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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Chinese XO Sauce (Quick Cheater's Version)

Chinese XO Sauce 7

My boss gave me a jar of housemade Chinese XO sauce from Mission 261 - San Gabriel, a gift from one of the students' parents. It is a popular seafood sauce used in Cantonese stir-fried or fried rice dishes. So called because XO (extra old) cognac is the very best, and so this sauce was with its generous use of dried scallops, dried shrimp, and cured ham. The dried seafood gives the sauce a deep savoriness that flavors pretty much anything you put it on or cook with it.

I'm not ashamed to say I polished off that jar within days, stir-frying it with cabbage, cucumbers, and plain rice. And while it was sooo, sooo very good, XO sauce can also be quite expensive, easily costing about $20 for a small jar of the really good stuff.

The knock-off version I made with Shishito Peppers with Chinese XO Sauce wasn't half-bad and far, far cheaper. I tend to make small batches of stir-fry sauces, just enough for each dish, simply because I have so many fermented, soy, fish, shrimp and other sauces that they take up a whole shelf in my fridge and the counter beside my stove. So this really is a recipe for a cheater's version of XO sauce, something to whip up in minutes for dinner with ingredients that I usually already have in my kitchen.

Chinese XO Sauce 1

If you can afford it, I highly recommend adding a dried scallop or two and some minced preserved ham. But then, if you were to go to the trouble of adding all those things, you might as well make a proper batch. Because of the use of ham and the dried seafood, you'll need to use a lot of oil to preserve the meats. And while I did love that jar of XO sauce and wolfed it all down, it was far oilier than what I normally eat. But I'll probably attempt to make a proper version of XO Sauce at some point, so I'll save the fancy ingredients for then.

My quickie version has a generous use of oyster sauce to add savoriness to replace the more expensive scallops and chili sambal instead of fresh chilies. The main flavor component is the ground dried shrimp. I take dried shrimp and soak it in water to reconstitute, then add more water and cook until softened and the water is gone, then pulverize by hand. It's a Vietnamese technique that my mom and grandma use to sprinkle on top of banh beo (Vietnamese steamed rice discs) or banh hoi (Vietnamese steamed rice noodle sheets), but far too laborious for here.

In this case, I simply pulverized the dried shrimp in a food processor. I usually grind a small bag of dried shrimp and store it in the freezer in a Ziploc bag. The shrimp is cold, but loose, so when I need it for recipes such as this, I simply spoon out what I need. The sauteing of the shrimp in oil before adding the rest of the ingredients, should be enough to soften them. No need to complicate such things on a weeknight for a quick dinner. Having the ground shrimp on hand is also great to add to soup stocks for a hint of savoriness too.

Chinese XO Sauce 2

Chinese XO Sauce (Quick Cheater's Version)

For enough sauce for one stir-fry, you'll need:
2 tblsp ground dried shrimp
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tblsp Chinese oyster sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tblsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp chili sambal or dried chili flakes

Optional: If you want it to be more flavorful, add a minced dried scallop or some cured ham.

In a pan on medium-high heat, drizzle a generous amount of oil and add the ground shrimp.

Chinese XO Sauce 3

When the shrimp has softened, add the minced shallot, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 1/2 tblsp oyster sauce, 2 tsp soy sauce, 1 tblsp brown sugar, 1 tsp ground black pepper, and 1 tsp chili sambal.

Chinese XO Sauce 4

Mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Chinese XO Sauce 5

Then add bok choy, cabbage, spinach, peppers, or whatever else you'd like to stir-fry. If the sauce starts to dry out before the vegetables are done, add a tablespoon or two of water to loosen it up.

Chinese XO Sauce 6


Other sauces:
Ultimate Stir-Fry Sauce

1 year ago today, my cousin's "Happy Sailing" quilt.
2 years ago today, Historic Columbia River Highway - Columbia River Gorge - Oregon.
3 years ago today, Pho 79 Restaurant - Alhambra.
4 years ago today, Mango Salsa.


  1. I really like your idea of grinding up the dried shrimp and keeping it in the freezer.

  2. Mmm this sounds yummy! I will have to try it as soon as I can get my hands on some dried shrimp.

  3. it's like you were READING MY MIND! i did email you yesterday about it too. i came across a more elaborate recipe for this and the requirement of the dried scallops turned me off. i've never seen the stuff before...i just loooooov me some stirfry sauce...

  4. Nikki,
    It's really great to have on hand for flavoring soups or for a quick stir-fry.

    Do let me know if you like it!

    Haha. I thought your email was because you saw this post. The elaborate recipe will come at some point when I'm not feeling so lazy. Perhaps as gifts for the adults in my family. The dried scallops though are really what makes it XO.


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