One of my earliest posts on the Jarhead blog was about XO sauce, the decadent condiment from Hong Kong, which can give a regular stir fry a really good hit of umami. I made some really tasty dishes from my first batch of XO – chicken and okra stir fry with XO sauce, pippies with XO sauce, and fried eggs with XO sauce on rice. All really simple, but supremely delicious.
Last time I used a recipe from chef Danny Bowien, but this time I decided to make a few changes and put my own spin on it. I still had a lot of Mexican dried chillies lying around. I originally used them for my Chipotle Ketchup recipe, but I figured that the complex flavours of the ancho chilli, the spicy kick of the guajillo chilli, and the smokiness of the chipotle chilli, would all enhance an XO sauce. The dried chillies really added a layer of complexity to the flavour, but next time I would add in some extra chillies (fresh or dried) for stronger chilli hit.
Dried scallops and shrimp form the basis of XO sauce. Previously, I bought them from a Chinese supermarket in Haymarket. But since my first batch of XO, I had walked past some stores in Sydney Chinatown that sold dried seafood, mostly dried abalone that tourists buy to bring home with them from Sydney. I went to one of these stores on Sussex Street and found three different varieties of dried scallop and two types of dried shrimp. The store was full of so many random types of dried seafood, but somehow I resisted buying any of the delectable-looking dried sea cucumbers.
One item that I omitted from my new recipe was a type of cured pork I found at a Chinese butcher shop. I thought that it tasted pretty similar to the Chinese sausage and overwhelmed the flavour of the seafood. A lot of the XO sauce recipes on the internet include Jinhua ham, which is a type of cured ham from the Chinese city of Jinhua. Apparently prosciutto is a good substitute, so I sourced some good quality prosciutto from Harris Farm butcher at Potts Point to add to my sauce.
Soaking the scallops and shrimp overnight to rehydrate them yields some flavourful cooking water. Some recipes online call for the cooking water to be included, so I figured I’d take their advice and add some in when cooking the aromatics – I'm sure it enhanced the taste of the sauce.
Overall, I think the MeXO sauce tastes fantastic – actually a bit subtler than my first batch and more balanced. My girlfriend preferred the first batch because it was spicier and had a stronger flavour – but perhaps I just need to spoon more of my new MeXO sauce into my next stir fry!
MeXO Sauce Recipe
What you need:
- 4 Guajillo chillies
- 6 small chipotle chillies
- 3 ancho chillies
- 150g of dried shrimp
- 150g of dried scallops
- 4 fresh long red chillies, roughly chopped
- 4 shallots, peeled
- 1 bulb of garlic, broken into cloves and peeled
- ¼ cup of sliced ginger
- 2 small chinese sausages sliced (approx ¼ of a cup)
- 5 slices of prosciutto, sliced
- 2 cups of canola oil
- 3 tablespoons of shaoxing rice wine
- 2 tablespoons of dark soy
- 3 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of sea salt
- ½ stick of cinnamon
- 2 star anise
- 1 teaspoon and a half of chilli flakes
Making the MeXO sauce:
- Soak dried shrimp in a bowl with enough water to submerge. Similarly, soak the dried scallops in a separate bowl. Leave both overnight to soften and rehydrate.
- The next morning, drain the shrimp and scallops, reserving about a quarter of a cup of the soaking water from each (1/4 cup of scallop soaking water, ¼ cup of prawn soaking water).
- Now prepare your dried chillies. Cut the chillies open and scrape out the seeds and any pith (this is important, it will be horribly bitter if you leave them in). Wipe off any dust on the surface of the chillies.
- Heat a small pan, and toast the chillies on a low heat until they become fragrant and start to release their essential oils. You don’t want to colour or burn them, just heat them up for a couple of minutes.
- Place these toasted chillies into a bowl and cover with boiling water for about 30 minutes, until they have softened. Drain and discard the water (again, important, bitterness awaits if you don't discard).
- Add your ginger, garlic, shallots and fresh chillies into a food processor and blitz until very finely chopped.
- In a large pot, heat about a third of the canola oil and slowly fry the processed aromatics.
- While these aromatics are frying, blitz your soaked shrimp and scallops in the food processor until they are very finely chopped. Set aside.
- When the aromatics have start to soften, add in the rice wine and cook off the alcohol for a couple of minutes.
- Now add in your reserved prawn and scallop water, and simmer on a high heat for about 5 minutes to reduce the mixture. Pour the aromatics into a bowl and set aside.
- Add the rest of the canola oil into the now empty pot, and then add in your finely chopped shrimp and scallops. Fry this on a low heat until the shrimp and scallops look golden.
- In the meantime, add your soaked dried chillies from earlier, and the sliced Chinese sausage and prosciutto into the food processor and blitz. It should form a brown paste.
- Add this paste into the pot with the shrimp and scallops, and fry for another 5 minutes.
- Return the aromatic mixture you set aside earlier into the pot and stir to combine. Drop in the cinnamon stick and star anise.
- Add in the soy sauce, fish sauce and salt and simmer for 45 minutes on a low heat, stirring regularly to ensure none of the ingredients are sticking to the bottom of the pot or burning.
- Remove whole spices.
- Pour into sterilised jars.