XO SAUCE -- WHAT AND WHEREFORE
Basically, it's umami up the wazoo.
Cantonese cooking requires fresh ingredients cleanly cooked, with often a touch of a concentrated seafood or savory element. Most likely you are already familiar with such things as soy sauce, oyster sauce, shrimp paste, and various dessicated ingredients like dried shrimp, oysters, and scallops.
What if you combined all of those and gave it a hip name?
It can be added to vegetable dishes, pork preparations, fried rice, and boiled noodles. And it can be made ahead. There is no need to buy bottled versions, though if you live by yourself that certainly is an avenue to explore.
Hoi mei waak gon hoi chaan
[Sea flavour OR dried sea produce]
If you live in San Francisco, there are a number of places where useful and worthwhile non-caucasoid ingredients can be found, and the staff will be happy to try to explain how to use them. Go explore.
The four main seafood stock-items (四大海味 'sei taai hoi mei') which every properly run Chinatown should have are 鮑魚 ('bau yü'; abalone), 海參 ('hoi sam'; holothurid, trepang or sea cucumber), 魚翅 ('yü chi'; shark fin, which has been outlawed in California, dammit), and 魚肚 ('yü tou'; fish maw, which is actually an air-sac or buoyancy device internal to the beast).
Collectively these are referred to as 鮑參翅肚 ('bao sam chi tou').
Other standard ingredients will also be offered, including 鹹魚 ('haahm yü'; salt fish), 蝦米 ('haai mai'; dried shrimp), 公魚仔 ('gong yü chai'; spratlings or smelt), 乾貝 ('gon pui'; dried scallop), 乾魷魚 ('gon yau yü'; dried squid), 蠔豉 ('hou si'; dried oysters) 蜇皮 ('jit pei'; jelly fish), et autres.
All of the ingredients for XO Sauce can be bought on Stockton Street or Clement, as well as shops in the outer Richmond and Sunset districts, if you live in the fog. Look for business that say 海味 or 乾海產 on the signboard.
From my quarters C'town is only a short walk away. Close enough that one can amble across the hill in the time it takes to contemplate dinner.
Personally, I believe that precisely like the properly run Chinatown should have at least one 海味店 ('hoi mei dim'), the well-ordered household must ALWAYS have a dried fish on hand.
Preferably more than one.
Recipe for XO Sauce
12 TBS dried scallops.
8 TBS dried shrimp.
8 TBS chilipaste (sambal ulek).
4 TBS oyster sauce.
2 TBS sugar.
2 TBS soy sauce.
1 TBS shrimp paste.
½ TBS salt.
One small onion.
One bulb of garlic (a dozen cloves, more or less).
An amount of ginger equivalent to the garlic, or more.
Half a cup cooking oil.
One TBS sesame oil.
Soak shrimp and scallops for a few hours in water, till softened. Drain, reserving liquid, and chop to a somewhat granular state, not too fine.
Mince the garlic, ginger, and onion.
In a capacious pan fry the onion till golden. Add the garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, and chilipaste. When the shrimp paste is cooked (a minute or so) and the garlic and ginger have begun to colour, add the chopped scallop and shrimp. Stir-fry till the oil comes out and the mixture is aromatic. Add everything else including the reserved liquids, and again cook till the oil comes out, thus concentrating the flavour from the soaking liquid in the mixture. Cook a little longer on low to darken, which caramelizes it slightly.
Let it cool completely, and distribute it over containers. There should be a layer of oil on top.
Place one container in the refrigerator, and the others in the deepfreeze.
If all the water has been cooked out, it will keep for several weeks in the fridge.
Use either sparingly or liberally.
Most recipes for XO Sauce will include Chinwa ham or Chinese sausage, some substitute preserved pork-belly or even bacon. Seeing as those are things which every well-stocked larder should have (erm, why do you think it's called a 'larder', eh?), it seems rather contra-indicated to dump those into the compound. Especially as moisture is the great enemy of a substance such as this.
Smoked bacon is not a bad idea, however.
It seldom is.
XO Sauce can be used much like any other cooking concentrate in Cantonese cuisine. Add it after the main ingredient, before the liquor, stock, and glaze. The idea is to imbue the fragrance in the dish, while letting moisture re-meld with the flavouring matter. One or two tablespoons is sufficient for a dish.
By itself it makes a pleasant sambal, not too hot.
Good with mixed blanched vegetables.
Or in Indo-style snacks.
Dried scallops: 乾貝 gon pui, 乾瑤柱 gon yiu chyu, 江瑤柱 gong yiu chyu. Dried shrimp: 蝦米 haa mai. Chilipaste, sambal ulek: 辣椒醬 laat chiu jeung. Oyster sauce: 蠔油 hou yau. Sugar: 糖 tong. Soy sauce: 醬油 jeung yau, 豉油 si yau. Shrimp paste: 鹹蝦醬 haam haa jeung. Salt: 鹽 yim. Onion: 洋蔥 yeung chung (可以用四、五頭小蔥). Garlic: 蒜 suen. Ginger: 薑 geung. Sesame oil: 麻油 maa yau. Chinwa ham: 金華火腿 gam-waa fo-dui. Chinese sausage: 臘腸 laap cheung. Preserved pork-belly: 臘肉 lap yiuk. Bacon: 煙肉 yin yiuk ("smoked pork"), 醃肉 yim yiuk ("preserved pork"), 鹹肉 haam yiuk ("salt pork").
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