XO Sauce – Back to Roots

XO Sauce

I’m following up my last post on Chinese roasted pork belly with another Chinese recipe that has already been through more than a few iterations in my recipe book.  XO Sauce is a sauce worth iterating on – one worth perfecting.  The main ingredients in XO Sauce are dry scallop, dry shrimp, cure Chinese ham, chili pepper, garlic and oil.  Other ingredients can be added but those are the basics. This sauce has texture and bite.

In my ever evolving recipe, several ingredients have become a mainstay in my XO Sauce.  The traditional Jinhua ham has been replaced by Chinese cured pork belly as well as western style smoked bacon.  I also use a blend of ground dried chili pepper, szechuan peppercorn and gochugaru instead of just chili pepper.  Shallots, sesame oil and fish sauce also make it into the sauce to provide more depth.

If you live in a city with a Chinatown, you’re in luck!  All these ingredients can be found in most good Asian markets.  If you don’t have access to an Asian market and you’re intent on making your own XO Sauce, Amazon actually has everything you will need, though you are getting price gouged and I can’t vouch for quality.

So why use XO Sauce? Because it makes everything taste better.  A briny, umami kick to the face with each bite, XO Sauce is great in stir fry, fried rice, as a dipping condiment, on dumplings, anything.  I will even eat it by the spoonful straight out of the refrigerator.

Why make your own?  Because at $30 for an 8 oz jar, the premade stuff is not cheap.  The individual ingredients aren’t cheap either but I can make a quart of this stuff for less than the cost of the premade product.

Before you get started
– I’m Chinese.  I grew up with this stuff.  The taste and smell of dried seafood is not for everybody.  Consider the following questions.

  • When you’re eating a Vietnamese spring roll, you: 1) avoid the dipping sauce, 2) gently dip the spring roll into the sauce, 3) bathe in the dipping sauce
  • Anchovies are best: 1) fed to the cats, 2) on a Cesar salad, 3) as a bottled fragrance so it can be with you at all times

If you answered with choice 3 on either of those questions, you should continue reading.

– Even though making XO Sauce on your own is cheaper than buying it premade, ingredients aren’t cheap.  I use the smaller dried scallops which are much cheaper than the really big ones.  You’re looking at $15/lb vs $80/lb and at the end of the day, the scallops are shredded up anyway.  The bigger pieces are of better quality for sure but don’t go crazy, the smaller scallops will make a fine sauce.

– Finally, your apartment or house will smell like cooked dried seafood for a few days.  If you’re not careful, you’ll be getting a knock on the door from your neighbor down the hall and it won’t be because he wants to taste.  Keep a window open.

XO Sauce - Mise en place

XO Sauce ~ yields 1 quart


175g (1.25 cup) small dried scallop
85g (1 cup) dried shrimp

100g (2 slices) thick cut bacon
120g (2 slices) lap yuk, chinese bacon
140g (2 bulbs) shallot
65g (1 head) garlic

550g (2.5 cup) canola oil
25g (2T) sesame oil

10g (1.5T) szechuan pepper, ground
16g (2T) gochugaru
16g (30 pc) dried chili, ground

30g (2T) fish sauce


– Soak scallops and shrimp in water, separately, for at least 12 hours to re-hydrate.  Drain and set aside
– Put scallops and shrimp, separately, into a food processor and work to a coarse consistency.  The scallops should be fully shredded.

– Heat up a pan and cook bacon on medium until fat is rendered and bacon is crispy but not burnt. About 8 min
– Remove bacon, reserving the bacon fat in pan.  Fine dice the bacon and set aside
– Place lap yuk in bacon fat and cook on medium low.  Allow fat to render and lap yuk to brown slightly. About 10 min
– Fine dice lap yuk and reserve fat

– Fine mince garlic and fine dice shallot.  This can be done while the bacon and lap yuk are cooking

– In a 6 quart stock pot, add reserved fat, canola oil and sesame oil, as well as the garlic.  Cook garlic on medium low until lightly browned but not crispy. About 15 min
– Strain out garlic through a colander and set aside.  Return oil back to pot and add shallots.  Cook shallot of medium low until cooked through.  About 10 min
– Strain out shallot through a colander and set aside.  Return oil back to pot
– Add all three ground pepper to the warm oil and let steep (no additional heat) for at  least 10 minutes.  The oil will become a deep maroon color

– Add scallops to the oil.  Heat oil on high until scallops start to bubble and turn down to low
– After 5 minutes, add shrimp and continue to cook on low.  Pay attention to the bubbles.  They will start big.  As the water evaporates from the scallops, the bubbles become small and turn into a foam that begin to creep up the pot.
– At the point, add the garlic, shallots, bacon and lap yuk.
– Cook for another 8 minutes on low.  As the bubbles creep up, you may have to take the pot completely off the stove to prevent the bubbles from overflowing out of the pot
– Let cool and store in a clean container in the refrigerator.

One comment

  1. Q · March 9, 2015

    XO!!!!!! All purpose condiment!!!! Love it!

    Liked by 1 person

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