Tuesday, November 24, 2009


When I first heard of XO sauce many many years ago, I thought it was a highly intoxicated concoction specially used for cooking. During my first visit to Melbourne in year 1992, I finally had the chance to try this luxurious sauce at a Chinese restaurant. Immediately I fell in love with this spicy sauce. I didn't end up drunk because there is absolutely no alcohol in it at all. My brother-in-law told me that XO sauce is actually created in Hong Kong and according to Wikipedia, this spicy seafood sauce consisting of roughly chopped dried seafood was introduced in the 1980s which is part of the Cantonese cuisine.

Fast forward to year 2004, just a day before my wedding, my bro-in-law who is in charged of cooking up a storm for my guests during my tea ceremony decided to share his trade secret with me. Back then, I didn't really pay attention to what he taught me. Who could anyway especially when it was a day before your own wedding? I was more concerned if my tulip bouquet could last till the next day or if there would be any acne breakout on my face. What I do remember was his constant reminder that I should never ever share this recipe with anyone else. For the next few years, he was constantly being mentioned by my group of 'Ji Muis' (sisters) who came for my tea ceremony. They just couldn't stop raving about the tasty XO sauce he served together with his special nasi goreng and fried noodles.

Yesterday, my bro-in-law taught me once again his recipe for this sauce. He didn't warn me about sharing the recipe this time but the moment I took out my camera, I assured him that I would not leak out his trade secret by listing the exact amount of ingredients used. Anyway, as an experienced chef, he doesn't even need to weigh or measure his ingredients. The recipe is right inside his head! Don't mistaken him as being selfish, the ability of a chef to make good cooking sauces is the key to survival over here.

The recipe that I am going to list out here is just an approximate because we didn't measure or weigh our ingredients at all. Firstly, we need about 5 big onions and a handful of shallots, roughly chopped. Also finely dice a clove of garlic (not in the picture).

Soak to soften about 200 grams of dried shrimp. Drain well and using a food processor, blend it until it is finely shredded. DO NOT PUT any water into the food processor!

I found this nice cut of salted Ikan Kurau or Threadfin at the Chinese grocery shop. Came all the way from my home country!! I am so gonna buy more this weekend to have it steamed with pork. Yum Yum!! Soak to soften and roughly chop it as well.

If you wanna make really luxurious XO sauce, you can opt to use Jinhua ham; expensive but very tasty. Otherwise, you can substitute with ham or bacon. Of course I vote for bacon especially when there is not much price difference from the bland tasting ham. Most importantly, the flavour from the bacon fats further enhance the taste of the XO sauce. Remove the skin (if any) and finely dice it too.

Most expensive ingredient would be the dried scallop. Soak to soften the dried scallop, steam until soft and drain well. We used about a bowl of soften dried scallop.

My bro-in-law used a red capsicum mainly to achieve a bright red colour. For those who love a spicy kick to it, I thought using red chilies would be a great substitute too. He said if capsicum and fresh chilies not available, substitute with sweet chili powder. Blend the capsicum and drain off excess liquid from the paste from time to time.

I didn't manage to see how much oil he put into the wok but I guess about 2 - 3 cups or enough to cover all the chopped onions, shallots and garlic. Keep stirring over low to medium fire. By the way, the whole process of cooking the sauce (excluding the chopping and grounding) took us about an hour.

Ingredients are added in stages, starting from those with high water content to those with the least. A great tip I learnt yesterday was the way to judge when to put in the next ingredient. When you put the onions into the oil, you will notice big bubbles bubbling away. When the onions start drying up, you will see lots of frothy foam forming on the surface. This is the perfect time to put in the next ingredient!

Capsicum paste went in next. The moment you put in the paste, the big bubbles return. Keep stirring until the frothy foam reappears.

Next to go in....Bacon! Again, continue to stir until frothy foam reappears. MMmm....at this stage, you could smell a wonderful aroma from the sizzling bacon fats.

Put in the salted fish next, followed by dried shrimp.

Lastly, put in the dried scallop.

For seasoning, put in some sugar, salt, oyster sauce and chicken granules (optional). For a darker reddish colour, put in a dash of dark soy sauce. It tastes much better with added chopped chilies. Allow the sauce to cool completely before storing in DRY containers. Remember to use a DRY spoon to scoop the sauce, otherwise it could get spoiled easily. You can serve the sauce as condiment or add some to your stir fry dishes.

On those days when you are eating alone or have absolutely no idea of what to cook for dinner, just put a generous spoonful of XO sauce onto a bowl of hot steaming rice....I can be assured that you will be running back to the kitchen for another bowl of rice! That is what I am gonna do now......yum yum yum!!!


babe_kl said...

such a laborious process of love ;-) very yummy indeed. no wonder its so ex!

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

thats alot of dried scallops..definitely on par in terms of luxury to XO!

KY said...

wahh this is indeed very luxurious!

ai wei said...

the luxury XO sauce. kekeke, maybe u can produce an bottle them up and start business :P

ilene said...

Thanks so much for the step by step of your bro-in-law's secret receipe!

thule a.k.a leo said...

taking cue from your blog.. I will try to make it on my own... this way, I will not spare any expense and use all the top notch ingredients to make helluvah XO sauce :)

SimpleGirl said...

wow, secret recipe revealed in your blog, thanks!!!! btw, I tried in one restaurant in HK , and they are like selling a small bottle @ HK200++....but it was real good!!

kat said...

