The term XO is often identified with high quality, prestige, and luxury, such as the cognac that bears that moniker. The sauce has its roots in the great Cantonese kitchens of Hong Kong. Consequently, when an ingenious chef in the 1980s first slapped the "XO" label on his new creation, diners intuitively knew that they were in for something decadent. They were not disappointed, and you won’t be either. It is a more expensive sauce or condiment, but it is worth it!
It is helpful to have a wok and wok spatula to prepare this sauce, although you could make this in a Dutch oven. A food processor and a spice grinder (such as the special coffee grinder that we use to grind spices) are also recommended.
8 ounces of Dried Shrimp (which can be ordered on Amazon)
8 ounces of dried Scallops (which can be ordered on Amazon)
6 ounces of Jin Hua ham, finely chopped (Serrano Ham can be substituted here, but technically it should be the Chinese ham if you can obtain it. We were able to get Serrano Ham at our local grocery store.)
½ cup of Shaoxing Cooking Wine (Mirin Wine can be substituted here)
1 medium-sized White Onion, finely chopped
20 cloves of Garlic, minced
3 Shallots, minced
2 tablespoons of Ginger, freshly grated with a fine micro-planer
3 tablespoons of Oyster Sauce
3 tablespoons of Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons of Light Brown Sugar
2 tablespoons of Fish Sauce
2 teaspoons of Black Pepper
4 dried Red Chili Pods, roughly chopped (Japanese chili pods can be substituted here.)
2 fresh Serrano Chilis, very finely chopped
2 cups of either Canola or Vegetable Oil
Place the dried shrimp and the dried scallops in two, separate, heat-resistant bowls. Add 1 tablespoon in each bowl of Mirin Wine, and then pour boiling water on top of the dried seafood, so that the water covers the seafood and there is about 1-2 inches of extra water covering the seafood. Set the two bowls aside for about 2 hours.
Pulse the onion, the garlic, the ginger, the serrano chilis, and the shallots in a food processor about 5-10 times, or until coarsely chopped and integrated. You do not want this to be puréed. Set this aside in a bowl and clean the bowl of the food processor.
Check the dried scallops and dried shrimp after 2 hours. The scallops and shrimp should be tender and should easily break apart, and almost look like they are shredding. If they are not tender at this point, drain the juice off and repeat the process with the boiling water.
Once the dried seafood is tender, retain the liquid, but drain the seafood and break the scallops apart with your hands and then add them to the food processor. Pulse in the food processor until the scallops appear to be broken into strands – shredded. Remove the scallops from the food processor bowl. Coarsely chop the shrimp, and then add the shrimp to the food processor bowl and pulse the shrimp about 10-12 times. The shrimp may require a bit more pulsing than the scallops.
In the spice grinder, add the coarsely chopped red chilis and pulse them until finely ground, and set it aside.
In a bowl, whisk the oyster sauce, the soy sauce, the light brown sugar, the fish sauce, the black pepper, together and set them aside.
Heat the canola oil in the wok (or Dutch oven) until it reaches around 225 degrees. When the oil has reached the right temperature, add the ham and cook it for about 3-5 minutes until the ham becomes crispy; use a wok spatula or wooden spoon to make sure that the ham doesn’t stick. Add the scallops next and cook for another 5 minutes, and then add the shrimp. Cook/fry it for another 10-15 minutes. Use the wok spatula to stir the ingredients frequently. Add the onion mixture to the wok next and be sure to use the wok spatula to stir it frequently.
Next add the dried chili peppers and cook it for a few more minutes. Remove the wok from the heat and pour it in the remaining cooking wine. Use the wine to loosen any pieces that have stuck to the sides of the wok, and then pour the oyster sauce and soy sauce mixture into the wok and return the wok to the heat. Heat the wok again over medium high heat and continue to cook it for about 15 minutes more. Remove the XO Sauce from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
This XO Sauce may be stored in the refrigerator for a month.
XO Sauce is delicious when it is included in a variety of recipes such as these: XO Vinaigrette on a Chinese Salad, Chinese Noodles with Scallops and XO Sauce, or Green Beans in XO Sauce – to access any of these recipes, just click the name.