, shallots, garlic extract, abalone, MSG, sugar, salt, chili peppers, paprika

Giant Tree Brand XO sauce: vegetable oil, dried scallops, dried shrimp, dried fish, shallots, garlic, chili peppers, sugar, salt, natural spices, black pepper, wine, candy, less than 0.1% preservative (potassium sorbate)

Lee Kum Kee XO sauce: soy oil, dried scallops, shallots, garlic, chili peppers, oyster extract, shrimp eggs, sugar, salt, spices, MSG
Yank Sing’s Chili XO sauce: corn oil, soy sauce, garlic, Chinese radish, chili peppers, dried shrimp, dried scallops, sugar, MSG, salt, black beans, less than 0.1% preservative (potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate)

Asian cooks claim that homemade XO sauce is always better than commercial. It makes sense, obviously, if all ingredients are available. In Austin, find them in MT Supermarket.

XO, XtraOrdinary Sauce

Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time2 hrs
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: Eastern Asian, Hong Kong
Keyword: condiment, lycooking, lyukum cooking lab, pork, recipe, sauce, seafood, steamed, vegetables
Servings: 30 oz

Ingredients

  • 170 g dry scallops
  • 100 g dry shrimp adjust to your taste
  • 30 g dry calamari adjust to your taste
  • 60 g Jinhua ham (replaced with prosciutto ends for this recipe)
  • 300 g shallot
  • 35 g garlic
  • 70 g ginger
  • 30 g dry red chili adjust to your taste
  • 240 ml avocado oil
  • 30 ml chili sesame oil adjust to your taste
  • 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 8 tbsp Pearl River Bridge Superior Dark Soy Sauce, Mushroom flavored adjust to your taste
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar

Instructions

  • Prepare all the ingredients and two pots, for steaming and frying. Place dry scallops in a container, add Shaoxing wine and warm water to cover them, and let rehydrate for about 30 minutes. In a separate container, de-seed, de-vein, break to smaller pieces, and cover with hot water dry red chillies.
    XO Sauce Ingredients
  • Meanwhile, dice the ham. Dice and mix shallots, garlic, and ginger.
    XO Sauce Ingredients
  • When scallops are soft, strain and reserve the liquid. Place them into a steaming insert and steam for bout 10 minutes.
  • Add tiny shrimp and ham into the steaming insert and continue steaming for about 20 minutes.
    Steaming XO Sauce Ingredients
  • Meanwhile, caramelize shallots, garlic, and ginger in hot oil, for about 5 minutes.
    Frying Shallots, Garlic, and Ginger
  • Combine strained liquid, sugar, and soy sauce in a sauce pan and slowly reduce until thick and syrupy.
    XO Sauce Ingredients
  • Strain water, chop, and add rehydrated red chili. Chop steamed seafood. Add seafood and ham, and continue cooking until water evaporated. The level of caramelization is usually adjusted to taste.
    Making XO Sauce
  • Process the mixture in food processor. Return to the hot frying pan, add the syrup, mix, season with soy sauce and sesame oil to adjust the taste, add more oil if needed. Portion the hot sauce into four 8oz glass jars with a tight-fitting lid and let it sit at room temperature for 1 day. The sauce will keep up to 4 months refrigerated, and up to 1 year in the freezer.
    Making XO Sauce
Homemade XO Sauce