Excellent tutorial! Pls convey our thanks to your BIL!!

Is it easy to find shallots in Melbourne? Apparently it's almost impossible to get it in Perth. My aunt actually ground the shallots with chilli and fried it before sealing it and bringing it back to Perth with her!

kat said...

Is sweet chili powder same as paprika?

Cynthia said...

This sounds heavenly. I don't think that I can get dried scallops here :(

Also, can I used smoked fish if I wanted to as opposed to dried salted cod?

Julian Si said...

That must be the most elaborate and gorgeous sauce ... ever! Well in the cinaworld of cookin anyways :-)


Must tell the better half all about it :-) I am gonna post this on my FB, hope that's ok :-)

Cheers from Abu Dhabi!

Live2Talk said...

Ah ... it was at your tea reception that i first tasted the XO sauce and the 2nd time is at your sister's place in Melbourne! Simply divine! Now who said only soup can make your man's knee go weak? This can be as good :D

mimid3vils said...

home made XO sauce, "geng"!!!! *salute*

Nic (KHKL) said...

now i understand why a bottle of XO sauce is so expensive. just look at the ingredients and labour put in! Precious Pea, time to start a business in Melbourne!

Precious Pea said...

Babe_KL: The end result is worth all the hard work. Do try!

NJoe: Hehehe..sendiri makan, put lots also never mind. Definitely can't do that if it's for sale. Rugi teruk!!

KY: Lou with instant noodle....JENG JENG JENG!!!

ai wei: Who knows?? Maybe Pea's XO sauce will be available at all supermarkets one day....*dream dream dream*

ilene: Are you going to try?

thule: LOL! Can't wait to hear how yours will turn out. Remember to blog also yah.

SimpleGirl: HKD200 per bottle??!!!??? Wahh!!!

Julian: No problem, you can go ahead to post on your Facebook. Hope your wifey will try making some for you soon.

kat: We can get it here quite easily but very very expensive that is why we usually use big onions for cooking unless for sauce like XO and curry, we just cannot compromise with using only big onions. It tastes so much better with shallots.

Cynthia: Maybe you can get from Chinatown? They are excellent for making superior chicken stock too. Not sure about the smoked fish but am sure you can get salted fish from any Asian grocery shop. Salted fish has got very nice distinct aroma.

Live2talk: Try make some and impress your G and see whether he goes on bended knees or not? ;)

Nic: Hahaha....errmm..hopefully, I will be able to share with you some good news soon. ;)

mimid3vils: Hahaha..thank you thank you.

kat said...

Hey Pea. I left another comment asking whether can subsitute capsicum/sweet chili powder with paprika. May have gone into your spam bin. :) Thanks!

noobcook said...

Thanks for sharing the secret recipe! I love love love xo sauce and I am almost fainting from the sight of your lovely home made version. I didn't know ham is added to it, looks really good :)~~~

Precious Pea said...

Kat: I have checked with my bro-in-law and yes, the sweet chili powder he was referring to is actually paprika. Paprika is made from red capsicum. He did mentioned that the effect not as good.

noobcook: Most welcomed!!! Taste awesome. I had it with plain meehoon the other day and it was sooo tasty!

Sonia said...

I saw few bloggers also making the same XO sauce, thinking to try soon, now see you also prepared this, I must immediately prepare this. If for me, definitely I will add the red chili but not capsicum,because I'm a chili lover,hahaha. Thanks for sharing, look like this is not a secret recipe anymore, hahaha..

Precious Pea said...

Sonia: Yes yes....I could imagine that red chili would be so much better. We couldn't use fresh chili as those we get here are super hot, not advisable if you have kids.

非凡 said...

I'm appreciate your writing skill.Please keep on working hard.^^

sc said...

woah, thanks for share some of the cooking parts of XO sauce..never knew its so labourious to prepare.. kudos to your bro in law..

Tummythoz said...

Now only I realise what's in XO sauce. Never would have guess salted fish!

Pureglutton said...

Great recipe - thanks for sharing! Will try this out one day soon :-)

Julian Si said...

I couldn't wait for wifey to return, went to NOODLE BOWL at Abu Dhabi tonight ... the chef gave me, Kat and Mr Kat a dish of XO SAUCE each . So gooooood.


Haha, thanks to you for inspiring me to seek out XO sauce in the desert!

CUMI & CIKI said...

omgosh! so many steps to make your own sauce.. RESPECT!

UnkaLeong said...

Hungry leow, just looking at your BIL making sauce! Hahaha..Do Thank him for sharing yar ;)

Dav DiDi said...

Interesting .. looks yummy too!

Little Inbox said...

Wow, looks like it's tough to prepare the sauce at home, but the hard work is fruitful.

jason said...

Wah, that should lasts your family one whole month I guess!

Vee - A Melbourne Munchkin. said...

I see fiddly and fantabulous recipes like these and I always wonder who are these people who will try them?!?! Now I know! =o)

Hazza said...

Thanx for sharing this! I only ever bought this (Lee Kum Kee brand) sauce. I am surprised there is no XO in it. So why is it called XO sauce?


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