My enthusiasm for cooking didn’t sprout until I was in my mid-twenties despite helping my mother in the kitchen since I was kid. I always got stuck with doing all the crappy jobs like washing the vegetables or peeling the prawns. I also come from a family of 6 stubborn daughters. Family meal times were always a brewing teapot of turmoil.
Cooking had always presented itself as a nuisance much like cleaning the dishes. It wasn’t until a chance 3 month backpacking trip through South East Asia that ignited a passion about food. It was mostly the street cart vendors that caught my attention. I loved watching them prepare my order. Throwing together a rainbow of ingredients and smashing them up or searing them in a flaming wok. It was very theatrical and dramatic and it all seemed easy.
I found my inner foodie during this trip and it seemed only natural that I became curious about the ingredients and the magic that could be created when it all came together at the right temperature. My first experiments were utter failures but I kept trying. I bought some cookbooks, asked my mother for advice and made sure I followed recipes word-for-word.
It no longer seemed like such a drag to cook. It became a hobby. It made me happy that I was creating something that was solely for my personal enjoyment. When my cooking skills started to improve my palate evolved as well. I stopped putting up with insipid store bought ingredients and started making some things at home.
This sauce is considered the emperor of all sauces in Hong Kong. Many chefs create their own version and keep the recipe with absolute secrecy. Here is my homemade version that will set your tastebuds on fire.
This sauce is nothing like the gooey sauces that you find in the supermarket aisle. It is full of flavour and fire. With just a couple of tablespoons it can transform your stir-fry vegetables from bland to WHAM! You can add some to your fried rice for something different or dip your dumplings into it for a special kick. You can even dollop a bit onto some fried eggs. It is also a fraction of the cost of the store bought variety that can vary in quality.
Homemade XO Sauce
2 cups vegetable oil
1 onion, diced finely
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons shredded dried scallops
85g medium-sized dried shrimp
100g salted pork, diced finely
40 dried chillies
2 fresh long red chillies, deseeded and chopped finely
½ teaspoon salt
Heat a wok over high heat, add ½ cup of the oil and carefully coat the wok with the oil. When a little bit of white smoke appears, add the onion and garlic and stir gently until the garlic becomes golden in colour. Add the remaining oil, scallops, shrimp, pork, dried chilli, fresh chilli and salt. Gently stir and bring to the boil. Lower the temperature to medium and cook for approx 10 minutes – make sure the mixture is constantly bubbling but is not burning. Take the mixture off the heat and transfer the contents to a glass bowl to cool to room temperature. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight. Allow the mixture to come to room temperature and place in the food processor and whiz for 10 seconds. The ingredients should just be roughly chopped and not be fine. The sauce is now ready be used.
The sauce will keep for up to 3 months and the flavours will develop over time