BettyQ is a marketmanila.com “regular” and has been commenting on this blog for the past year or so. She resides in the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. and has worked professionally in restaurant kitchens before. She had mentioned by email that she had a homemade version of X.O. sauce, a scallop and shrimp concoction, heady with flavor, that was originally invented in Hong Kong a couple of decades ago and its popularity in Chinese cooking has grown dramatically. You can now purchase the X.O. sauce in Chinese or Asian groceries and it is usually quite pricey. She very kindly sent Marketman not only the X.O. recipe but the main raw ingredients necessary to cook the dish. She has been most gracious with her recipes on the blog and with her permission, I am posting the recipe here for several readers who have clamored for it… It is delicious.
This recipe (as I made it) yielded far too much X.O. for our household, with roughly 3/4 of a gallon or a little less, and several bottles were sent off to friends and family, while several bottles were stored in the fridge and the freezer for later use. Feel free to cut the recipe in half (or fourths even for a more manageable volume. I will first list the ingredients and recipe as BettyQ wrote it, then discuss some of my observations so that you have an idea where you might want to play with the recipe to make your own personal version…
1 large head of garlic, peeled and pounded in a mortar
3-4 cups of sliced shallots (small red onions here in Manila)
1 and 1/2 pounds dried scallops (photo above) then soaked, draimed, steamed and shredded
3/4 pound dried shrimp or hibe (photo below) then soaked drained and finely minced
1/2 pound chinese ham
1-2 teaspoons of five-spice powder
Lots of achuete powder for color
MSG if you use it, otherwise omit it (I don’t use MSG)
chili flakes or chili oil
Sesame oil (optional, but I used it, about 1 tbsp or so)
LOTS of vegetable oil (4-5 cups)
The recipe is mostly “prep” work, and actually very easy to cook. The night before you make the sauce, soak the dried scallops and shrimp in separate bowls covered with warm water. The next morning, drain the scallops and shrimp. Steam the scallops for roughly 20 minutes and let them cool. Pulse the scallops in food processor until just shredded, not a smooth paste. You are aiming for a shredded TEXTURE. Process the shrimp (no steaming necessary) until finely minced, but again, not pureed. Process the ham until finely minced. Process peeled shallots until finely minced texture as well. You do need a food processor for this recipe unless you are a glutton for chopping vigorously…
In a large wok or Le Creuset enameled pot, heat up roughly 1 and 1/2 cups of vegetable oil and when hot, add the smushed garlic and stir until golden brown (not burned), and remove the fried garlic and set it aside. In the garlic flavored oil, add all of the shallots and cook over a medium flame until slightly caramelized, say 10-12 minutes on most stoves. You don’t want to burn the onions, lower you flame if this starts to happen. You can keep adding vegetable oil if necessary, you WILL eventually use all 4-5 cups of the vegetable oil. Add several tablespoons of achuete powder then the shrimp and ham and stir and saute for say 5 minutes. Add the scallops and saute for 3-5 minutes and add the five-spice powder, ground white pepper and taste. Betty didn’t have salt in her recipe, but I added several dashes of salt to taste. Add the fried garlic last, and it is done… You may also add the chilli flakes or oil if you want it spicy.
My version was a lot blonder than most commercial X.O. sauces such as this one. The reason for this is that I didn’t have achuete powder, and onlyhad three tablespoons of whole achuete, so I improvised and made an achuete oil instead. Obviously, there was a lack of achuete so the sauce didn’t look as dark as it probably should have. Also, I suspect the X.O. sauces in hongkong are cooked with dark burgundy dried chillies, which would impart a much redder color. My chili powder, albeit made from authentic chinese chilies, wasn’t hot enough (too old?) and I regret not putting a whole lot more!
Having said that, this was a SUPERB sauce. Chock full of shredded scallops and incredibly flavorful. Betty’s version is heavier on scallops than most and once you have tried this recipe, you should experiment to get the balance of flavors that suits you best. I was so thrilled with the results, I photographed the sauce in a Baccarat jam dish up top… figuring a fancy and incredibly rich sauce or condiment like this deserved the finest crystal… Thank you so much BettyQ for sharing this recipe and for sending the key ingredients as well! Next up, some ideas on how to use the X.O. sauce…