Home-made XO Sauce Recipe

Saturday, December 07, 2013

XO Sauce was apparently invented in Cantonese Restaurants in Hong Kong in the 1980s.

Made of dried seafood, mostly dried scallops, I can recall being intrigued by it when I first saw it sold in Lee Kum Kee bottles. Soon enough, Cantonese stalls here started to sell veg, tofu or meat dishes fried in XO Sauce.

The term "XO" originally means "extra-old" cognac but today, even in Singapore, it has come to denote something that is prestigious, classy and special. And so, we have the popular XO Crab Bee Hoon, where the very ordinary fried bee hoon is elevated a few notches when cooked with crabs.

When I was in Hong Kong this year (read my travelogue here), I bought some dried scallops and dried prawns. I chose the broken ones as the price was reasonable. I was going for texture and taste, not so much presentation.

It was still sitting in my fridge after all these months. Since I will be overseas for the first six months of 2014, I thought I should start doing something about it. I don't think my wife would be using the dried scallops very much!
Dried Scallops (broken variety)

Some kinds of XO sauce make good use of the scallops and served as condiment in meals. It makes for an instant sauce if needed for veg, tofu or meat dishes.

There are as many XO sauce recipes as there are Cantonese restaurants. Each will have their "secret" recipe.  I have seen a recipe for XO Sauce in the cookbook A Taste of Home by Sam Leong. It looked simple enough and it gave me an idea of what is behind this sauce and how to make it.

Strips of Chinese jinhua ham
I have worked out mine according to what I have and once you get the idea and realise how easy it is to make it, you will come up with your own recipe too.

Dried scallops is at the heart of the sauce. To that I added dried prawns, Chinese ham, shallots, dried chillies and pork lard. While it can just be steamed and mixed together, I find frying helps crisp the sauce and makes it even tastier.

Here is my recipe:

Home-made XO Sauce Recipe

100 gm dried Scallops
50 gm dried prawns
30 gm Chinese Ham
10 pieces of shallots
10 pieces of dried chillies
1 small bowl or 200ml of oil (or pork lard)
1T sugar
1T liquor (optional)

  1. Soak the scallops briefly and dry steam for half an hour till softened. By "dry steam," I mean that water is not collected on the steaming tray. I use a tray with small holes. 
  2. Soak the dried prawns briefly and steam it for half an hour. Steam it at the same time but separate the prawns as you want to turn it into floss later with the blender. 
  3. Soak the Chinese ham briefly and steam it in the same steaming tray.
  4. Blend the peeled shallots coarsely.
  5. Soak the dried chillies and blend.
  6. Press and tear the scallops into strips with your fingers.
  7. Slice the ham and using your hands, tear them into strips.  
  8. Blend the dried prawns and they will floss up nicely in seconds. I use the Preethi blender.
  9. Heat up the wok. Add the lard or oil and simmer the onions and chilli paste. For 10 minutes. 
  10. Then add all the dried seafood, ham and sugar. Stir fry gently for 20 minutes, stirring to avoid bottom burning. 
You can choose to fry longer if you prefer your XO sauce to be darker and more crisped. You can also just steam instead of frying and if so, steam the dried seafood longer.

The taste is awesome and I can just eat it alone with rice. It is of course great with Teo Chew porridge. Or sprinkle on some blanched or fried veg like Kai Lan or green beans.

It is definitely something great to have on the Chinese New Year table.

Steaming dried prawns and scallops
A good blender can turn dried shrimps into floss in seconds

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  1. Hi,
    thanks for sharing. Can i know where to get chinese ham in singapore as i live in singapore as well?
    thank you

  2. Some dry provision shops or stalls which sells waxed meat will also sell Chinese hams. You will definitely find them at Chinatown shops. If you cannot find them, the XO sauce is already very tasty with the dried scallops

  3. thank you very much!!

  4. Wow, this looks really yummy! I made carrot cake before, but never thought of making my own XO sauce to go with it. I usually get mine from Tower Club. This will definitely be on my list of 'recipes to try'. Thanks for sharing! *bookmarking this site* :)

  5. Thank you for sharing your xo sauce recipe. The proportion of the various ingredients is just right.

  6. What is the Preethi model that you are using and would you recommend this model? Thank you

  7. Problem with Preethi is that the cover is not tight-locked. If u don't press the cover down, it may splatter. They may have addressed this problem with latest model. Another good blender/grinder for the Asian home is Panasonic MX-AC 300. I will recommend this

  8. When you write in this recipe about liquor to add to the recipe, do you have a few specific types to mention that you (or others) have tried?

  9. I normally just use whatever leftover liquor there is i.e. vsop, brandy etc.

  10. You are very kind to have replied. Quite correctly in another post today you mention the importance of expressing gratitude, so I want to thank heartily you, and your mother, too, for the knowledge and advice you share. My family have enjoyed a number of dishes that I have made following your recipes, and that is dear to me. I look forward to your cookery book. Kind regards...

  11. Ditto to hebetissimus. Thank you for the warning about the Preethi lid. I've been eyeing a Preethi for some time because the Indian smallholder in the market n a professional cook recommended it. It can crush pandan leaves better than the usual blenders.

  12. Oops, should be stallholder not smallholder.

  13. Preethi is a powerful blender. If u use it with care, it will serve u well.

  14. I just tried your XO Sauce last weekend. It was awesome, my wife loved it as well :)