Developed in the 1980s in Hong Kong for Cantonese cuisine, XO sauce is made of roughly chopped dried seafoods (including scallops and shrimp), and subsequently cooked with chili peppers, onions, and garlic.
This deliciously spicy dried seafood-based sauce bears similarity to the Fujianese Shacha sauce. Spring Moon, the Hotel Peninsula Hong Kong’s Chinese restaurant, is often credited with the invention of XO sauce.
The name XO sauce comes from fine XO (extra-old) cognac, which is a popular Western liquor in Hong Kong and considered by many to be a chic product there. In addition, the term XO is often used in the popular culture of Hong Kong to denote high quality, prestige and luxury. In fact, XO sauce has been marketed in the same manner as the French liquor, using packaging of similar colour schemes.
XO sauce can be used as a condiment on the side of main dishes or used in cooking to enhance the flavor of fish, meats, vegetables, and otherwise bland foods such as tofu or noodles. Home cooks often use this sauce as the chief flavor enhancer for fried rice.
My version of XO sauce is relentlessly traditional and authentic, based closely on a recipe from Australian chef Tony Tam. I’ve added some shaoxing rice wine and ginger to the original recipe – I hope you enjoy this most umami of spicy condiments, my Citizens!
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